|ICF Wall Systems
Commercial Buildings Take on a New Form
Wall system offers energy efficiency, durability, safety—and
Insulating concrete forms (ICFs) have been gaining steam in the residential
market during the last 10 years: concrete homes currently account for
about 16 percent of single family construction. Lately, more architects
and builders are also exploring ICFs as an option for light commercial
construction, capitalizing on the system’s energy efficiency, durability
and ease of construction. Commercial structures built with ICFs are poised
to reap the environmental benefits of the building system on a grand scale,
creating longer-lasting, more comfortable businesses that will provide
healthy environments for employees.
|ICFs are ideally suited for smaller commercial
structures, like this theater in Austin, Texas built with the Rastra
ICFs are stay-in-place forms for casting concrete walls. The foam forms
are available in a variety of sizes and configurations, which are placed
in the shape of the structure and connected with plastic ties. As the
forms are placed, reinforcing steel is installed to provide additional
support. Concrete is pumped into the forms and allowed to harden. The
resulting wall typically has two inches of foam insulation on each side,
sandwiching approximately four to six inches of concrete. The interior
and exterior of these walls can be easily clad with many traditional materials.
Energy Savings Help Achieve LEED Credits
In a typical ICF home, energy savings are significant, usually in the
neighborhood of 15 to 35 percent less than conventionally framed construction.
The ICFs’ heavy-duty insulation and concrete’s thermal mass
help even out temperature swings in even the most dramatic climates. And
HVAC systems can be designed on a smaller scale, further cutting costs
at the front end of construction.
Research conducted in the U.S. has shown that the bigger the ICF home,
the bigger the efficiency benefit. Proponents of the system’s use
in light commercial construction say there is an obvious correlation:
commercial buildings stand to benefit greatly, says Ed Alsamsam, PhD,
PE, SE, LEED-AP, and manager of PCA’s buildings group.
“Most commercial buildings pursue LEED certification based on at
least meeting the applicable ASHRAE requirements or exceeding them. In
those cases, they are mostly improving mechanical systems’ efficiency
and design to achieve enhanced performance over ASHRAE,” says Alsamsam.
“ICFs are a building system that can achieve similar gains in building
performance and potential LEED points in the Energy and Atmosphere category,”
“As designers try to get low-rise commercial buildings LEED certified,
they need to tackle the issue of energy performance,” Alsamsam continues.
“They have been honing their skills in terms of mechanical, electrical
and piping equipment to minimize water, heating, cooling, and lighting
needs. A building designer has the ability to make the single greatest
impact in making the building envelope efficient, and ICFs provide superior
Durability: Buildings That Last
As the sustainable movement grows, more emphasis is placed on life cycle
assessment and analysis, an examination of the long-term costs of building
green compared to conventional techniques. When it comes to optimizing
life cycle costs and benefits, ICFs are a great fit, providing unmatched
durability that ensures the structures will last for generations. Many
structures built with concrete are designed for 100 years of service or
more, and ICF buildings are no exception.
In fact, the government is starting to embrace ICF technology for its
durability and strength, using it to meet blast resistance requirements
on projects like the Florida Armed Forces Reserve Center, a 140,000-sq-ft
multi-use complex in Pinellas Park, near St. Petersburg. “Since
September 11, all military buildings must have force protection built
in,” explains William Murray, project architect with URS Corporation,
designers of the complex. “ICF construction was the most cost-effective
way to achieve that.”
Speed and Ease of Construction
On the job site, construction is quick and simple, says Joseph Lyman,
executive director of the Insulating Concrete Form Association (ICFA).
“For large commercial jobs, speed of construction is one of the
biggest reasons for using the technology,” he says. Materials can
be stored on-site during construction, and leftover forms can be used
on other projects, so there is little construction waste. Fast erection
times minimize truck traffic and disruption to the surrounding community.
Quality of Life
Beyond increasing energy savings or ensuring durability and safety, ICFs
offer some basic benefits that boost employee productivity and enhance
the health and well being of building tenants. The thermal mass of concrete
walls ensures evenness of temperatures, providing a comfortable working
environment no matter the season. The monolithic construction method reduces
air infiltration, boosting indoor air quality. Solid concrete walls help
reduce sound transfer, providing a quieter work environment. All these
benefits add up to more comfortable, inviting workplaces, which help businesses
attract—and retain—the best employees.
Poised for Growth
According to the ICFA approximately 22 percent of today’s ICF construction
is commercial work, concentrated in markets including schools, light construction,
strip malls, agricultural projects, jails and prisons, and smaller public
and private office buildings.
Lyman says there is real growth potential in multi-family housing developments,
retirement communities, warehousing and storage facilities, hotels and government
structures. “Anything eight floors and below is prime property for
ICFs,” says Lyman. “This building method is really starting
to make a serious dent in the way people build commercially, and I have
no doubt that in a few years, ICF commercial work will equal what’s
being done in the residential market.”
|The Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery
in Dendalli, Texas, will stand two stories tall and includes two towers
built with Arxx ICFs.
Alsamsam agrees, predicting
ICFs will quickly take hold in the sustainable marketplace. “The
range in sustainable benefits from ICF systems is tremendous. Energy efficiency
and indoor air quality are attributes that support LEED points, while
durability, occupant comfort and disaster resistance are sustainable qualities
that reach beyond the current LEED rating system,” he explains.
“They’re going to address sick buildings, employee retention,
building leasing, owning and operating in the long-term, life cycle costs
and their importance to the owner and developer.”
|Florida Resort Embraces
ICFs For Expansion
JW Marriott Grande Lakes Exhibit Hall has tallest ICF walls in
In Florida, insulating concrete forms (ICFs) are a common method
of residential construction, offering energy efficiency, strength
and durability in the tropical environment. Increasingly, corporations
are also turning to ICFs for projects in the region, building commercial
structures that beat the heat and provide sustainable performance.
The JW Marriott Grande Lakes Exhibit Hall is one of Florida’s
largest commercial ICF structures, a space of almost 29,000 sq ft
located on a 500-acre luxury resort in Orlando. Built with ICFs
from Reward Wall System, the hall boasts structural walls as high
as 54 feet, approximately five stories—the tallest ICF walls
in the U.S. It is scheduled to open in September 2004.
|Photo by Florida Aerial Services, Inc.
courtesy of Reward Wall Systems.
Building with ICFs cut the original construction schedule by about
six weeks and allowed general contractor Hunt Construction Group
to complete the project in a constrained space. “An increasing
number of large companies are choosing ICFs for big projects because
of the wall performance characteristics and constructability,”
says Ed Storm, president of Reward. “In this case, the resort
will also benefit from the system’s excellent energy efficiency.”
The state also is home to the new Florida Armed Forces Reserve
Center, a 114,000-sq-ft multi-purpose facility built with Reward
ICFs in Pinellas Park, adjacent to St. Petersburg.
“The federal government and the corporate community are seeking
out alternative building products that provide lower life cycle
costs and more durability, something ICFs have done for years,”
says Storm. “This is a trend that will continue for years