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ICF Myths in Promotional Material

The following paragraph is an example of some of the ICF promotional material that we receive.  (Please take note that the following came to us as-is with the poor spelling and grammar, etc.)

What are the advantages/disadvantages of ICF?

“ICFS CONS /PROS; cons ;lower energy bills, won't be able to hear neighbors hotrod at 12 midnight more even heat distibution through the home lower fire insurance OH and the worst reason not to build icf its mother nature resistance and its green what will the bug eat dry rot will be an endangered species dust and mold will have no place to go PROS; the best home on your block for a comparable[sic] price to stick frame all funnen aside ICFS are the best build for YOUR money I HAVE TONS OF INFO FOR ICFS or www.pca.com tons of tech mat for homeowner or builder “.

This is a pretty typical response to a question regarding the benefits of building with ICF.  Let’s take a look at each comment individually but not out of context:

“Won’t be able to hear your neighbor’s hot rod at 12 midnight”

This statement isn’t realistic at all.  The ICF walls are only a small piece of the puzzle when looking at sound attenuation in relation to the exterior envelope of a house.  The ICF walls do have a high STC rating for a wall assembly (approximately 50 decibel which equates to at least twice as good as a standard stud frame wall assembly, depending on how it is constructed)  The windows, doors, roof, ceiling insulation and of course orientation to the noise source all play major roles in eliminating noise from the neighbor.  ICF homes do feel quiet in comparison to wood frame, but ICF alone will not knock out all of the exterior noises.

“Even heat distribution through the home”

Not exactly, proper sizing of the HVAC system is required.  Sizing of the HVAC system ductwork as well as the equipment would be considered a requirement of the particular design of the house, especially if it is an ICF home.  The HVAC requirements should be adjusted so that the air or heat cycles enough so that excessive moisture doesn’t build up in the home.   There  are stories about people that live in ICF homes that went to move pictures and low and behold they found mold behind the pictures….too much moisture in the house, and not enough circulation.  The use of HRV’s or air exchangers should also be incorporated into the HVAC design.  ICF’s don’t guarantee anything about even heat distribution in a home at all.  ICF’s do help cut down on unwanted drafts through exterior walls though.

“Lower fire insurance”

This claim is made all too often.  The premium that your insurance company is going to charge you is typically set by people other than your agent.  Your agent is the person that you hope will research the rates and then pass that research on to you as a reduction in your premium.  Most Insurance companies don’t have ICF walls in their system.  The best bet that you can bank on is getting a masonry classification for the exterior walls of your house.  In order to get this classification, you will have to meet the criteria of your insurance agent and the underwriter.  In many cases, the discount doesn’t even add up to $20.00 per year!  You have to shop for insurance much like you have to shop for a car.  Good luck!  If you have a story to tell about your encounters with insurance rates as they pertain to an ICF structure, send them our way so we can spread the word!  What nobody bothers to tell you about ICF walls and fire is that once the fire reaches a temperature of about 1385 degrees, you have a fire that is tough to put out since the fire resistance of the Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) is gone….now you have “gasoline” on fire.  The EPS will not sustain a flame by itself until that point, but reality says that the EPS is not what will be burning to begin with, so the EPS IS adding to the heat and fuel of the fire.  The addition of the EPS makes it tough for the fire department or you to put the fire out once it has established itself….even in  one room.

“its green what will the bug eat dry rot will be an endangered species dust and mold will have no place to go”

ICF can be termed a “green product”, but before you get sucked into the green game, think about whether or not the aggregate, sand, Portland cement, the Expanded Polystyrene (petroleum) are renewable resources.  Furthermore, think about the enormous amount of energy expended on the production and transportation of these products just to get them NEAR you!  Forests are a renewable resource, the waste is also easily disposed of in comparison to concrete and the petroleum of ICF construction.  ICF’s do offer energy savings to homeowners, especially if they close the envelope of the house in an energy efficient manner.  If ICF is to be termed green, it is “green” after the house is built, but I doubt it is “greener” until then.