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Home Construction in Noble: Why ICF?

In the Summer of 2022, Rose Rock Habitat for Humanity broke ground on one of its most ambitious projects yet: a home built using an alternative building technology called insulated concrete forms (or ICF). The polystyrene forms stack together much like Lego® building blocks, except that the ICF blocks have an open space in the middle. Once the walls of the home are built using these blocks, the opening in the middle is filled with reinforced concrete, adding strength and stability to the insulated forms. This building technology offers benefits to Rose Rock Habitat including faster construction compared to traditionally constructed homes, and it offers benefits to Habitat Homeowners in the form of energy savings, disaster resistance, pest resistance, and reduced allergens.

Insulated concrete form construction has a history beginning in the mid-twentieth century. Beginning in Post-World War II Switzerland, blocks of treated wood fibers held together by cement were used to build weather-resistant homes. The first patent for insulated concrete forms worldwide was in 1937 Belgium for a product named Durasol. Meanwhile, chemical companies were experimenting in the emerging technology of plastic foams. These foams would be used in 1967 for the creation of the first patented ICF in North America, called Foam Form, by Werner Gregori. The market was ready for his invention. ICF construction gave the industry a way to get around the sharp rise in the price of framing lumber and skilled labor. In 1969 alone, lumber prices doubled. At the same time, the patent for expanded polystyrene beads (the material ICF blocks are made of) was set to expire, which would cut the cost of manufacturing Foam Form in half. Other companies, including Dow Chemical, were developing ICF technology contemporaneously. This makes naming the true ‘first ICF structure in North America’ difficult to do. The first project Foam Form was associated with was for a residential home in Oakville, Ontario, Canada, in the year 1968.

Since its invention, ICF construction has made space for itself in residential and institutional applications. In Oklahoma alone, seven schools, kindergartens and after-school programs have chosen to build all or part of their buildings with concrete insulated forms. Most of these school districts have used ICF to build safe room additions, because of the technology’s ability to withstand winds of up to 250 miles per hour. Another Oklahoman brand that has chosen ICF construction to keep both consumers and employees safe is Grand Casino in Shawnee. The conference and safe room of Grand Casino is 26,000 square feet (about half the size of the White House) and the largest ICF project in Oklahoma. The tallest known ICF building in the North America is currently ICON 330 (Formerly Icon Waterloo). Built in only 13 months from 2012-2013, the student housing high-rise stands at 22 stories or 207 feet tall; ICON houses 1500 students at the Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. In the United States, the largest Insulated Concrete Form building is in South Jordan, Utah. Like ICON, The Megaplex 20 Theatres took only 13 months to complete. This is even more impressive considering the building is about twice the area of a Manhattan city block, and has over 350,000 square feet of ICF walls, which is the area of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. The Megaplex 20 Theatre took advantage of the innate soundproofing that construction with ICF confers in the buildings that use it. Clearly residential and commercial developers have seen the strengths of ICF construction, but what does it mean to Rose Rock Habitat and the families we serve?

Rose Rock Habitat for Humanity is a nonprofit organization that, among other things, builds affordable housing for families who need it. When discussing affordable housing, we are not only talking about the mortgage, but the continued costs to the Habitat homeowner—the largest of these being energy costs. Between intrinsically high R-values of R-22 to R-40, airtight construction, and a high thermal mass, ICF construction can cut energy costs in half. The airtight construction also grants benefits for allergy sufferers; with less airflow from outdoors, fewer allergens circulate throughout the home. Rose Rock Habitat (under our former name, Cleveland County Habitat for Humanity) contributed to the recovery from multiple catastrophic tornados in Moore; we’re intimately aware of the danger of natural disasters. Insulated concrete form homes have built-in protection from tornado and wind-related damage, wildfires, and earthquakes—all of which are known to affect Oklahoma. Many components of ICF homes are also resistant to water damage from flooding, making ICF construction a popular choice for residents of hurricane or flood-prone areas. All of these benefits come with ICF homes, while ICF homes are also able to be produced more quickly than traditionally built homes. This means deserving families wait less time to move into a safer, cleaner, and more energy efficient home. For our project in Noble, Rose Rock Habitat for Humanity collaborated with Fox Blocks; Fox Blocks is an ICF manufacturer with a proven track record of quality—having been used in building ICON 330.

Considering all the advantages of ICF construction and homeownership, Rose Rock Habitat has chosen to try this building method. It has real potential to help us in our mission of building homes, community, and hope for deserving families, faster.

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