We continue to hear a persistent comment when people are looking into building with Insulated Concrete Forms: “It’s that NEW way to build a basement.” Although ICFs in our area have become an increasingly mainstream technology over the past 5-10 years, the genesis of these products goes back MUCH further than that.
Prairie ICF has been in business since 2005 (originally operating as P.R. Sustainable Homes - you can see our company history HERE). The product we continue to distribute is NUDURA, which began operation in 2001. ICFs, however, actually date back to the 1940s! After the end of World War II in 1945, there was an enormous amount of rebuilding to be done. Insulated Concrete Forms were developed as an economical and durable means to help with this rebuilding effort. These early stay-in-place forms were made of a mixture of recycled waste wood and cement. It took a couple decades for this to evolve to a polystyrene form (polystyrene continues to be the most common material used in today’s ICFs). The first patent for an ICF in North America was filed by a Canadian contractor in 1966.
As with any technology, ICFs have evolved over the years – both with respect to design and quality. Early systems allowed for construction of basic design with limited concrete thicknesses, form options, etc. to accommodate specialized designs. NUDURA’s current line includes concrete thickness from 4” to 12” (or even thicker with unassembled panels), pre-molded 90 and 45 degree corners, T-forms that can transition between different form sizes, custom-made radius forms, One-Series to provide exposed concrete on one side, Plus-Series to increase insulation, etc, etc, etc. With these options, today’s ICF products can accommodate virtually any commercial or residential design. As important as an extensive product line can be, perhaps equally important is the consistency with which the product is made. Manufacturing foam plastics, such as Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) – the material that comprises NUDURA’s forms and most ICF’s currently on the market, is not a simple process. It takes a lot of experience and some finely tuned machinery to mould this material to a consistent quality. Suffice to say that a weak spot in a form that is designed to hold when filled with 1000’s of pounds of concrete is less than ideal. NUDURA, along with their manufacturing partner, Polyform Cellulaire, continue to revise/improve their product line and continually monitor the quality of product being released from their plant. This gives builders the assurance their project will go smoothly.
Recent estimates indicate ICFs account for about 2% of the entire construction industry in North America. In Saskatchewan we have seen an uptake in the residential market (specifically for foundations, but full-ICF homes are becoming more popular) and a slower adoption in the commercial sector. There are certain regions in North America that are seeing enormous success with ICF in various markets. The Kitchener-Waterloo area in Ontario is a hub of mid-to-high-rise buildings being constructed with Insulated Concrete Forms. Similarly, certain areas of the US have had success with schools, hotels, military projects, etc. built with ICFs.
Given the success that has been realized in all construction segments with ICFs, it looks like the future is bright for ICF and Prairie ICF will continue to lead the charge in our area!