ICFs come to the forefront

For more than three decades, insulating concrete forms have captivated the hearts and minds of homeowners, delivering energy-efficient, disaster-resistant homes to hundreds of thousands of individuals throughout North America. Recently, though, building owners and design professionals have come to realize that ICFs deliver the same value-added benefits in commercial projects.
Due to the demanding nature of agricultural projects, ICFs are beginning to be used as a building system of choice. Whether your needs be humidity or temperature control, structural integrity or low sound transmission, ICFs often exceed the performance standards required in the industry.

The concept
ICFs are insulating forms for steel-reinforced poured concrete walls, which remain in place as a permanent part of the wall assembly. The forms, made of foam insulation, are either pre-formed interlocking blocks or separate panels connected with plastic or metal ties. The left-in-place forms not only provide a continuous insulation and sound barrier, but serve as a backing for drywall on the inside, and stucco, lap siding, or brick on the outside.
Although all ICFs are identical in principle, the various brands differ widely in details of shape, cavity, and component parts. Block systems have the smallest individual units, ranging from 8×16 inches to 16×48 inches. A typical ICF block is 10 inches in overall width, with a 6-inch cavity for the concrete. The units are factory-molded with special interlocking edges, which allow them to fit together much like plastic children’s blocks.
Panel systems have the largest units, ranging from roughly 1×8 feet to 4×12 feet. Their foam edges are flat, and interconnection requires attachment of a separate connector or tie. Panels are assembled into units before setting in place, either onsite or by the local distributor prior to delivery. Plank systems are similar to panel systems, but generally use smaller faces of foam, ranging in height from 8 to 12 inches and in width from 4 to 8 feet. The major difference between planks and panels is their assembly. The foam planks are outfitted with ties as part of the setting sequence, rather than being pre-assembled into units.
Within these broad categories of ICFs, individual brands vary in their cavity design. Flat wall systems yield a continuous thickness of concrete, like conventional poured walls. Grid wall systems have a waffle pattern in which the concrete is thicker at some points than others. Post and beam systems have widely spaced horizontal and vertical columns of concrete, which are completely encapsulated in foam. Whatever the differences among ICF brands, all major ICF systems are engineer-designed, code-accepted, and field-proven.

Cream of the crop
The Tupling family has been in the potato business since 1944, and has owned potato storage facilities since 1967. For Bert Tupling, a competitive market makes it impossible to compromise on anything, especially storage facilities. With 95 percent of his potatoes sold to major chains, wholesalers, and restaurants, maintaining the highest quality product is crucial to business success.
“Quality today sells a lot of product and when customers see good quality in our potatoes, they ask how we got it,” Tupling says. “My answer is that we invested in good storage facilities and humidification systems.”
In addition to providing owners with the ability to easily manage the indoor environment, ICFs offer a wide selection of usable exterior and interior finishing systems that meets both Tupling’s quality standards and the Health Approved Safety Standards Protection requirements in Ontario. This is especially important in maintaining cleanliness standards.
Each ICF building stores a different variety of potato, and each building is kept at a different temperature and humidity level depending upon that variety’s needs. After researching the different building systems, it was determined a traditional built structure could not compare to the longevity or performance benefits of ICF construction. With added rebar, the ICF walls withstand the weight of the 5.5 million pounds of potatoes he piles 19 feet high in bulk in each building.

ICFs are quiet — no bull
In most areas of North America, bull barns are a serious niche market. However, in the heartland of America, they are quite common. Wes DeBey, of Wes Debey Construction, Inc. of Hays, Kan., recently completed a 5,300-square foot structure that combined a bull barn and living quarters for the foreman of the Proven Sires Ranch.
The 3,840-square foot first floor of the building contains an office, feed room bathroom and garage in the front, with the barn and loft in the back, and a three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment occupies the second floor of the building. “The owners chose ICFs because of the sound proofing,” says Debey. “Having a home connected to a barn full of bulls can be very noisy. The ICFs significantly diminished the noise level.”

A bowl of grapes
Due to the complex nature of aging wine, the industry has been turning to ICFs to easily manage the processing and aging of its product. According to the wine industry, there are three keys to the proper storage of wine. They are: 1. Controlling temperature and humidity; 2. Preventing ultra-violet rays from affecting the wine; and 3. Controlling vibration. Since most wine storage facilities are built into the side of hills, steel-reinforced ICFs are able to withstand the lateral forces routinely placed on the system.
“ICFs provided sound structural behavior and a simple installation process, so we’re very happy with the product,” says Chuck Scullion-Smith of Robert Mondavi’s Facility Development Corporation Construction.
The 7,000-square foot centrifuge and filtration building is the first structure in the huge complex. According to Smith, ICF walls provide an effective sound barrier for the centrifuge room and permit excellent ambient temperature control for the rest of the building.
“I drive by to check the building regularly,” he says. “There’s no cracks on the interior plaster or exterior stucco.”
Schweiger Vineyard’s wine-maker, Andy Schweiger, was looking for ambient temperature control without
air-conditioning or refrigeration for his barrel storage facility. In the end, they chose a cut-and-cover structure, which is 70 percent underground. Having the structure built into the ground allows the winemaker to easily control temperature and humidity and limit harmful ultra-violet light.
“It’s kind of like a cave, only better,” says Fred Schweiger, Andy’s father, a contractor and partner in the Napa Valley vineyard.
Lee Morton of Morton Building Solutions, an experienced ICF professional located in Santa Rosa, Calif., predicts that 50 percent of the ICFs being used commercially in central California are used in wineries. “ICFs are a perfect fit for wineries. They provide clients with the ability to easily construct and control the environment, and allow winemakers to produce a quality product,” says Morton.

Project success
Although ICFs are relatively new to the agricultural industry, their track record and performance in the residential and commercial markets are rock solid. To learn more about how to make your ICF project a success, contact the Insulating Concrete Form Association at (888) 864-4232.

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