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The History of ICFs

The History of ICFs | Green Harbor Building Systems GA

Insulating concrete forms, or ICFs, are forms used to hold fresh concrete that remain in place permanently to provide insulation for the structure they enclose. Their history dates back to after World War II, when blocks of treated wood fibers held together by cement were used in Switzerland. In the 1940s and 1950s, chemical companies developed plastic foams, which by the 1960s allowed Canadian inventor Werner Gregori to develop a foam block that resembles today’s typical ICFs. Europeans were developing similar products around the same time.

  • Insulating concrete forms made from a mixture of treated wood fibers and Portland cement were invented in Switzerland soon after World War II.
  • Werner Gregori, a general building contractor from Southern Ontario, Canada invented and patented the first ICFs in North America in 1967. Foam Form, the ICF manufacturing company started by Gregori, was the first to make the ICF blocks from EPS, a plastic foam product that was invented by BASF, a German-based chemical company.
  • The Foam Form ICF blocks consisted of an EPS block that was 16” high by 48” long with a tongue-and-groove interlock, metal ties, and a waffle-grid core. This became the de facto standard for ICFs for the next 15 years.
  • The biggest challenges to gaining initial acceptance of the Foam Form ICFs was contractor resistance to change and problems in gaining acceptance by insurance companies and in the fire codes. Later, contractors started using ICFs after learning about the ease of installation associated with this building material.
  • During the formative years for EPS ICFs, it was verified that ICF walls could reduce heating / cooling costs by about one-third.
  • The first ICF home in North America was completed in Oakville, Ontario in 1969. During this same era in the U.S., Dow Chemical had a building project in Wisconsin. Later in 1969, multi-unit high-rise residential buildings and a private school addition were constructed using Foam Form ICFs.
  • By the end of 1969, Gregori had established licensees in Miami, Fla; Puerto Rico, Japan, and Germany to manufacture Foam Form ICFs. European companies began to develop their own brands of ICF.
  • In the early 1970s, innovations from ICF contractors lead to the panelization of ICFs and the use of turnbuckle bracing for aligning the walls.
  • During the 1980s and 1990s, several of the North American ICF companies incorporated their own variations on the standard product. Some of these manufacturers made ICF blocks similar to the original design that was patented by Gregori while others pursued the panel or plank style.
  • In the mid-1990s, the Insulating Concrete Form Association (ICFA) was formed to represent the ICF manufacturers and others interested in the advancement of the ICF industry. Establishing ICF construction into major building codes and creating research and promotion programs for ICFs were some of the major accomplishments for this organization.
  • ICF producers continued to make improvements to their products and began training thousands of contractors in the proper techniques for installing their ICF building systems. The growth rate in sales of ICF forms increased dramatically from 50% to 100% each year until the first half of the 2000 decade at which time it began to level out to 20% to 30% each year. During this time, ICF construction of single-family homes in America constituted about 70% if the total ICF market while commercial and multi-family residential made up the remaining 30%.

In 2005, ICF Builder Magazine began the annual ICF Builder Awards to showcase ICFs in Construction & Energy Efficient Building

  • In April 2005, the ICF Builder Magazine, a publication created to promote the ICF industry and to educate ICF contractors and other construction trades and professional, rolls off of the presses. The ICF Builder Awards program was established later that year.
  • In 2006, many of the ICF producers staged a “Mega-Demo” at the World of Concrete to demonstrate how their respective ICF building systems are used to construct buildings. New residential housing starts (single-family & multi-family) begin a trend of significant decreases.
  • Fueled by the construction of schools in Kentucky and mid-rise apartments in Toronto, the use of ICFs in the commercial sector soared in 2007. Residential construction starts in the US in general continues in a downward direction.
  • In 2008, new construction plummets with the onset of a seven year recession. Some ICF producers like Arxx, Eco-Block, and American PolySteel merge in attempts to survive during this depressed construction era. The sag in residential building starts continues.
  • In 2009, the ICFA is disbanded. Residential ICF building reaches a valley of about 600 units per year at the beginning of the year and stays relatively flat throughout the remainder of 2009.
  • During 2010, “green building” continues to grow even in the midst of a major economic downturn. ICF producers demonstrate how the attributes of their building systems – energy-conserving, easy & fast installation, small carbon footprint, durability, and extremely low construction waste - make them a perfect green building material. Though ICF building starts in the single-family residential sector registered a small decrease during 2010, the rise in multi-family construction starts saw sufficient gains to enable a modest rise in total residential starts.
  • 2011 witnessed an increase in both the ICF single-family and multi-family residential sectors.

ICF are now being used for low and high rise structures

  • In 2012, high-rise residential construction surges in the Kitchener/Waterloo area of Toronto as several (more than six) building projects exceeding 15 stories were in progress or had been completed. The combined residential markets record modest growth in this year.
  • In 2013, Fox Blocks acquires Reward and the assets from Formtech and Commercial Block. Later that same year, Fox purchased Arxx Corp. Steady increases in combined US residential housing starts continues.
  • 2014 witnesses the creation of the Council of ICF Industries (CICFI) to replace the ICFA that was disbanded in 2009. This institute was created by the collaboration of four of the leading ICF manufacturers – Logix, Nudura, Quad-Lock, and Superform. Combined (multi-family & single family) ICF residential building starts show a sharp increase, and during the summer, builders were completing houses (of all types of construction) at the rate of 1.12 million per year, the highest rate since November 2007. Commercial ICF construction outpaces residential – 24 million vs 20 million in total square feet of ICF forms installed per year – to continue a trend started in 2010.
  • 2015 witnessed the May launch of the ICF Builder Group, a “professional trade association formed to meet the needs of the ICF builder. Its goal is to provide valuable tools to help ICF builders to take their businesses to the next level, thus strengthening the ICF industry as a whole."