Cover Story: Forming a strong market
Insulated concrete forms, a building system utilizing expanded polystyrene shapes to construct poured-in-place concrete walls, have been used around the world for 30 years. ICF results in a wall struc...
Insulated concrete forms, a building system utilizing expanded polystyrene shapes to construct poured-in-place concrete walls, have been used around the world for 30 years. ICF results in a wall structure with a sandwich-like EPS-concrete-EPS construction (see box “Like Lego blocks with concrete”, this page).
Only recently, however, has the market for ICF in North America grown to the extent that the technology is attracting widespread interest within the construction and building materials industry. According to the Builders Websource, the number of homes built with ICFs is now doubling each year. Coupled with the strong penetration of ICF in the commercial market, many experts predict the ICF industry will enjoy triple-digit or higher annual growth over the next decade.
ICF manufacturers have long touted the advantages of owning ICF-built structures: energy savings of 25 to 75%, reduced construction costs, excellent sound attenuation and safer, stronger buildings. However, just as important a factor in the recent growth surge has been advances in ICF technology which eliminated some of the installation-related drawbacks of earlier systems, and helped broaden acceptance of ICF by engineers, contractors and home owners. A number of Canadian companies have been at the forefront of these developments.
Headquartered in Edmonton, AB, Beaver Plastics Ltd. is one of five partners in a company launched to manufacture a new ICF product line. The company, Logix Insulated Concrete Forms, was founded last June and has already seen promising growth and strong interest for its product within the construction industry, according to Lyle Hamilton, Logix product manager at Beaver.
Logix’s other partners are P.S.C. Moulding (Ajax, ON), AMC Insulation Corp. (Winnipeg, MB), Formsystems Inc. (Kansas) and Perma “R” Products, Inc. (Tennessee). Hamilton says Logix evolved from the contract foam manufacturing business each of the five individual firms had been doing for a large supplier of ICF building products. When the customer decided to use a single company to manufacture the expanded polystyrene forms of its ICF wall system, the five ousted suppliers convened and founded Logix.
The Logix product line incorporates a number of innovations suggested by end-users of ICF systems. “As contract ICF foam manufacturers we’ve been dealing for years with technical issues raised by contractors and end-users of ICF systems,” says Hamilton. “We took these ideas and suggestions for improvements and incorporated them into Logix.”
The standard Logix ICF block is made with 2.75 in. wide EPS panels, which is thicker and more rigid than other brands manufactured in standard sizes ranging from 1.5 in. to 2.5 in. The thicker foam accommodates easier electrical and plumbing rough-ins, and stands up better to internal vibration during concrete placement. Vibration is often used when pouring concrete to eliminate voids and ensure the concrete sets properly.
Hamilton says another innovation relates to the design of the plastic webbing which connects the inner and outer EPS panels. The webs are made of recycled polypropylene and feature wider attachment surfaces for interior and exterior wall finishings. The webbing also incorporates an “open” design that allows concrete to flow well into the spacing and creates slots that receive and properly space a range of steel reinforcing bar.
Logix’ EPS panels are made on shape molding machines. Beaver’s Edmonton plant has 16 EPS shape molding machines, as well as block molding equipment. Another Beaver facility in Chilliwack, BC, also produces Logix EPS panels. Additionally, Beaver manufactures its own line of patented EPS insulation products for the construction industry.
“We’ve been providing innovative products to the construction industry for over 25 years,” says Beaver general manager Todd McCarthy. “We believe Logix is the most contractor-friendly ICF on the market.”
More prime-time Canadian players
Coburg, ON-based Arxx Building Products is one of North America’s largest vendors of ICF flat block systems. The Arxx High Performance Wall System (formerly BlueMaxx) has been on the market for 10 years. The company claims that over 65,000,000 sq. ft. of the wall system has been installed in commercial, residential and agricultural structures across North America. Arxx contracts the manufacturing of the flat EPS insulating forms to a number of foam manufacturers in North America, according to Sherri Bebee, marketing manager at the company. Bebee says ICF is still a relatively new technology to North America that is gaining increasing acceptance.
“We are seeing increasing use of ICF, especially in commercial projects, such as offices and hotels,” reports Bebee. “Developers like the added safety and sound insulation properties our ICF wall system provides.”
The external and internal expanded polystyrene insulation, which encloses the poured concrete walls, contains fire-retardant additives. Arxx walls have a UL/ULC fire resistance rating of two to four hours, compared with 20 minute fire rating for a typical wood frame wall. As well, Bebee says the Arxx wall carries a Sound Transmission Class (STC) rating of 50, which means loud speech from the opposite side of the wall is inaudible.
With seven manufacturing plants across Canada, Plasti-Fab takes the title for the largest EPS molder in Canada. The company’s product line covers a wide range of markets. In addition to insulation and ICF systems, Plasti-Fab manufactures EPS marine products, such as rafts and docks, concrete forms, geotechnical fill, as well as custom packaging forms and displays.
Plasti-Fab’s patented ICF system is sold under the trade name Enermizer Building System. The Enermizer system combines two panels of Type II EPS insulation to sandwich a core of cast-in-place concrete. Plasti-Fab has conducted tests which show that walls constructed with the Enermizer Building system have higher effective thermal resistance (R-value), as well as providing reduced air leakage, in comparison to a standard 2 x 6 in. stud wall with R-20 Batt insulation (See Table 1).
Air leakage is one of the biggest sources of energy loss in buildings. The air leakage rate for building construction is quantified in terms of air changes per hour (acph). An air change is defined as one air volume change. Air leakage rates for a range of house constructions are from 0.2 acph for super insulated house construction to 2.0 acph for an older house not upgraded — i.e. a “leaky” house.
“We see the demand for ICF systems increasing dramatically in the future, especially for single and multi-family residential structures,” says Jim Whalen, technical marketing manager, Plasti-Fab. “However the success of these systems will depend on being able to provide full service, such as on-time delivery and technical service, to the end-user at the construction site.”
|Wall Type||Description of Construction||Air per Hour||R-Value||Temp. Inside||Temp. Outside|
|2 x 6″||More energy efficient upgraded||1.0||16.8||21C||-29C|
|Stud Wall &||old house or typical new house||(70F)||(-20F)|
|Enermizer||Higher energy efficiency new house||0.5||23.2||21C||-29C|
|Building||e.g., R2000 or better house design||(70F)||(-20F)|
New Council gives voice to natural plastics composites
One sure sign that the plastic-wood composite industry has arrived is its formal embodiment in a new association council by the Canadian Plastics Industry Association. The CPIA formed the Canadian Natural Composites
Council (CNCC) in December of last year, so it is still getting its feet. However, Stephane Baffier, the Council’s manager, says Council members are energized by the exciting prospects of the natural composites industry and are ready to tackle its mandate.
One part of that mandate is to help in the development of standards and codes that will enhance acceptance of wood-plastic, and other natural composite materials. Two other features of the Council’s mandates are to drive R&D on natural composites, and raise awareness of natural composite materials and products through effective communication.
Baffier says the formation of the new Council was in part inspired by articles on the plastic-wood composites market that have appeared in Canadian Plastics over the past few years.
Victor D’Souza, president of Imperial Building Products, has taken on the role of chairman of the CNCC. Frank Maine, president of PSA Inc., has been appointed chairman of the Council’s marketing committee. Other Council member include Avest Profile Systems, Brite Manufacturing, Composite Building Products, GSW Building Products and Nexwood Industries.
ICF: Like LEGO blocks, with concrete
Over 50 companies in the U.S. and Canada manufacture insulated concrete forming systems for use in foundations, basements, multiple-story dwellings and commercial facilities. While there are various types of ICFs, they all share the same basic concept.
First, the footings of the building are leveled. Next, ICFs made of expanded polystyrene are stacked in a running bond pattern around the structure’s perimeter, forming both an exterior and interior insulated wall. The inner and outer walls are linked by some type of metal girding or plastic webbing; additionally installers lay reinforcing steel bar inside walls for structural support. The ICF walls are braced and anchored, then pumped with a soupy concrete mixture. Concrete cores generally range from 4 to 8 inches in thickness, while the thickness of each layer of EPS insulation is 2 inches or greater. The EPS provides an ideal curing environment, and tests have shown that ICF concrete is up to 50% stronger than concrete cured in traditional wood form systems. Depending on the ICF system, a variety of finishing materials, such as drywall, siding, brick, etc., can be applied to cover the inner and outer walls.