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Everything You Need to Know About ICF Construction

Are you considering a new build? If you are, one of your most important considerations will be framing material. More durable and energy-efficient forms of construction, such as insulated concrete forms (ICFs), are replacing traditional wood framing. Learn what ICF building material is, why so many homeowners are using it, and what your buying and building process might looks like.

What Is ICF?


An insulated concrete form (ICF) is a special type of building material in which a concrete slab is sandwiched between two layers of insulating material. This insulating material is generally expanded polystyrene foam. Panels are molded into “webs” 12 at a time and accept nails and screws in the same way as a wood stud does. The main difference between ICF and traditional wood construction is durability and resistance to the elements. Concrete is naturally stronger, lets in less air, and can handle tough inclement weather conditions.

What Makes ICF Superior?

Builders consider ICF to be a superior building material because of its energy efficiency. The natural structure of concrete combined with insulation virtually eliminates energy loss in a home. Experts estimate that an ICF home can exceed traditional building codes by 50 percent to 60 percent, cutting energy bills in half.

A recent report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development found that ICF constructions can provide a 25 percent savings in annual heating and cooling costs compared to homes built with traditional wood studs.

Does ICF Cost More?

ICF construction may require a little more money up front, but it will make up for it in overall energy savings during the home’s life. According to the HUD report, an ICF wall construction will cost 3 percent to 5 percent more, on average, or an extra $2 to $4 per square foot. Say, for example, that you were considering a 2,500-square-foot building with two stories. Assuming a home price of $180,000, you could expect an ICF-built house to cost an additional $7,000.

Homeowners can expect to recoup this expense in a variety of ways. First, HUD offers an energy efficient mortgage program in which homeowners may qualify for a larger mortgage to pay for energy efficient construction or updates. Secondly, tax credits of up to $2,000 may be available.

Lastly, ICF builds will end up saving homeowners money in the long run because of energy savings. Since ICF homes are naturally more energy efficient, homeowners can install smaller heating and cooling systems, which can cut the cost of the house up to $.75 per square foot.

Other Forms of Cost Saving

ICF saves more than just energy. Its superior strength adds up to other savings. ICF construction makes a difference in terms of:

  • Fire Resistance. The ICF blocks are flame retardant, and insurance companies may recognize homes as being a lower risk for fire.
  • Wind and Impact Resistance. Most ICF homes can withstand hurricane-force winds and impacts from debris from tornadoes and other types of storms. Little to no risk of serious structural damage can save you money on your hurricane and home insurance premiums.
  • Seismic Protection. Concrete reinforced with steel offers more protection from earthquakes than traditional wood buildings do.

Building Your ICF Home

You’ve made the important decision to build your home using ICF materials. What will the construction process look like? How long will it take? This offers a primer on how your builder will construct your ICF home and what you can expect from the finished product.

In general, ICF homes are built using ICF building blocks in an interlocking manner, with a standard size of 4 feet long and 16 inches high. The height and length of your ICF building blocks may vary depending on your needs. These blocks create evenly spaced “webs” that give ICF its characteristic energy efficiency, strength, and durability.

The nature of the ICF design gives builders complete architectural freedom. They can easily construct radius walls, elevations of multiple lengths, and any design feature a homeowner desires. If it’s possible with traditional lumber construction, it’s also possible with ICF.

ICF blocks are reinforced horizontally to create a bracing system. Once all the webs and bracing have been installed, poured concrete will complete the walls.

It’s important to note that an ICF and concrete construction doesn’t have to maintain the look of concrete. Once framed, your home can take on any traditional finishing or siding.

When Will Construction Be Done?

One of the main benefits of an ICF build is that the timeline for completion is generally faster than that of traditional wood homes. This is because a builder can create and pour large sections at once using the ICF building system. You can expect your ICF to be completed in a similar timeline as any other home, maybe even a little faster.

What About Finishing?

Your ICF frame can handle a variety of exterior and interior finishes. For exterior surfaces, stucco finishes are particularly cost effective, but ICF is also receptive to finishes such as vinyl, brick, stone, aluminum, and steel.

For interior finishes, gypsum board is the most common. You may also choose to have plaster veneer, interior acrylic stucco, or earth clay plasters over drywall.

Will It Affect How I Decorate My Home?

Most people wonder how ICFs will affect interior design. How is it possible to hang TVs, pictures, and other décor if your walls are concrete? Fortunately, it’s just like any other home. ICF webbing functions similarly to wood studs, so you can drill into them and hang with ease. You can find your home ICF “webbing” with a magnetic stud finder, just as you would with a traditional wood frame.

What If I Have More Questions?

Your home is the largest investment of time and money you will ever make. It’s natural to want to make informed decisions. Fortunately, there is a lot of information on the topic of ICF benefits, costs, and energy efficiency. We recommend looking over answers to common questions and doing more research. If you have more-specific questions or would like to get started with ICF, contact us.

This post Authored By:
Best Concrete Concepts, your local Wisconsin concrete contractor specializing in concrete construction, interior and exterior concrete applications and finishes. Contact us for your free estimate on ICF additions, new home construction flatwork such as driveways and sidewalks, or garage slabs.