For an ICF manufacturer, this objection is the most frustrating of the few objections that are normally voiced by architects, design/build firms and general contractors encountering the technology. It is the proverbial “chicken and egg” objection. It is a “chicken and egg” objection because if the architectural, design/build and general contracting firms were to promote the use of ICF/concrete building envelopes, the demand for their use would sky rocket due to the extraordinary value their use provides when considering the total cost of ownership of an ICF/concrete enclosed building.
The fact is clients rely on their architect, design/build firm and general contractor to recommend, design with and build the highest quality, most financially beneficial building method they can use while delivering design and functionality that meets their expectations. But in many cases, financially beneficial means “first cost” or what the cost to build the building will be rather than total cost of ownership which includes what a building’s first cost will be, but also includes an evaluation of a building’s operating costs over the time the owner will actually occupy and operate the building.
Without being exposed to the benefits of building, owning and operating a building that has been enclosed with ICF/concrete walls, developers and owners will simply not know enough about it to ask about or direct that their building be constructed with them. As a result, lack of demand then becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy.
There is a general perception in both residential and commercial building markets that building with ICF’s and concrete is much more expensive than with traditional methods. And because the focus developers, owners, architects and builders have on first cost, any cost differential is typically rejected for fear a project will not be affordable and will not be won.
The fact is that the materials used in and the construction of the building envelope can be a rather small portion of the total cost of a building. Most likely when an ICF/concrete envelope is considered, the envelope itself will be minimally more than other types of construction both in percentages and in dollars. It is often the case that this higher percentage or dollar amount for the building envelope is applied to the cost of construction of the entire building when in reality it should be applied only to the cost of the envelope and become a weighted cost added with others into the construction of the entire building.
ICF/concrete construction for both residential and commercial construction can be more or less than other forms of construction. It depends on the many factors at play in a particular market for a particular type of building. How much does lumber or steel cost? What is the current cost of concrete? How quickly must the structure be built? Are there shortages of skilled traditional labor? What is the cost of skilled labor in the area for traditional construction? What are the building codes for this type of construction? How large is the space around the construction site for storing and moving materials? What is weather typically like and what time of year is it? How important is the energy efficiency of the structure once built?
This perceived cost differential may in some cases be why there would be a lack of demand for ICF/concrete envelope construction.
ICF/concrete construction is more than 40 years old. It has been around long enough now that the kinks are worked out. All of the claims made for ICF/concrete construction have been proven to be true.
As far as risk goes, ICF/concrete wall construction is really nothing more than a cast-in-place concrete wall on which 2.5” panels of expanded polystyrene remain and to which all of the traditional finishes are attached. The structural benefits of steel rebar reinforced concrete are only amplified by the moist-curing benefits of surrounding the concrete with insulation.
There are plenty of architects, structural engineers and contractors who have either built ICF/concrete envelopes themselves or have managed trade contractors who have long experience building with ICF’s to construct buildings of all kinds from hotels to hospitals, senior living facilities to strip malls, banks to fast food, high rise condominiums and multi-family dwellings to single family residences large and small, expensive to low income. ICF manufacturers and distributors can put the right people in touch with each other not only to educate one another objectively, but to design and build with ICF’s to the benefit of clients.