Building with Insulated Concrete Form or ICF is sustainable. While some might question the green credentials of ICF, given that it consists of an expandable polystyrene (EPS) barrier filled with concrete, the truth is that ICF does not utilise natural resources such as timber, making it an environmentally responsible method of construction. Limestone, which makes the cement in concrete, is one of the most abundant minerals on the planet.
Conventional construction causes the destruction of millions of acres of forests every year from logging activities to produce timber since a standard timber house uses approximately 22 trees.
On the other hand, the EPS used to produce ICFs only contributes 1% waste to landfill. Additionally, ICF’s true environmental impact is achieved over the lifecycle of the building:
ICFs reduce energy use, preserving natural resources; are more efficient in heating and cooling saving up to 40% in energy costs; produce less waste compared to a timber frame building; and deliver 1% – net 0% waste by the end of the project compared to upwards of 15% using timber. The foam panels are 100% recyclable for multiple manufactured products.
EPS is comprised of 95% air, while ICF foam panels are made of 2% plastic derived from a petroleum by-product (usually harvested from already existing petroleum waste) with a 1% non-combustible component.
Another argument against concrete involves the release of carbon dioxide into the air during its manufacture. However, research is underway to find a solution for recapturing carbon emissions from the air and using them to make a recycled concrete product. This will help solve the problem and also create a more sustainable building product.
Moreover, concrete releases only 10% carbon emissions into the environment from its extremely long lifespan. Ongoing research suggests it actually could be even less.
Flame retardants and fossil fuels are used to produce the EPS used in ICFs. Although they account for less than 2% of the consumption, they are not considered the most eco-friendly of elements. However, they do ensure ICF buildings can withstand natural disasters and also increase the resistance of buildings to termites, rodents and mildew. These components also ensure strong and maintenance-free buildings.
Any manufacturing process of a material will undoubtedly have some environmental impact. ICF’s lifespan of 75+ years and recyclability minimise this impact when compared to conventional materials.
While there’s no perfect green building system on the market, ICF is a frontrunner based on its proven low energy consumption performance. With ongoing investment in R&D, Insulated Concrete Forms will continue to strive to be the greenest and strongest method of building in the years ahead.