icf, sip, geothermal, overwhelmed!!!! help!

August 26, 2011

Hi everyone! I hope you all can help me reach some sort of clarity with all the decisions I am facing.

Nutshell: We will be building a 2500 sq ft farmhouse type, 2 story, with unfinished basement (to be finished later.) We want to do an energy efficient house but are on a tight budget.

We have 4 little kids and live in Indiana......tornadoes, extreme heat/humidity and cold/ice. We will have some woods to our east (house will face south), but the rest of the house will be open to the elements and we are on a hill.

We also are hoping to GC.

Having said all this, I need some help figuring out which "green" options are best for our family and location. I initially thought we would do ICF and geothermal with a pond loop (pond is not built yet.) But I've heard ICF and geo are overkill.

So then I thought maybe ICF and an SIP roof. But my area of the country doesn't boast a lot of workers skilled in green building techniques, so I'm a little afraid to forge ahead as our own GC, knowing that I will need to help teach the workers what to do.

We will probably use a whole house fan, no matter what. We had one when I was growing up, and I just loved the fresh breeze blowing thru the house in the spring and fall.

I realize that our location in the country will determine what is overkill, and what is necessary for reduced energy consumption. If any one has any insight/advice you can give me as to what combination would be best for us, I would be VERY appreciative!!

Comments (29)

  • marie_ndcal

    If you are not experienced in building, I would do lots of research, get some professional help, and if others have built in your area, find out who, what, materials, other information. Not sure about facing south--which way do the storms come in from Here in ND, we face east. As to tornados, make your basement as finished as you can. Know your weather, R rating, wind sheer danger etc. There is much help here, just review the different postings by going to the bottom of the page and type in the search what you want. Also KNOW your area, as every one is different. We built to deal with 10-40 below winter, but not much humidity, but flooding because of the high water table.
    Are you in a city/country/sewer/septic? That all makes a differece. I do with you the best.

  • david_cary

    Are you all electric or do you have NG? That helps to determine if geo is overkill. ICF is overkill if entirely for energy efficiency - it is the tornado protection that is worth it for some. Geo if you can do a horizontal loop (which it sounds like you can) is usually worth it.

    Lots of questions..... How much do you want to spend to be energy efficient?

  • kelhuck

    @marie- we're not novices, but my no means are we experts either. We built the house we are currently in with a GC, so we have some idea of how it works....and how hectic it will get when all the subs are here. I have several books sitting in my Amazon cart as I type. We also have lots of resources to pull ideas from, except in the case of green building- seems everyone still does stick built, and geothermal is still a novel idea. This is where my problem is- not really having a local resource to ask questions of and get recommendations. There are companies that install geothermal, but of course they're going to tell me it's always a good idea, so I'm trying to figure out what my best options are all on my own. The nearest ICF guy is 100 miles away.

    Tornadoes usually come at us from the SW, so our house will take the brunt of force (if one comes in our path) since there won't be a woods on that side of the house to help buffer.

    @david- we will be all electric. The idea behind the ICF was both for energy efficiency and tornado protection. However, we will have the basement we can always head to, if we just do stick built. But there have been many times that a tornado warning has been announced in the middle of the night, and we have to decide just how serious to take the threat/assess the trajectory of the storm, etc to determine if we should wake the whole house and get them to safety. If we lived in a concrete house, I would be able to rest a little easier, for sure.

    We are definitely willing to spend the money up front for the best long term payoff.....but I also don't want to spend a ton of money and not recoup the cost thru energy savings.

    Our all electric, 2000 sq ft, 6 year old house costs us about $450 per month in the winter, and about $200 in the summer. We have a heat pump.

    So, if you were in my situation, would you think that ICF with geothermal is overkill? If so, which one would you choose? (Or other options- SIP, SIP roof, etc.)

  • david_cary

    I don't necessarily think ICF and geo is overkill but we can make some assumptions.

    New house same size with good air sealing and above code insulation would probably be something like 3/4 your current bill. 4 months full winter, 2 months full summer = about $1600 total HVAC per year.

    Geo might cost $10k. ICF $15K.
    Geo would probably drop you to 1/2 or save $800 a year.
    ICF might save you 25% - save $400 a year.

    Doing both - save $1000 a year.
    So Geo - 12 years, ICF - 35 years, Both 25 years. That is a really rough guesstimate but I think you need to find these things out. With a tax credit, Geo maybe less which is why it makes good sense in an all electric situation in the North. ICF may be more than $15k - I think it depends on the local situation and whether it is common.

    Given current interest rates, a 25 year payback is probably not a bad idea. Getting 4% tax free is pretty good. But you have to have the ability to get the mortgage or pay cash. By my guess - ICF is a pretty long payback but if tornados are common, that seems like an intangible. It is also quieter and longer lasting.

  • dekeoboe

    Since you said you would rest easier living in a concrete house, have you considered pre-cast concrete? That's what we are building. Do they do Superior Walls in your area? Around here lots of people use them for their basements. Our walls are similar, but we are using them for the whole house - our pre-cast concrete walls are 20 feet tall.

  • kelhuck

    @dekeoboe- uh oh, did you just throw another option my way?? haha Sounds interesting- I'll take a look at it soon and see what it's all about.

    @david- you have no idea how grateful I am for your comments! I've mostly been a lurker for a long time, and I've grown to trust your feedback. I really appreciate the help!

  • dejongdreamhouse

    We are building a full ICF house. To a certain extend I can relate to the fact that ICF might be overkill - if you're doing it for just energy efficiency. We decided to use it for the following reasons:
    - Sound proofing, ICF houses are very quiet
    - Stability, concrete doesn't move much... ;-)
    - Air quality, thermal broken walls with almost zero air infiltration (do need mechnical ventilation)
    - Tornado proof, many tests have been done with objects hitting your ICF wall at 100mph simply shattering on the wall instead of penetrating
    - Energy efficiency, think $300/yr in gas (albeit add $100/mth for HP use)

    In our example, a geo unit would take > 25yrs to pay back since the passive efficiency of house (HERS modelling shows a potential low 40s, high 30s) is so high it simply doesn't use much to begin with so off-setting the extra cost of geo is not worth it to us plus we are in a development so can't do water or horizontal looping.

    That being said, adding to all the reasons mentioned before, we choose ICF since we are lucky to have a local ICF builder who has build 75+ ICF houses. If you want to GC yourself, contact some ICF block manufactures. Many are willing come to the site to help train your crew.

    Here is a link that might be useful: De Jong Dreamhouse

  • robin0919

    You might also have much lower insurance costs with an ICF house since you are in tornado area.

  • david_cary

    Hard to look at gas estimates (with dual fuel) - I only pay $150 a year with r-13 fiberglass stick built walls.

    Remember that walls are just a portion of losses and gains. Here on totally conventional hoouse, they are 35% of heating and less than 10% of cooling. So even with perfect walls, you don't have miracle savings. Sure there is some infiltration help but you aren't talking much when you compare ICF to a well sealed conventional house.

  • energy_rater_la

    your current utility costs are pretty high!

    stick builds are most common in my hurricane
    area. lots of solid sheeted walls 2x6 unvented attics.
    studies have shown that homes with unvented attics survive
    high winds better than vented because the uplift is
    stopped. you should check out
    for your climate.
    fortified building practices create load paths that tie the house sections together..roofs attached to walls attached to foundation. these fasteners like simpson strong ties go a long way to making homes stronger.
    but like anything requires attention to detail.
    proper sized and types of nails..with proper amount of nails are the problems I encounter. each strong tie has a
    required nail size type and quantity or strength is compromised.

    personally I like sips. strength, continous insulation values, and make a tight house.
    with any different build there is a learning curve. finding out what builders are in your area that do these types of buildings would be a huge factor.
    then the other trades have to know how to run plumbing
    electrical and install ducts for hvac system.

    probably half of my clients start out wanting to do geothermal..but costs are just too high in my area.
    these same clients usually go high efficiency heat pumps
    (15-16 SEER is our sweet spot) if all electric
    and use heat pump water heaters for more efficient water heating (and the 1/2 ton of a/c is a bonus) these systems
    have energy factors of 2.30 and higher. compared to standard electric at highest EF of .95
    if gas is available..stay with high efficiency a/c and
    pair with high efficiency gas furnace. 96% installed in sips or foam insulated attics as they are self condensing
    and do not require additional combustion air.
    the cost of these hvac systems even at high efficiency
    is much less than geothermal...for this area.

    that we put our ductwork & heating systems in attics
    here (stupid stupid stupid but common) it just makes
    sense to do sips roofline (not ceiling) or foam insulated attics. in a basement install of ducts and mechanicals it would be a different story?? no basements here at all so no experience with them.
    but keep the uplift of the roof in mind.

    having blower door tested quite a few of both sips and icf
    I do find that icf has the most potential for leakage.
    maybe due to learning curve..

    buildingscience has builder's guides for every climate.
    this is the book that I'd recommend. these books detail every type of build and how to make it strong, durable and efficient. (I've worn out two books in my 10+ years!)
    Joe Lstburik (sp?) is a building scientist who tests all aspects and types of builds.
    his quote that green building is 80% efficiency and 20% everything else is a very true statement.

    having an energy rating done on your house from plans
    will give you upgrades, utility savings and payback.
    these are blueprints for efficiency.
    while a comprehensive indpendent audit will cost a few hundred dollars, having unbiased information during your build helps to cut through the sales hype that you will encounter when choosing products and componets of your new home.

    best of luck.

  • kcmo_ken

    Living in an ICF house myself, I would identify that there are intangible benefits that might be hard to quantify. Sound, peace of mind (tornado area), just the sheer solidity and feel inside. Albeit when I built, the price of lumber made ICF a cost savings, and when you save money by going to ICF that decision becomes a no-brainer.

    I have found greater savings on HVAC during the spring and fall; here in four season country we have days where we would turn on the furnace in the morning, and turn on the air conditioning in the peak of the day - with ICF this isn't necessary as it definitely slows the temperature delta and not be subject to wide temprature swings. In the winter, I don't think ICF saves me anything over quality construction. In the summer, ICF definitely saves me money because it tempers the temperature swing between night and day allowing me to use smaller HVAC, and thus giving me a better opportunity at humidity control. You ever wake up cold and clammy in the morning, this is because your HVAC is oversized for your night condition; temper your HVAC needs between daytime and nighttime, use smaller equipment, you get better humidity control => nice.

    Now then, I wouldn't make any assumptions about reduced insurance costs. I have found the opposite to be true. Your insurance rates are based on damage curves, and in tornado area that damage curve isn't going to matter if you have ICF. However the cost to rebuild ICF is higher, and this will be reflected in your insurance rates. Perhaps in your locale you get an insurance break for ICF, in my locale not so much.

    As to geothermal, in my locale the payback simply didn't work for me. Also given service life of HVAC vs. service life of your house, I would upgrade the house before I upgraded the HVAC. HVAC I buy today is far more efficient than HVAC I bought 15 years ago, so upgrading HVAC efficiency is definitely something I can add in at a later date when the system reaches the end of its useful service life. Upgrading the structure itself, not so easy to do at any point. I invest in the structure, and not the systems in the structure.

    As to all electric, I would look at solar for at least hot water, and using hot water radiant to offset some of that electric heat pump cost.

  • lazy_gardens

    Look at and her series on building an ICF house. It's detailed, with pics and everything.

    We are planning an approximately same size house as yours, a variation on the American Foursquare, with ICF and hydronic heating/cooling. Solar collector to heat storage.

  • kelhuck

    @lazygardens- thanks for the link!! I know what I'll be doing during my next few "free" hours! :)
    @kcmo_ken- I especially appreciate your response, since it sounds like you're a fellow Midwesterner with real life experience.
    @energy_rater- see, I didn't even realize that I could have my home plans rated. I did a search and found a guy one county over, so I'll be calling him up soon. Thanks for your advice! We will be putting our heating/cooling unit in the basement.
    @icfgreen- thanks for sharing your experience. I'll be checking out your blog soon!
    Thanks everyone- you have all given great feedback!

  • PRO
    Epiarch Designs

    being a 'hardcore green designer', I am very familiar with all of these systems, but more importantly, how they perform in certain climate regions. This is the most important part of choosing your efficient shell...something that works in the south will not work in the north. (obviously)

    To focus on the types at hand:
    ICF is a great product, but you have to use it to its benefits for your area. Being in the midwest (I am from Iowa, zone 6) and Indiana is zone 4 or 5, depending if you are more northern or southern. The first thing you need to figure out is what are the most important factors to you. If you want sound and high STC rating, strength and storm resistance (note- resistance, not proof. I have designed several FEMA 361 rated saferooms, and trust me, typical ICF construction will no where near meet these requirements!),
    and air tightness, then ICF is for you. If you are after energy savings, for zone 5, you are going to gain about 5% tops over standard good wood frame, code min. construction.
    This number is based on true real world case studies of ICF structures built around the US by ORNL as well as Building Science. A 5% energy savings will result in an extremely long payback. ICF walls, in a heating dominated area, perform marginally above the r value of their eps foam. Most are around an r-24. That is basically what you will get out of your wall. You have an expensive, yet high strength r-24 wall. This is just r-3 above code. Higher r stick framed walls (r-30 plus) can be had at a lower cost, and will save you more on energy consumption. However regardless if you use it from footing to roof, I think ICF can not be beat for basements. Superior wall is also a good option too. Either will perform better then a typical 8" poured foundation even with a typical 2x4 batt interior frame wall (netting around an r-11 vs r-23-30), not to mention to very high potential to mold growth.

    SIPs are also a very good, strong product. However their install is extremely critical. Forgetting to caulk 1 single joint, or a joint that is not very tight can throw off the infiltration ratings for the entire shell, throwing your added costs out the window. Another criticism for SIPs are the potential for rotting exterior osb and how you fix that since it is part of the structural skin. rotting osb on a frame wall, you simply cut it out and replace it. You can not do that with a SIPs panel. However know I am not suggesting it will rot, it is just a possible downside that many are leery of. SIPs should price out slightly lower then ICF, but it also depends on your thickness. Standard 4" panels are below code min, and 6" panels barely get you there. If you are looking for higher r, consider 8" panels, or possibly urethane panels. A 6" urethane panel will hit around r-40s while the 6" EPS will be around r-30 for similar cost.

    Geo prices, I have found, are obviously extremely regional. In my area, a 3 ton high end system can be installed for $20k, which is considered very cheap. Other areas its double. Remember, your shell is #1, hvac is second. The tighter and higher r you make your shell decreases not only your upfront hvac costs, but obviously your bills for the life of your house. With the right shell design, your 2000 sqft house should not need anything higher then a 2 ton system, max. In fact depending on your shell, you could get by with a min split system. My 3400 sqft house (under design) has estimated heat loading, in zone 6 with 7400 HDD at only 19k BTU. The house I live in right now, an older 1300 sqft (total conditioned space) required nearly 30k btu.
    Estimated geo heating is about $40/month, plus some hot water generation (in summer months) via DSH.

    Also realize your hvac system will need an ERV or HRV, whichever they typically recommend in your climate zone. Most in heating zones will recommend HRV, but that is not always the case. Some still prefer ERV claiming it does not transfer the outdoor humidity that the HRV does.

    Along with the shell comes other items such as your roof. windows and doors, basement and slab insulated values. Design and placement of openings can also make a world of difference on the total cost of the project and energy consumption. If you have a strong southern exposure, design for TRUE passive solar designs will practically heat your house come winter during the day. A number of years ago I designed a passive solar house, and when it was 5 degrees outside on a sunny day, the furnace ran a little in the morning and typically did not kick on until around 4-5 at night. This was with correct windows and a high r/tight shell which is easily within your reach if you do not do ICF. Window selection, side, placement, overhangs, glass types are all extremely important for all elevations of your house. The sprawling wall of glass you see a lot these days is about the worst thing you can do. Every sqft foot of glass is roughly the same as 10 sqft of wall surface, heat loss-wise. North glass should be minimized to be useful. Windows 10' up on the wall are not useful. You can not see out of them, and the lighting they let in in is marginal compared to typical egress windows. Heat loss is 10x the light gain benefits.
    North elevation glass should be the best you can afford, triple pane windows with low u values. u values should be below .2. Energy star .29-.3 windows are NOT that great at all. An energy star window is only an r value of around 3.3. Compare that to your wall value of 25-30...big heat loss.
    However on the south side, if you want high solar gains, you will not be able to get an energy star window at all. Which is fine, since their rating system makes 0 logical sense in terms of super efficient structures. An ES rated window will not perform the best on a south elevation. Which is interesting because you would think their goal would be maximum performance?! For south windows you need to look for glass with the highest SHGC you can find, yet still maintain lowE glass. SHGC numbers around .5 is your target. However your u will be typically around .35, so not an ES window. Pella is about the only 'big guy' that makes a specific solar glazed window, however Marvin and other high end windows probably do as well, but you will pay for it. Look for LowE hardcoats for solar elevations, soft coats for north and west. I would imagine if you asked a contractor or someone at the Lowes window desk they would just stare at you.

    You house also has 6 sides, all of which are important to heat loss. Your roof I would recommend r-50 cellulose min., r-60 if you are feeling frisky. The cost difference will be extremely marginal, and thicker roof insulation have very fast paybacks. Also consider r-10 rigid XPS foam below your entire basement slab.
    For high r houses, I typically use the 10-30-40-60 approach...10r below slab, 30r basement, 40 r exposed walls, 60r attic. For a climate zone 5, you can bring those down slightly.
    Like I said, air sealing and your shell should have the most money put into it you can. This is where your payback lies, not in your geo system. Extra air sealing and insulation pays you back...expensive granite counters do not!

    I would also recommend alternative wall types besides SIPs and ICF to hit similar and higher efficiency values for lower upfront costs. As you stated, the basement can serve as your storm shelter if you consider these other routes.

    One option is 2x6 advanced framing with exterior sheathing of rigid foam. True OVE framing omits the wood sheathing, but I still like to use it for added peace of mind and strength. I also like the Huber ZIP product for wall and roof sheathing, as it gives you an near instant air barrier and water tight enclosure, especially on the roof as soon as its taped off.
    For your climate zone, going with exterior foams and preventing the risk of trapping moisture and mold in your wall, you need to hit roughly r-7.5 of continuous exterior insulation. this is 1.5" of XPS, the sweet spot for foam construction. Include wet blown cellulose in your wall, and you will be netting a wall performance of roughly r-25 for a much lower cost then ICF or SIPs. With seams taped on both XPS and ZIP, your infiltration will also be very low and similar to either system. Adding additional exterior foams only make your situation better, however you start to encounter additional costs and issues for the building since thicker foams complicate the detailing and cladding attachment more.

    However my favorite, and most cost effective high r assembly is the double stud 2x4 wall. This is what I am using in my own house hitting around r-45 for a LOWER cost then exterior foams of around r-35-40.

    Regardless of the wall type you choose, do a blower door test to check your infiltration ratings and to find and seal the leaky parts. I typically spec this to be done before the insulation goes in so they are easier to find.

    Sorry for the super long post, but hopefully it sort of answers some of your questions, but I am sure will only rise many more! that is good, do your research. It blows my mind people will spend $200k++++ and take a builder's word for it without research. The more you do, the better off you will be. Good luck!

  • kelhuck

    @lzerarc- what a FABULOUS post! I know this must have taken a long time for you to type up, and I really appreciate your efforts. I have a page full of notes now, and the mud in my head is finally starting to clear out, thanks to you! I had never considered a double stud wall, but from your recommendations, and the quick internet research I've been doing, I'm starting to really like the idea!

    I do have some questions about your new house- what kind of insulation are you using between the studs? Are you insulating the I beam/rim joist area and are you staggering the studs?

    Also- what Google term do I use to find someone locally who can help me and make recommendations? A green architect or builder, an energy auditor? I have no idea who to call to sit down with me for an extensive amount of time to go over these details to make sure I'm on the right path.

    Thanks again for your valuable time!

  • PRO
    Epiarch Designs

    Any kind of blown insulation will work well, whether fiberglass or cellulose. Fiberglass tends to naturally not settle as much. Cellulose is a much greener product and with denser, which will aid in thermal performance at lower temps as well as sound deadening. Cellulose is also typically a little cheaper as well. However it must be installed ether dense packed to the proper density or wet sprayed. Both need to be done be a good installer that has blown THICK walls before. The install is extremely important so it does not sag over time leaving gaps in your wall.

  • kcmo_ken

    Kelhuck, for me, it was my architect. I knew I wanted passive solar (real passive solar, not just south-facing glass), I knew I wanted more than just 2x4 stud wall with R-13 insulation. Exactly what I wanted I didn't know though. Having the architect was critical to making it all work, working through numbers on return-on-investment of different options, etc. Now then, finding any architect was easy; finding an architect that could fill my needs was very challenging.

    Ultimately I found my architect through volunteering at Habitat for Humanity and working side-by-side with an electrical engineer that was a fanatic about energy conservation and energy efficiency; he introduced me to an architect that was just as fanatical. It was also Habitat builds that introduced me to ICF; and while definitely a premium product I don't figure Habitat was looking to see how much money they could spend on individual housing.

  • energy_rater_la

    the thing that makes insulation work is stopping air

    while sips is my prefrence, I've rated homes with
    icf also. on two of the 10 the air infiltration was
    high. thermal scan proved to homeowner where leakage
    was. maybe a combo of icf walls and sips roof would
    eliminate this issue.

    anyway glad that you (OP) contacted an energy rater.
    shop for one with experience and not a newbie.
    make sure that you have enough return air from master
    suite..undercutting door only rerurns one supply.
    transfer grills and jump ducts allow the air to
    make it back to the return. unless you have a r/a in
    your mbrs. and remember that having closets in this area
    produces a lot of moisture. you should have a supply in
    closets also. doesn't have to be a lot of air but you want
    to circulate the air in the closets. things smell musty
    and grow mildew.

    best of luck.

  • kelhuck

    @energy_rater- great tips!
    @kcmo_ken- thanks so much for your input! I'm so glad to finally know *what* I need to contact to help me I just need to work on *who* is the best fit for us. THANK YOU!

  • SpringtimeHomes

    I was worried from the first comments but you are obviously on the right track thanks mainly to energy rater and lzerarc. The most Cost Effective Green, Energy Efficient path is Airtightness and Continuous Insulation for your envelope.

    My thoughts on ICF: Precast Concrete Walls are almost the same thing at MUCH reduced costs, if available. Unless of course you have free or very cheap labor. ie Habitat

    I have to this point, used Precast concrete walls(Superior Walls) as basements and SIPS above grade. The past two SIPS jobs have been Polyurethane and have loved them. I may try the double stud walls soon but I am skeptical of their reduced costs. I also dont like how they block natural light especially on my Passive Solar South windows.

    I have seen several double stud wall designs that dont address the transitions, which can be true for SIPS as well.
    Hang your floor system from your walls!

    Stick framing with foam or mineral wool sheathing is probably the most popular High Performance Building method in the country right now but I feel SIPS offer close to the same performance with MUCH less labor costs to offset the higher material price. Good to be concerned about sealing the joints, but thats true for all building systems and SIPS have much fewer joints to worry about. As for rotting sheathing, this is extremely rare and easily fixed by someone competent in SIPS.

    For your owner/builder situation, I think it would make sense to get a pre-cut SIPS panel package and hire a SIPS installer or contractor with good previous Blower Door Test results. Otherwise, your spending a lot of time trying to figure out all the details that goes into the other envelope systems mentioned. Most manufacturers will offer free training to framing crews as well, just be careful that they take the sealing very seriously.

    I agree with most of the later Geo comments. I might add that if you are for sure doing the pond, those type of systems tend to be the most affordable. Using a good Energy Rater is crucial. Good Luck!

  • SerenityLand

    Hello! We live in Indiana too and are working on building an icf home. We are at the point of researching icf builders but there are very few in Indiana that we have found. Have you chosen your icf builder yet? If so, can you share their name with us? We found an icf builder in Michigan but would like to see about someone local also to compare cost of building. We also need to find electricians and hvac people who have worked with icf homes before. I don't know how to go about researching on them. Any help would be greatly appreciated!

  • kelhuck

    @serenityland- sorry for the delay in getting back to you!

    We've decided to go with ICF below grade, SIPS exterior walls, radiant heat flooring (using Warmboard) and standard central air conditioning. We haven't started building yet, though.

    In Southern Indiana, Simon & Harris Construction is a dedicated ICF builder. Not sure where you are, but I know they will travel. They have a website- you can google to find it.

    Also, have you been to the Indianapolis Home Show? It's coming again in a couple of weeks- starts Jan 13th I think and runs for 2 wks. I would guess that you would be able to find some ICF builders there. If not, you'll still see plenty of great ideas!

    Good luck!

  • SerenityLand

    @kellchuck - Thank you for your response! We are in Indianapolis area and we had checked Simon & Harris they are in Derby, IN. They didn't want to travel up here. We will definitely go to the home show as we have been a few years ago and there is plenty of information there. Thank you for reminding us Good luck with your home building as well!

  • kcmo_ken

    SerenityLand, I would not worry about whether you can find trades familiar with ICF as the solutions are pretty easy. I would know the solutions, and find trades that are open to learning.

    For example, my Sparky had never worked ICF and was skeptical. I told him to tell me where he wanted wiring in the ICF walls, where he wanted boxes in the ICF walls, etc. I then pulled out my handy router, set my depth gauge, and cut the foam where Sparky said he needed wiring and boxes. I also used some electrical boxes with "ears" that I had picked up from the local big box. And to secure wires in the foam, enter spray foam. Sparky was amazed at the ease of doing this, decided to buy his own router, and has done several ICF houses since.

    Other trades you will want to talk to are anyone having penetrations in the walls (put some PVC pipe in there they want penetrations, before the walls are poured). This might include Sparky (service, AC location, external fixtures, phone service, cable service), HVAC (intake and vent for furnace, ERV/HRV, lineset), Plumber (supply line, DWV line, intake and vent for HWH). If you miss a penetration or two, it isn't that big of a deal. However you don't want to pay to core too many holes in your nicely cast concrete walls either, it gets kind of pricey.

    Any then you want to know how to hang sheetrock (my sheetrockers looked dumbfouned until I showed them how to find the webs and to use #8 screws instead of #6), trim carpenters (not much to nail trim into ICF, but easy solution is to screw plywood base or at crown molding level that is smaller than the trim and then let the sheetrockers finish flush to the plywood), cabinet hangers, carpenters (how do you secure wood stud walls to ICF, what about floors and/or roofs, get out the Simpson or USP catalog, and don't be afraid to use connectors for hurricane areas as FedEx delivers overnight), etc.

    Basically you don't need trades that have direct experience with ICF. You do however need a trade that is open to new experience and new technique, but you need to provide them the solutions (ICF isn't new technique, solutions exist, research them and don't expect your trades to do this for you).

    Good luck.

  • kelhuck

    @serenityland- hope you check this thread again. We just came back from the Indy Home Show and had a great discussion with a vendor there who builds ICF homes. They are Crane Construction and they are in the Allisonville area. They have a website- We are seriously considering going the ICF route now....which is frustrating because we thought we had it all figured out! ha But having someone with lots of experience brings a value to the table that we can't ignore. We have some thinking to do! Hope you're finding some answers for your house, as well!

  • omerfeyzoglu

    Great advice folks , ı learnt so much from the educational comments

    Here is a link that might be useful: Composite Garden Decks

  • ICFdealer

    I figure that you are done building by now... But for others reading your post, I thought I would add a little here.
    Building is NOT "rocket science"!
    In my area, there are a lot of total amateurs using ICF's, with great success! (Even with no previous building experience !)
    I seen a lot of specialized info above, that I think can be misleading.
    ICFs have more of an insulating effect than just the foam... The "mass" rating of concrete between the foam layers, adds to the R effect, (which in my products case, ends up with a total of R-35+ effect)
    Another thing that I didn't see is energy costs are always going up! So Higher R values are in your best interest!
    Did you also talk to the local inspectors ?
    Talking to previous ICF builders is a good idea... For me they are better salesmen than I am!
    There are LOTS of different brands of ICFs out there, and they each have their pros and cons, especially for the installation process.

    As with most everything, you can anything you set your mind to...
    Keep up the research too... Fore you will soon be the expert in your area.
    Have a great day!

  • Brian_Knight

    This is such a great thread. I hope that others, not necessarily interested in the title, are reading it. Not sure if ICFdealers recent post will last but feel the need to offer some additional viewpoints.

    The "mass" rating is an ICF sales pitch to make the product more appealing but it has very questionable value. ORNL studies showed that thermal mass walls can improve a home's energy performance but the advantages are difficult to measure when the thermal mass in the wall has insulation to the interior side of the wall. If there was an ICF out there with all insulation to the exterior and concrete to the interior then this could be a more legitimate claim.

    In my area, it appears most ICF construction has been replaced by pre-cast concrete panels.

  • Gary6958

    I have ICF blocks. (Insulated Concrete Forms). Any amount for sale.
    Shipped to any country worldwide.

    Size: 50” long (127cm), 10” high (25.5cm) and 6” (15cm) wide
    (with a nominal concrete core of 4” (10cm) ).

    It is the exact equivalent of 4 CMUs (concrete masonry unit) in area and only weighs 1.25 pounds.
    The forms are stacked without mortar and are interlocked like a Lego Set into which reinforced concrete is placed, creating a wall and foundation with a fraction of the labor of conventional CMU. Please email with details of quantity needed. Country to be delivered and target price to:

Need help with an existing Houzz order? Call 1-800-368-4268