Insulated Concrete Form (ICF): Construction Beyond Concrete

Insulated concrete forms or insulating concrete forms (ICFs) have brought a revolution in the global residential, commercial, institutional and industrial building industries. Other building methods are losing the limelight to building with ICFs, at a comparable costs, due to its unparalleled benefits of comfort, durability, energy efficiency, and safety ratings.

Lower energy bills. Lower maintenance. A home that’s healthier to live in, and easier on the environment. Compared to concrete, for conventional sticks and blocks, ICFs offer a simpler and arguably better answer to meet those issues in many aspects.

What is ICF?

ICF is a system of formwork for reinforced concrete which is made with a rigid thermal insulation that stays in place as a permanent interior and exterior substrate for walls, floors, and roofs. The forms can be characterized into three main categories: Block, Panel and Plank, each having their own advantages.


Concrete walls built with insulating concrete forms (ICFs) give a building enhanced comfort, solidity, durability, resistance to natural disasters, quietness, and energy efficiency. Use of ICFs is growing rapidly. They offer owners and builders many advantages compared to wood or steel frame walls.

Comfort. Buildings constructed with ICF walls have a more even temperature throughout the day and night. They have virtually no “cold spots”, and far fewer drafts. ICF walls have negligible air infiltration.

Solidity. Flexing in floors, as well as vibration and shifting from the force of wind is reduced by the solidity of concrete construction.

Quiet. An ICF wall only lets through one-sixth as much sound compared to an ordinary frame wall.


Energy Efficiency: The superior insulation, air tightness, and mass of the walls can reduce the cost of operating HVAC in the building by up to 40%. The high R-value combined with thermal mass means ICF walls exceed most energy code requirements. By reducing the building’s fossil fuel requirements, the ICF plays an important role in reducing the negative environmental impacts associated with fossil fuel use.

A third party project completed in 1999 for Natural Resources Canada confirms the energy savings of 46%, in building new houses with the ARXX (Blue Maxx) Wallsystem.

Fire resistance: ICF walls have also proven more resistant to allowing fire to pass from one side of the wall to the other. This is a significant benefit in areas where brush fires are common, or where high density zoning increases the risk of fire spread. Unlike wood, concrete does not burn. Unlike steel, it does not soften and bend. Concrete does not break down until it is exposed to thousands of degrees Fahrenheit-far more than is present in the typical residential or office building fire.

Natural disaster resistance


One would rightly ask just how expensive is it to get all these extraordinary benefits? The answer is you can get superior ICF technology for a lot less than you’d think. ICFs are so efficient to build with and easy to use, that the cost of building an ICF house is almost comparable (5-6% more) to that of an ordinary 2×6 wood-framed house.

Over the last ten years, ICF prices have been remarkably stable. Recent price increases in other materials have generated interest in concrete building systems as never before. Labour savings and readily available materials make ICFs, feature for feature, one of the most cost competitive wall systems in U.S. and Canadian housing markets.


As far as their availability is concerned, if you go through any building magazine, you’ll find manufacturers of insulated concrete form systems spending a fortune on advertising their products. They’re expanding dealer networks all over the globe, so no matter where you build, you can probably buy one of these products.

Mostly insulated form systems are used by builders to replace poured concrete or concrete block basements. However, the systems have more to it. They can be used for any concrete wall or foundation, but their greatest benefits apply to insulated walls.

Globally ICF market is expected to show a compound annual growth rate of 27.5%. North America currently dominates the market for insulated concrete forms followed by Europe and APAC. The developing regions of South America and Asia Pacific are expected to increase its market share in the future owing to the growing construction activity in the developing countries.