When contemplating putting an addition onto your home, it’s common to consider the size and shape of the annex, what purpose it will serve, and how you’ll want to design it. What isn’t so common is putting much thought into the actual construction process. After all, construction is construction is construction, right? Not so. Even if the existing part of your home was built in the traditional “stick-built” manner, you may want to consider something different. Although insulated concrete forms (ICFs) have been around for 40+ years, they are still not very well-known by the average homeowner, but they have tremendous appeal.
ICFs look like gigantic Legos, averaging in size around one-foot by four-foot and made out of Styrofoam. The hollow forms are stacked in courses and reinforced with steel before concrete is poured into the center to stabilize the structure. When completed, an ICF wall is extremely durable, energy efficient, and practically sound and bullet-proof.
The foam, which spans across both the inside and outside of the concrete wall, acts as a super insulator, giving an ICF structure a superior R-rating, meaning that the interior space is so well insulated that very little air will escape or enter the structure, which in turn, means less money to heat and cool it.
When the foam combines with the solid steel-reinforced concrete, the structure is practically indestructible. Structures made of ICFs are very weather resistant and can withstand natural disasters like tornadoes, hurricanes, and even fires much better than traditional stick-built structures.
Another great aspect of the ICF block is that it can be arranged to make any shape or sized addition you desire, and because it is easily cut into, installation of ductwork, plumbing, wiring, etc. is very easy. The foam and concrete are adverse to rot, rust, and insect bores, which equates to a low level of maintenance.
No worries about the addition matching up to the existing house; an ICF structure looks just like any other structure around, there’s no way to tell the difference from the outside. The blocks lend themselves to the installation of any type of exterior finish as well as to drywall on the interior.
While ICF’s add a slight percentage to your materials cost for an addition (about 1-4%), they are quick and easy to install for an experienced contractor, saving you money on labor. With their superior R-value, they will also save money in the long run through their energy efficiency.
Speaking of green, very little waste is made when constructing an ICF addition; the plans are evaluated to calculate exactly how much block is needed so that only scraps will be disposed of. Also, unlike some other concrete wall systems, the supporting structure (in this case, the foam), is not torn down and discarded, it stays in place and acts as insulation. Both of these features mean less refuse in your local landfill.
When your project is complete, you can sit in your cozy new addition and enjoy the benefits of ICF construction, perhaps even so much that you begin to wonder if you should rebuild the rest of the house to match its comfort.
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