Disasters Don’t Have to be Devastating

In the past six months there have been devastating natural disasters here in America and abroad. We accept the tragedies that natural disasters bring as unavoidable and inevitable, but we don’t have to. We don’t have to lose our schools, hospitals, businesses, and homes, that much is preventable. Consumers have to demand more from the construction industry. They have to speak up and say, “Stop building me a house that keeps falling down, burning, molding, getting termites, etc. Build me something better. Build me something with Insulated Concrete Forms.”

The picture above shows ICF homes in a San Diego Suburb still standing after a wildfire swept through the area1.

We have to think critically and ask ourselves, why haven’t we learned from our mistakes? Why do we keep building with wood? A recent article in the Los Angeles Times reports, “The Wine Country wildfires destroyed at least 8,400 structures”2. If any other industry made products that continually failed, consumers would demand innovation, especially if that product was essential to your everyday life. ICF is that innovation in the building industry, and Forming Solutions is here to supply it.

The Time to Educate is Now

Forming Solutions is here to help contractors, architects, homeowners, business owners, and investors, take initiative and educate themselves on a better way to build. If people don’t, a considerable amount of the reconstruction in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, Spain, Portugal, and The Wine Country will be rebuilt using conventional stick frame methods, perpetuating the cycle of destruction whenever disaster strikes. With all of the unthinkable misfortune that came with these disasters, societies now have the opportunity to rebuild in a way that can prevent an incident like this in the future.

ICF Disaster Facts

Insulated Concrete Forms perform excellent in fire rating tests. In these tests ICF walls were subject to continuous gas flames and temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit for four hours. None of the ICF walls ever failed structurally3. Unlike wood, concrete doesn’t burn. Therefore, an ICF structure is less likely to spread fires as well. In addition, ICF structures can withstand winds over 200 mph and projectile debris traveling over 100mph4. ICF is also a great option for structures in areas prone to flooding. ICF is water resistant due to the non-absorbent nature of the expanded polystyrene (EPS) that is used in the insulated concrete formwork5. Hurricanes, tornados, floods, and fires will continue to happen, but we can make them less devastating. Forming Solutions wants people to keep their homes, businesses, and livelihoods after trying times, such as natural disasters. Meet us halfway and choose ICF for your next building project.

This ICF home is still standing even though Hurricane Katrina caught it mid-construction6.

1 “Survivor Stories.” Floridagreenconstruction.us. Accessed October 25, 2017.
2 Vives, Ruben, and Richard Winton. “Fire loss total surges to 8,400 structures in Northern California.” Latimes.com. October 23, 2017. Accessed October 24, 2017.
3 “Fire Resistance of Concrete Homes.” Forms.org. Accessed October 24, 2017.
“ICFs and Severe Weather.” Foxblocks.com. Accessed October 24, 2017.
“Flood Resistant Design.” Nuduraicfs.co.uk. Accessed October 24, 2017.
“Katrina_web.” Icfdirect.net. Accessed November 7, 2017.

 

Written by Allison Devlin

 

Built to Last Over a Century

Sustainable. A cliché we hear too often, yet never enough in a meaningful way.

Wood is considered by many to be a sustainable building material. However, wood is deemed sustainable almost solely because it’s renewable. In reality, it’s not an ideal building material and certainly not meant to “sustain” itself for very long. Wood is susceptible to mold, rot, termites, fires and natural disasters. It almost never lives up to its true longevity due to its incapacity to cope with environmental factors. As a result, more natural resources are used to re-build, adding to the fifteen billion trees cut down annually.¹ On the other hand, ICF structures will last at least two hundred years with minimal maintenance.² In addition, ICF has a four-hour fire rating and is termite and pest resistant.³ If everyone in America chose to build with ICF, U.S. property owners would save over five billion dollars alone from avoiding termite damage.4

Additional Factors of Sustainability

Here at Forming Solutions, we understand that sustainability isn’t just about making things that last. There are several factors to consider when determining the sustainability of a product. For example, one should speculate energy efficiency, manufacturing process, installation, and the disposal of byproduct waste.

Energy Efficiency– ICF structures are inherently energy efficient due to their Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) core, which gives ICFs an R Value of 30-60 depending on the thickness of the core.5 This translates to property owners using 44% less energy to heat and 32% less energy to cool the interior of a structure verses a traditional stick-frame building.6

Manufacturing ProcessEPS it is made from styrene, a by-product of crude oil extraction. No oil is extracted solely for EPS production. See the graph below for a breakdown.7

Installation– We use ICF base, a company that connects the best concrete specialists, general contractors, architects, dealers, engineers, and installers, all specializing in ICF. Essentially, they make ICF dream teams specifically for your area, to make an ICF project an easy success. Keeping everything local reduces the need for transportation and limits carbon emissions, but it also helps build a trusted network with people in your own community.

Waste– Since ICF is made from high grade EPS, it is one hundred percent recyclable. We take the scrap foam and number six plastic webs from sites we have worked with and deliver it to Marko Foam in Irvine. Marko Foam then recycles our EPS into surfboard blanks.8 In short, we are recycling a waste product of crude oil.


¹ Worland, Justin. “Here’s How Many Trees Humans Cut Down Each Year.” Time. September 02, 2015. http://time.com/4019277/trees-humans-deforestation/.
² “Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF’s).” Builderswebsource.com. June 30, 2012. http://www.builderswebsource.com/techbriefs/about_icfs.htm.
³ “ICF Construction on Fire Resistant Homes.” Foxblocks.com. June 23, 2014. http://www.foxblocks.com/news/.
“The Real Facts about Termite Damage.” American Pests. January 21, 2015. https://www.americanpest.net/blog/post/the-real-facts-about-termite-damage.
“ICF Energy Efficiency .” ICF Base. https://www.icfbase.com/learn/icf-energy-efficiency/.
“ICF Facts.” ICF Homes. http://www.icfhomes.com/DYKpages/dykFACTS.htm.
“How Expanded Polystyrene is Manufactured.” http://www.rmax.com.au/manufacture.html.
“Marko Foam x Forming Solutions.” Forming Solutions. http://formingsolutionsicf.com/building-green/marko-foam-x-forming-solutions/.

 

Written by Allison Devlin

 

Women in Sustainable Architecture: Highlighting Two Outstanding Architects

 

With ICF influencing architects in sustainable design, homes and developments are now capable of bridging creative gaps while still achieving many benefits. Functional requirements, cost efficiency, and unique aesthetics all need to be present in today’s architectural design. The utilization of Insulated Concrete Forms and their innovative shapes and designs allows all of these elements to be achieved. Laurie C. Fisher Architects and Gaus Architects are two amazing firms Forming Solutions works with. Both firms have inspired the push for beauty in architecture that utilizes sustainable building materials and they both have inspired us to sit down and ask them a few questions about their processes.

Laurie C. Fisher is a multiple award winning architect not just in design but also in sustainability, receiving an ICF Builders Award for one of her recently completed projects in Poway, CA. Fisher’s aspirations in the architectural industry include designing buildings and the spaces within them that actually shape our lives and our world. She makes a great effort to incorporate people’s personal desires in worldly elegance and environmental concern into the design of their homes while keeping in mind the requirements of functionality.

Herta Gaus is an expert in high performance educational facilities and is well rounded in all aspects of design. Born with a passion for creating and improving spaces where people can flourish, she conveys her talent with professional credibility and effectiveness, while always maintaining concerns of ecological responsibility and social awareness. Awarded with many accolades and publications, Gaus presents a more serious aesthetic in architecture. Or as some might say, a “Pursuit of Truth” (In Pursuit of Truth | A Journal of Christian Scholarship. C.S. Lewis Foundation, 28 Sept. 2007. Web. 21 Feb. 2017). 

We sat down and discussed ideas about sustainable design, where they see the industry now and where they believe it may be going in the future with both of these outstanding architects. Because Gaus and Fisher are both LEED accredited architects, we wanted to hear their perspective on how this growth in alternative building materials has influenced them and their careers.

Forming Solutions: What style of architecture would you say is your forte?

Fisher: Frank Lloyd Wright is a great aspiration however I don’t have a “style” per say, I base all my designs on solid geometry, classic proportions, and a custom response to environment and user requirements. It is important that my designs are elegant and efficient; elements always solve more than one problem.

Gaus: Nature defines my aspirations, not having a particular style exactly, I’m usually influenced in each project by its uniqueness and requirement in its own style.

Forming Solutions: As we remember Zaha Hadid this last year, did she have any influence on you and why?

Fisher: Not really, other than the fact that she is the only woman to achieve world “ROCK-STARchitect” status.

Gaus: I greatly admired her courage in the architectural world.

Forming Solutions: How do you think the building industry has changed over the course of time you’ve been working in it and would you say it’s changing for the better?

Fisher: It has definitely become more complex, mainly in the areas of fire safety and energy/resource efficiency. While this increasing complexity requires more professional expertise to execute, it has resulted in much needed improvements in building safety/durability, and resource conservation.

Gaus: It is changing for the better I believe, but the delivery part is in a state of confusion which we hope will be sorted out.

Forming Solutions: What are your biggest challenges in the sustainable building industry and how do we overcome them?

Fisher: There needs to be more coordination between distributors, installers and architects. We architects need to specify products that are compliant, and we need the supporting documents that coordinate developers’ material selections and installment in the field. It is essential that vendors keep up with evolving relevant codes, and their applicable installation requirements.

Gaus: The tension between first-cost and life-cycle cost which could be overcome with more public awareness.

Forming Solutions: Do you think sustainability has a large demand in today’s designs?

Fisher: Yes, at least in California simply because it is mandated by law. Where it is not, cost is more important; typically, if sustainability is an option it will only be considered if cost/maintenance/durability requirements are met first. This can be challenging.

Gaus: Larger than 20 years ago but still not large enough.

Forming Solutions: Would you say sustainability is an interest you keep in mind for designs?

Fisher: Absolutely; from day one. Orientation for daylight and ventilation inform my initial design concept. Form, materials and systems are all selected with efficiency in mind – not only energy efficiency, but efficiency of design. Design elements that have no function are wasteful; buildings use an enormous amount of resources, and any aspect of them that does not serve sufficient functions has no business being in the design.

Gaus: Of course, it is an interest I try to influence into a majority of what I do.

Forming Solutions: What motivated or directed you into the idea of designing with ICF?

Fisher: It is a smart structural system for certain building types, especially here in Southern California. We have a large demand for masonry-type styles – “adobe”, Spanish, Mediterranean, etc. Fire safety and resources (there are no trees here – wood frame construction is not very logical) also make ICF a good choice.

Gaus:  The material properties; it’s simplicity, longevity, durability, practicality, insulation values, energy efficiency/cost, acoustics, affordability and  flexibility. ICF is very well rounded in that way.

Forming Solutions: Where do you see sustainable design five years from now and how do ICF’s play a role in that?

Fisher: I see net-zero buildings becoming the norm, and the high insulative value of ICF walls will make this a practical use. It adequately fulfills the State of California’s energy compliance in addition.

Gaus:  Because of the issues facing our planet, interest in sustainability will grow. ICF is well positioned as a building material for this evolution. Public awareness, comparative costs and qualified installers are the three factors slowing down a more universal use.

Forming Solutions: What do you see as the challenges for ICF?

Fisher: Wide openings, offsets and cantilevers are a challenge in a two-story structure. One story designs are more versatile, but two-stories become very boxy. If a client wants a two-story building with lots of large openings and offsets, then I would not recommend ICF. It is also structurally very heavy; this poses challenges in foundation design in unstable soils.

Gaus: Competitiveness in cost and speed of production compared to conventional building materials will always be the case.

Forming Solutions: What would you like to see in the future for the evolution in sustainable building?

Fisher: More education and participation in the general public. Generate EPS recyclability awareness and technical support in installation for the industry.

Gaus: That sustainability becomes a mainstream way of building in addition to setting a new standard.

Forming Solutions: Any thoughts on smart home integration with energy cost savings? Specifically, how can smart homes utilize greener building materials to better integrate with the automation features in fixtures to save even more on energy bills?

Fisher: Smart home systems that give feedback to the owner regarding usage always get people excited about sustainability – when they can actually see the benefit in real time. A baseline comparison to a less “green” home might be interesting.

Gaus: A comprehensive approach is required.  There are many possibilities.

Forming Solutions: How do you better educate or communicate to the public about the benefits in insulated concrete forms and green building?

Fisher: The home improvement tv shows are immensely popular, if not always realistic.

Gaus: That’s the question. The public is more influenced by mass media than a “lone idealist.”

Forming Solutions: Would you build your own home out of ICF’s? Why or why not?

Fisher: For two-story structures It would depend on site conditions; if the soil conditions are managed through engineering then yes.

Gaus: Yes I would, especially if built into a hillside which would be my preference.

Sustainability in the building industry is urging great change in the way we look at design whether it be socially, economically or environmentally. The overall consensus is that we need to start building for a better future and reduce resources that do not generate a renewable benefit. As Fisher and Gaus point out, we also need to bridge the gaps and connect builders with architects and ultimately guide the end user or home-owner down the path of green building. This in turn will raise awareness, educate and bring everyone benefits in their homes and commercial buildings. We have a need for building products that maintain our investments for a lifetime and here at Forming Solutions we believe the answer is Insulated Concrete Forms.

 

Overview of a 12,000 Square ft. Custom Home

This custom home utilizes some of the most unique architectural complexities we’ve seen yet! With the help of Forming Solutions tech support as well as FoxBlocks specialty forms, the #ormanresidence crew had a great experience utilizing ICFs to create a beautiful home that will bring them lasting benefits and a one-of-a-kind look.

Myth-busting Basements with ICFs

With California’s real estate becoming scarce and overpriced, developers are finding alternative routes in achieving more square footage and value in their property. For a long time, the myth that California didn’t have a need for basements, was rooted in its history in tract home developments since WWII and the notion that because of the low impact of a minimal frost line, deeper embedded footings weren’t necessary along the coast. There have also been misconceptions regarding inferior strength of basements because of California’s seismic zone. Now that ICFs have been proven to exceed seismic requirements and offer unique benefits to basements, these myths of California not benefitting from basement construction are busted. 

High costs of property are now forcing developers to attain more value by digging down even though construction at ground level is thought to be cheaper and easier. With new innovative building products such as Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs), basements along the coast are becoming more enticing. Because ICFs exceed code requirements for seismic conditions,  the fear of earthquakes causing basements to collapse has faded away. Due to ICFs being constructed with a continuous concrete core and structural steel, they deliver higher strength values for deep foundations that allow for very little movement during an earthquake. Therefore, ICFs will grant homes the safest level of protection in structural strength below or above grade.

The expandable polystyrene (EPS) panels on both sides of the ICF forms help overcome many other issues usually found in basement construction, including waterproofing, mold and mildew, and allergens/infestation of bugs and rodents. In addition to those benefits, ICFs can deliver lower labor costs, faster production times, 4 hour fire ratings, higher insulation values, greater sound reduction values (STC ratings) and energy savings compared to conventional building. All these conditions create perfect spaces for recreational rooms such as offices, guest bedrooms or entertainment rooms which increase value and equity in a home by going underground and constructing subterranean basements out of ICFs.

Subterranean barrel room made out of FoxBlocks ICFs. Photo taken at the Hilliard Bruce Winery in Lompoc, CA.

Just because the frost line in coastal California is not very deep, it doesn’t mean basements aren’t a smart investment to make on lots in warmer climates. ICF basements in these climates also support indoor air quality. Assisted air exchangers such as Energy Recovery Ventilators (ERV) or Heat Recovery Ventilators (HRV) contribute in reduced respiratory issues of odors, better humidity levels, lower spore counts, cleaner air, and higher oxygen levels. Lighting design in basements can utilize alternative lighting such as CFL or LED, incorporating light wells and accommodating above grade windows to supply a welcome environment. With all these benefits considered, ICFs make subterranean structures very pleasant and comfortable rooms even though they are underground. 

Because of the many attributes, it’s clear why basements are now constantly being re-evaluated and incorporated into building on coastal developments. The benefits and values outweigh the costs when building basements, especially on high priced lots. Let’s find value in our investments buy making the most of them. Begin to think outside the box by beginning to think below the box. Let your next basement be built fast and built strong by using Insulated Concrete Forms.