An insulating concrete form (ICF) system uses hollow blocks made of polyurethane or polystyrene foam to form the foundation walls or even the whole house.

How it works

The foam blocks are fitted together like puzzle pieces or secured using C-shaped channels. Installers reinforce the forms with steel rebar, then fill the hollow chambers with concrete.

Electrical and plumbing lines are concealed within carved channels cut into the foam walls. Both the interior and exterior can be covered with any type of finishing product, including drywall, plaster, brick, stucco or siding.

Energy savings

The insulation value of a finished wall ranges from R-18 to R-26, and the solid concrete core virtually eliminates the cold drafts typical of wood-frame construction. This means most ICF homes have utility bills 30 percent lower than typical homes.

Other benefits

A typical four-inch-thick foam block wall is four to six times stronger than a conventional "stick-built" house, making it resistant to fire, violent winds and even earthquakes. In some areas, owners of foam-block houses may qualify for lower home insurance premiums.

The combination of high-mass concrete and permanent insulation will also reduce noise pollution, resulting in a quieter home.

Costs

The construction costs for ICF houses usually runs about five to seven percent more than wood framing, but the costs can be paid back in energy savings in two or three years.

More from this category

Finding an energy-smart builder

New home under construction

An energy-smart builder will help you make the right choices for your family and lifestyle.

learn more

Aging in place

Adjustable height kitchen sink

Using universal design principals, your home can adapt to your changing lifestyle needs.

learn more

Choosing energy-smart products

Mom and daughters playing in leaves

When building your new home, don't forget about the importance of energy-conserving products like furnaces, air conditioners and appliances.

learn more

Modular homes

Modular home assembly in a factory

Modular homes are built in a factory under controlled conditions, then shipped to the homesite and placed on a permanent foundation.

learn more

Building an energy-smart house

Pete and Megan talking with homeowners

Hear from real homeowners and builders who made energy efficiency a priority.

learn more

 

Historic preservation

Boy and grandmother on front porch

A preservation expert shares how to restore an older home economically and energy efficiently.

learn more

Energy rater and performance consultant

Energy rater performing analysis on a front door

An energy rater can help make your new home more energy-efficient through every stage of the construction process.

learn more

Decoding building requirements

house blueprints

Learn about some of the changes for new homes built today. An expert highlights some of the things to consider when building a new home.

learn more

Turning a barn into an energy-smart home

Megan standing in front of the barn home

A century-old barn gets the ultimate makeover - with lots of energy-smart technology.

learn more