Insulated concrete forms pros and cons

Insulated concrete forms pros and cons

Insulated concrete forms have been around for over 20 years now and have been used to build new homes around the United States. It’s been in development longer than that and I think that the future at this moment will see further development in its popularity.

What are insulated concrete forms

ICF (Insulated Concrete Forms) is a pretty new concept to the general public and concrete contractors alike. Quite simply, they are stiff, hollow foam forms that fit together like a puzzle to create basement walls and upper floor walls as well.

The ICFs are two-sided blocks that have 2 inches for foam board insulation as the sides of the form. Plastic ties hold the two sides together. These forms interlock with each other forming a wall.

Once they are fitted together, concrete is poured inside the foam forms. Although there are still contractors who know nothing about ICF, they hold many benefits over the use of the standard poured concrete or masonry block basement walls.

Energy Efficiency

ICF homes are extremely sturdy because the forms are filled with concrete, making these homes like small fortresses. The foam board insulation on the interior and exterior acts as a double barrier to the elements, creating a very well insulated cavity.

The more beneficial to the energy efficiency is that the walls are completely airtight. The only way air can penetrate a home of this design is by opening windows and doors, or mechanically bringing air into the home. These scenarios require the use of ARV (air recovery ventilators) to bring in fresh air to the home and prevent indoor air pollution.

Insulated concrete forms cost may be high, but so will the savings in time

Insulated concrete forms cost

The cost of ICF is fairly priced competitive with poured concrete walls. Although ICF is initially a little more expensive, the amount of money saved on energy consumption is greatly reduced. Simply, ICF completely insulates the basement, which is where heat escapes most in a house. This keeps energy costs very low.

ICF forms are about $30 for 16×48 section ICF blocks so the price can add up very quickly. This does not include turnbuckles (used to support the wall while the concrete is being poured), or straitening ties.

The cost of concrete is roughly $80-$100 per yard depending on the geographic location and the amount of concrete you are purchasing. The more you buy, the better the price.

Because of the cost of the material for this type of home building, many people do not feel that the extra cost is worth the energy savings. However, similar performing homes have much higher insulation costs than ICF homes narrowing the price gap between the conventional and ICF building styles.

Building any home more energy efficient will require a larger investment than building conventionally. At some point, the energy-efficient building will no longer be an option, but part of the International Building Code. This will bring the costs of energy efficiency from a dream to a reality.

3 reasons to use Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) for basement construction


ICF basements are surrounded on the inside and out with thick foam. These basements feel completely different from any standard poured concrete basement as they are well insulated from both sides.

With concrete alone, moisture is allowed to seep in and create mildew and moldy smell over time. ICF basements will literally never have this problem. Moisture just cannot get through the foam walls. The added comfort of the ICF makes finishing a basement much more pleasant.

Energy Consumption

Some people only think of money when talking about the amount of energy ICF basements save. Other people realize the amount of energy and natural resources they will save by insulating their basement.

When the heat doesn’t escape, there is no need to run the furnace, heat pump, stove, or geothermal system. Saving electricity and natural resources is just one step you can take to help the earth live for your grandchildren’s children.

Ease of Finishing

Nowadays, finishing the basement is becoming more and more popular. When people need or want to add to the square footage of their house, finishing the basement is by far the most cost-effective method.

When using standard concrete poured basements, the only way to finish the walls and add drywall is to bolt studs to the concrete. Then you are able to screw the drywall to the studs. ICF basements are much different. You can screw drywall directly to the foam forms.

This saves a lot of time, energy, and money. There is no need to buy extra lumber for studs and nail them to the walls. The foam acts as a stud all around the basement.

Cons of Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF)

There were lots of pros for ICF, but as promised we should deliver some cons as well. The first one is that the walls will be thicker because of the double insulation. That will eat a little space away. It’s also hard to remodel afterward if doors or windows need to be installed. Then again, not all walls need to be built like this. Depending on contractors the price might be higher if there’s no competition.

Also when building underground the foam should be designed to be waterproof and to be against insects. Those two can lead to some trouble if missed. There might be some technical issues as well if the contractors aren’t familiar with the technique or they try to take shortcuts for schedule. That isn’t an ICF problem in itself.


Insulated Concrete Forms have a lot of things going on for them. If installed properly, this building technique can be very energy efficient even if they come with higher cost than traditional concrete structures.

The problem might be that the builders have to know what they are doing to execute it properly. Nothings more disappointing than being high price for something that doesn’t work as advertised.

Still, that is not a ICF problem only, but affects whole construction field.

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