ICFs and the new green standards

As ICFs have not previously fit under one specific code section (i.e. they fall under sections dealing with insulation and R-value, as well as structural sections for walls), the new ASTM E 2634, Standard Specification for Flat Wall Insulating Concrete Form Systems, seeks to provide language suitable for adoption within building codes. (ICFs are classified under Division 03–Concrete within MasterFormat as 03 11 19.)

Concrete being poured to fill the ICFs.
Concrete being poured to fill the ICFs.

The scope contained in ASTM E 2634 defines ICFs as systems “that will act as permanent formwork for cast-in-place reinforced concrete beams,” among other building elements such as lintels and below-grade walls for both load-bearing and non-load-bearing walls, foundations, and retaining walls. The ICF manufacturer provides two moulded EPS insulation panels held in parallel axis to each other by moulded plastic or stamped metal with cross ties that typically vary depending on which company produces them, but all offer the same or very similar Work Results.

ASTM E 2634 consists of many other ASTM standards that each establish the required minimum compliance criteria for each attribute required for the ICF components. It does not cover the manufacturing procedures and only a few companies have applied and have become certified under the standard. Most reputable manufacturers have gained International Code Council (ICC) Evaluation Reports, which shows their compliance with the earlier ASTM standards now part of the combined new one. Specifiers can look for both types of documentation in manufacturer’s guide specifications, and either is a legitimate compliance path until several years from now when the new standard starts to become incorporated into building codes.

In Canada, the new Underwriters Laboratories of Canada (CAN/ULC) S717.1, Standard for Flat Wall Insulating Concrete Form Units, is nearly identical to the U.S. version because there is a lot of overlapping of the performance and quality auditing requirements of the ICF systems. However, in respect of Canadian code-specified references, the ancillary standards are understandably different. The new standard will help specifiers ensure projects are receiving ICF products of a high level of consistency and quality.

CAN/ULC S717.1 was approved for publication by the ULC Standards Committee on Thermal Insulation Materials and Systems during their November 2011 meeting. The committee provided the task group with a mandate to address the concerns of four committee members before ULC publishes the standard, which is expected in February 2012.

While the industry task group members were closely involved in the development of ASTM E 2634 and made significant efforts to match requirements between the two documents, there are some variations between them.

The scope is the same in the ULC and ASTM standards, as the Canadian one used the American version as a starting point, according to Keven Rector, a member of the CAN/ULC S717 committee and a technical expert with an ICF manufacturer. There are a few differences, of course—for example, quality control and product certification portions or administrative requirements within the ASTM standard were moved to ULC’s informational annex sections in the Canadian version. Overall, the same standards referenced in ASTM were only changed in Canada when an equivalent domestic standard existed, such as those for thermal barrier protection and flame spread.

After the foundation is poured, steel reinforcement is prepared.
After the foundation is poured, steel reinforcement is prepared.

LEED 2012
Concrete construction offers environmental benefits in an array of areas, including energy conservation. ICF construction has a direct impact on LEED certification for the following reasons:

  • energy conservation through levelling peak energy demand;
  • reduced impacts on indoor air quality (IAQ) due to the sound barrier benefits the construction method creates; and
  • increased building reuse potential.

The new U.S. LEED rating program for 2012 includes stricter requirements for gaining certification in an ongoing process of producing environmentally neutral, or even restorative, architecture. The goal is to eventually ensure the lowest certification level produces buildings with an environmentally neutral impact, with the higher certification levels potentially returning resources to the environment through net-zero-energy buildings. In the proposed LEED 2012 standards, several organizational changes to the rating system are worth noting when it comes to ICFs.

In the past, CaGBC has adapted its American counterpart’s LEED rating systems once they are released. The process of adaptation has allowed the Canadian council to recognize differences in codes, standards, regulations, and guidelines. Currently, CaGBC is working with USGBC and other Green Building Councils from around the world to develop a framework for adapting LEED for use internationally. CaGBC is hopeful this can be done in a way that meets the requirements of the Canadian market; such a framework should allow Canadians to benefit from the new rating systems as soon as they are launched (currently planned for November 2012).

This situation makes it important to understand the current LEED framework in the United States. A second public comment period ended in September for a draft of LEED 2012 for Building, Design, and Construction (BD+C), which will cover these programs:

  • New Construction (NC);
  • Core & Shell (CS);
  • Schools;
  • Retail;
  • Data Centers;
  • Warehouses & Distribution Centers;
  • Hospitality; and
  • Healthcare.

Preceding the new version, USGBC released the “LEED Pilot Credit Library,” which is already available to project teams under the current LEED 2009—many of these credits will become permanent in the new rating systems.

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