ICF Construction for Commercial Property Owners in Georgia
Commercial Property Owners and ICF Construction
Owners/operators of commercial buildings with structural shells that have been constructed from insulating concrete forms (ICFs) reap the same amazing benefits that are realized by ICF homeowners, however, the payback on each of these benefits for homeowners is multiplied for commercial owners & operators due to the sheer size of these structures and the number of occupants that are affected by these overwhelmingly positive attributes.
For example, the superior energy efficiency (up to 70% better than wood-frame buildings) of ICF commercial buildings results in a large reduction in the expenditure of energy to heat and cool these structures; these savings equate to significantly lower operating costs and a sizeable decrease in the impact made to our environment.
Competing Building Systems
If you are going to be the owner/operator of a new commercial facility, your biggest concern in the bidding process is to get the best building for the least cost. Your second highest priority is meeting the deadline for occupancy of the facility.
Concrete Masonry Units (CMU):
For a large percentage of bids, general contractors, architects, and engineers will propose concrete masonry units (also called concrete, cement, or cinder blocks) as the building system of choice because this is what they know and they believe that CMU walls are less expensive to build than those constructed of ICFs. However, if you compare “apples to apples”, the cost of building ICF walls is in fact less expensive when you factor-in the costs of the other essential components of a wall that are included with an ICF installation but are omitted from the CMU contractor’s bid (and this doesn’t even include the large reduction in energy costs provided by ICFs.). The principal wall constituents that are typically not included in the CMU installer’s bid are listed below*:
- Reinforcing steel - the cost of materials and the labor for installation; rebar and other reinforcing steel components are always included in the ICF installer’s bid
- Insulation – foam or perlite inserts for the CMU blocks and a 5” sheet of continuous foam to bring the CMU wall closer to the thermal performance of an ICF wall plus installation labor; foam insulation is included in ICF walls as it is the forming system for the solid concrete walls
- Furring lumber or steel furring strips - for attaching external and internal finishing materials such as sheet rock and exterior cladding – normally quoted by the wood framer; the high density polyethylene ties of the Fox Blocks ICF system that secure the two Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) panels together also serve as attachment points for internal and external wall finishes.
- Sound insulation material to minimize exterior noise or unwanted sounds between rooms within the building plus installation labor; the EPS panels combined with the solid concrete walls of ICF buildings provide superior sound attenuation properties and don’t typically require additional sound-deadening material
- Waterproofing – labor and materials. Usually not a part of the CMU installers bid, this ultra-critical wall component is always furnished by the ICF installer.
Other advantages of ICFs over traditional CMU methods include:
- Strength: ICF walls are approximately twice as strong as their CMU counterpart. No building system can measure-up to solid, steel-reinforced concrete walls especially when it comes to standing-up to high winds (over 250 mph – with a concrete roof connected monolithically to the external walls), earthquakes, wildfires, and floods/storm surges. The following video by the Insurance Institute for Business & Home Safety shows the difference between a standard/traditionally built home and a Fortified Home.
- Speed of Construction: ICF buildings are completed twice as fast as their CMU equivalents using half the number of workers. What’s more, a worker with minimal carpentry skills can rapidly learn the skills necessary for becoming a proficient ICF installer which results in a lower average labor rate when compared to CMU installers. See below how a team of ICF Installers can construct a school in San Marcos Texas with Fox Blocks Insulating Concrete Forms.
- Energy Efficiency: No one will contest the fact that the thermal performance of CMU walls is vastly inferior to that of ICF walls which consist of a solid concrete wall sandwiched between two panels of high-density EPS foam, one of the best insulators on the market today. In addition to their superior R-values (which can be quickly modified by using varying combinations of Fox Blocks products, ICF walls take a giant leap over CMU walls in their reduction of air infiltration and their inherently high thermal mass attributed to solid concrete walls. To take a CMU wall to a thermal performance level approaching that of ICFs requires the addition of relatively expensive insulating materials that further broadens the cost difference between the two building systems.
- Flexibility: The ICF building system is arguably the most flexible on the market today and the Fox Blocks ICF building system is the most versatile of the ICF brands. Architectural details such as variable angles, curved and radius walls, arched doors and window openings, wall thickness transitions, and more that are difficult to achieve with CMUs are easily accommodated with Fox Blocks.
- Other Construction Trades: Though electricians, plumbers, HVAC technicians, and other building trades may initially feel a little uneasy about adapting to a new building system, they will quickly acquire the techniques for installing their respective utility conveyances after a short guidance session from the ICF installation supervisor and periodic assistance with penetrations from an ICF crewmember. In a short while, members of these trades will realize that ICFs are easier to work with than CMUs.
Pre-cast/Pre-stressed & Tilt-up (panels cast on site):
Two other non-traditional building systems that have experienced significant growth over the past two decades are precast and tilt-up concrete panels. First off, what is precast and tilt-up concrete construction?
Large concrete panels are cast (poured) at a large factory within a controlled environment. Typically, these panels consist of an exterior layer of concrete (non-structural, used for exterior finishes), a middle layer of foam insulation, and a thicker interior layer of concrete that serves as the structural component of the wall. After the concrete cures, the panels are transported to the construction site where they are put in place on the foundation using a crane.
The wall panels are cast at the construction site by placing the forming frame (wood or metal) on the building slab or on a temporary casting slab and then pouring the concrete into these forms. These panels are just like the precast type that consists of a layer of foam sandwiched between two layers of concrete. After the concrete cures, the panels are tilted into place with a crane and connected to the foundation and the other panels.
Why choose ICFs over precast or tilt-up construction?
As previously stated, commercial building owners normally opt for building systems that give the most “bang for the buck” and feature the shortest construction times. While both ICFs and the precast/tilt-up systems are very comparable in construction speeds, they begin to diverge in the areas of construction costs, influence of climate (tilt-up), wall strength, and accommodating last minute changes.
- Lower Construction Costs: Precast and tilt-up construction involve construction costs that are not required when building with ICFs. These additional costs are listed below:
Transportation: For precast construction, the cost of transporting these massive and extremely heavy panels by truck over frequently long distances becomes a significant contributor to the overall construction costs for the building. For a precast construction project, the panels must be smaller and more manageable to permit transportation by trucks over large distances. This factor often places design restrictions on architects which limits the applications for precast construction.
Furring Strips: Both precast and tilt-up construction contractors are required to add either metal or wood furring strips to the interior concrete wall panel in order to attach finishing materials such as sheetrock. The labor and material costs for installing the furring strips is avoided with ICF walls as virtually any interior finishing materials can be secured to the wall using the flanges of the high density polyethylene (HDPE) ties that secure the two ICF panels to one another.
Effects of Building Design Complexity: While the construction costs of building larger, more regular-shaped structural building shells with the tilt-up method is competitive with those associated with the ICF building system, the gap between these costs begins to widen with increases in the complexity (irregular shaped foundation and cut-up floor plans) of the structure. The inherent versatility of ICFs (especially the Fox Blocks brand) make them the ideal choice for buildings with many angles, curved walls, numerous openings, and cut-up floor plans.
Labor Costs: Casting wall panels at precast factories and installing the precast and tilt-up panels at the jobsite require higher skill level employees than those employed by ICF installation teams. This difference in labor costs widens the gap in construction costs between precast/tilt-up and ICF building methods.
- Influence of Climate: This limitation pertains primarily to the tilt-up construction method where the panels are cast in open air at the jobsite. Thus, if the weather drops below freezing, the curing process becomes more difficult and expensive, and will delay the construction schedule unless these delays are accounted for in the planning phases. On the other hand, the concrete can be poured into the ICF forms in the coldest weather conditions because these insulating panels shield the wet concrete from the freezing weather and allow it to fully cure without auxiliary covering or heaters with the exception of the very top course for extremely low temperatures.
- Wall Strength: Though the structural engineer for a precast/tilt-up construction project will always ensure that the interior structural wall achieves its required compressive strength, it won’t match the significantly higher compressive strength of the concrete within an ICF wall due to the longer moist curing times that are realized with permanent, stay-in-place forms. Please refer to the Concrete Compressive Strength vs. Moist Curing Time graph.
- Last Minute Change Orders: Precast and tilt-up construction cannot accommodate ‘eleventh-hour’ change orders that affect building walls without incurring large costs. To be able to perform changes to precast/tilt-up wall panels without an impact to the construction budget, all modifications to the wall panel must be made before the concrete is poured into the forms. Since the casting portion of the precast or tilt-up job is at the beginning of the project, superior coordination efforts involving all participants in the project must take place to avoid costly ‘after the pour’ modifications to the walls. ICF projects provide a longer period of time to make ‘after groundbreaking’ changes because the concrete pour occurs toward the end of erecting the wall (after the ICF forms are assembled, braced, and checked for plumb, level, straight, and square).
GROWTH SECTORS FOR COMMERCIAL ICF CONSTRUCTION
ICF construction in the education sector, mostly in public elementary and high schools, has experienced dramatic growth over the past few years in our country. Though the constant threat of high winds from tornadoes and hurricanes has spurred school systems located in coastal and tornado prone (Midwest and Southeast) sections of our country to build more resilient structures, a huge driver in the swing to the ICF building system is the savings in energy costs. Kentucky, one of the most progressive states in green and resilient construction for schools, has established ICFs as the de facto building method for providing protection for the building’s occupants during natural and man-made disasters, and for greatly lowering school operating costs by reducing the building’s appetite for energy. Let’s look at how this state has “taken the bull by the horns” in guarding the lives of its citizenry in the public education sector, minimizing the drain on public funds through large scale reductions in energy usage, and making a significantly smaller carbon footprint for our nation.
Following an EF-3 tornado that struck West Liberty in March 2012, West Liberty Elementary was condemned and deemed unsafe for occupancy. West Liberty’s replacement, Wrigley Elementary, had to be built on an extremely aggressive schedule, ensure protection against injury and possible loss of life for its occupants, minimize facility and associated property damage, and significantly lower energy costs – the answer: Insulating Concrete Forms.
This impressive story was recently featured in Concrete Homes Magazine. To read the complete in-depth article of the construction of this new school built with ICF to replace the original school destroyed by the tornado - click here for the August 15, 2015 Concrete Home Magazine ICF feature story (which begins on page 20 entitled “Making A Difference in Morgan County” by Sherry A. Boyd). Please note the direct comparison of the energy usage (electrical bill) between Wrigley Elementary and another school of comparable size in the same county that was built using CMUs.
Kentucky is also the site of the first ever Net-Zero Energy public elementary school in the United States. Richardsville Elementary School leveraged the high energy efficiency of ICF construction coupled with geothermal heating/cooling, natural daylight, and LED lighting throughout to lower the energy requirements of the building to a level that could be satisfied by a 208 kW solar photovoltaic electricity generation system. The result is that the school’s solar array supplies all of the electricity needed to meet the energy demands of the school, or more concisely: the net energy consumption for a building is zero. Another way of saying this is that Net-Zero Energy is achieved when the amount of energy consumed by a building on an annual basis is approximately equal to the amount of energy created by renewable sources on the site. From a financial perspective, Net-Zero Energy means that you are selling as much power to the electrical grid as you are buying from it on an annual basis. In the case of Richardsville Elementary, the average energy consumption for the building was measured at 18.2 kBtu per square foot, or a full 70% less than the 60.5 kBtu per square foot average for public schools in the same locale that were built using traditional construction methods.
See how the Fox Blocks ICF System is perfectly suited for Educational Facilities here:
Multi-family Housing & Hotels:
Other sectors within the commercial building sector where ICFs are experiencing sustained growth is in the multi-family residential and hotel markets. The many remarkable features of buildings constructed with ICFs are making a large impact with the owners and the tenants/guests alike.
The ICF properties that are most appreciated by new multi-family and hotel owners are as follows:
- Shorter construction schedules: All external walls and 26,000 sqft of interior wall space for a 22-story, 104,000 sqft student dormitory in Ontario, Canada were constructed of ICFs. The total ICF construction time for this massive building was 8 months, a significant portion of which was conducted in the winter.
- Superior Energy Efficiency: Leveraging the energy efficiency of ICF construction, multi-family housing and hotel owners can reap huge savings in the cost of heating and cooling their buildings (up to 70% when compared to equivalent buildings that were built using traditional construction methods). These savings will permit the building owner to offer more competitive rental and hotel room rates which in-turn improves retention of renters while bolstering the owner’s bottom-line. The high energy efficiency of ICF construction also enables the owner to cut his capital costs by reducing the size of the HVAC equipment needed to heat and cool his/her building.
- Excellent fire resistance: Responsible owners of hotel and multi-family housing complexes are concerned for the health, safety, and comfort of their guests/renters, but nothing trumps the protection of the lives of these people. Knowing that the walls of an ICF structure provide a 4-hour fire rating (using an 8-inch thick concrete core) gives the building owner the peace of mind that her/his building will give more than sufficient time to evacuate all of the building’s occupants and will sufficiently contain the fire while the firefighters are trying to extinguish it, thus minimizing damage to the building and its contents.
- Reduced exterior and inter-unit noise: The superior sound-blocking ability of ICF walls will greatly reduce the noise that enters the hotel and multi-family housing units from the exterior as well as unwanted sounds that travel through common walls between two rooms/housing units. Complaints from guests/renters about noise from the outside of the building or from adjacent units are rare in ICF buildings.
- Healthier, more comfortable living environment: The ultra-low air infiltration of ICF walls filters out airborne allergens and helps provide for even heating and cooling throughout the room/housing unit (no hot or cold drafts) due to the reduction of convective heat.
Additional Resources for Commercial Building Owners & Operators
Read the benefits of building Commercial structures with ICF & Concrete from the NRMCA (National Ready Mixed Concrete Association).
WHAT SERVICES WILL GREEN HARBOR BUILDING SYSTEMS, LLC PROVIDE TO COMMERCIAL BUILDING OWNERS?
Please refer to the ‘OUR SERVICES’ section for Commercial Building Owners for a detailed description of the full range of services offered by Green Harbor Building Systems, LLC to set your ICF construction project in motion and to guide and support you throughout the construction process.
*as taken from the article: "Know the Real Competition - Specifying ICF over CMU" February/March 2010 edition of ICF Builder Magazine.