How to save trees with concrete

New Brunswick’s first net-zero insulated concrete form (ICF) home.
New Brunswick’s first net-zero insulated concrete form (ICF) home.

In communities across Canada, people are recycling more, driving less, and conserving water. As construction goes green, insulated concrete forms (ICFs) have been soaring in popularity. Millions of people are now passionate about the efficient use of natural resources, and that has affected every activity from transportation to construction.

The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) estimates buildings in developed countries account for more than 40 per cent of overall energy consumption, due to the production of building materials, the construction process, operation, and maintenance.

Also, for the first time in history, more than half the world’s population lives in urban centres, and these centres are growing at a rapid rate. These two factors combined make it clear sustainable construction is critical to the future of the planet.

Consumer demand leads to cost-efficient construction

Many of those involved in the design, construction, and maintenance of commercial and residential buildings are also ‘going green.’

In an industry survey conducted by the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) in 2014, more than half of the Canadian respondents reported over 30 per cent of their projects were green, and 70 per cent expected to be doing green construction within three years.

The survey also determined client demands were the top triggers for increased green building activity in this country. Among home builders and consumers, there is a growing interest in homes built with ICFs to support an increased focus on the environment.

ICFs cut costs in the long run

In ICF construction, two faces of an insulated polystyrene foam block are separated by a plastic connector web. Several of these interlocking blocks are stacked together, and concrete is poured into the cavity to form a wall. Drywall can then be applied to the inside, while traditional exterior finishes, including brick, wood, and vinyl siding, stucco, and stone, can be applied. With continuous insulation (ci) on both sides of the concrete wall, ICF structures provide dramatic savings in energy consumption and operating costs. In fact, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) compared ICF and wood-framed house constructions and found ICF wall construction provides 20 to 25 per cent savings in annual heating and cooling costs. Other reports put that number at as high as 70 per cent.

Laura Catalan, director of marketing, Amvic.
Laura Catalan, director of marketing, Amvic.

ICF structures provide 75 per cent reduction in outside air infiltration, limiting dust and allergens, while being five times quieter than traditional wood-framed homes. Particularly appealing to environmentalists is the fact buildings with ICFs save at least 10 trees per home. Finally, ICF structures are better able to withstand severe weather events such as hurricanes and floods. Today, ICF homes represent approximately three per cent of housing starts in North America, but that number will be dramatically higher in a few years, as the rate of growth has increased by about 40 per cent year-over-year.

Laura Catalan, director of marketing for Amvic, a Toronto-based manufacturer of ICFs, says it costs three to five per cent more to build an ICF home than a traditional framed house, but adds the savings on energy bills make them more cost-efficient in the long run.

Amvic has gained a reputation for manufacturing highly user-friendly, Leadership in energy and Environmental Design (LEED)-certified ICFs, as their designs increase the speed of construction, reduce labour costs and, provide a very high level of performance during and after installation because of their more thermal-resistant blocks.

“We talk to a lot of people who want to build their homes and are looking at various features,” says Catalan. “They care not just about themselves but also about the environment and future generations.”

All information listed in this section was submitted by Amvic Inc.
Kenilworth Media Inc. and Construction Specifications Canada (CSC) cannot assume responsibility for errors of relevance,
fact or omission. The publisher nor CSC does not endorse any products featured in this article.

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