ICF’s – Insulated Concrete Forms – Viable option for Costa Rica or is it greenwashing BS?

Just this week I had my first inquiry about ICF’s from a reader.  Now thinking about it it is surprising that this question has not come up in the last 16 months that I have been writing this blog.  What is the real shocker is that I had never discussed such in any way shape or form yet when this reader did a search on ICF’s in Costa Rica our site came up in the top ten list.  That is a tad puzzling not that I understand the often weird and wonderful Google machinery.  I have to guess that in their methods if we are into unconventional construction methods then we are relevant to his search.  At least in this case the reader is happy he found our information.  Obvious in this case there was some relevance but if anyone can tell me how the heck we came up number one under Interior Designers in Costa Rica then I would sure love to know that.  I was advised of this by two very qualified ladies here in Escazu who contacted me after searching me out as competition.   Not quite what I would call relevant and we would hardly qualify as designers any more than I would be for being subtle and soft!  🙂

Okay lets get into ICF’s and since we are coming up in the search I guess we should at least have some information here that relates to such so what follows is a slightly expanded version of what I told James after his inquiry as to how SIP’s and ICF’s compare.

Before I get into the meat of this comparison let me remind you and any critic / competitor that reads this, we do not and will not build with ICF’s nor did we even consider them for a nano second when we were weighting out our options as to what building system to employ in our homes in Costa Rica.  If you have been with me any length of time you know very well I have no problem at all at being less than polite in ripping any material and method apart where problems and efficiency exist that others fail to mention.  If a product or method warrants serious consideration or has viable characteristics and benefits then we have already considered such and if not we did not and will not likely revisit such in the future.  Take note that yes although we have ended up being a material / system supplier it was not our intention to do so at first, this evolved by default simply because we could not find a product that met our demands and standards for our homes in this country, climate and economic background.  Yes some may say I am bashing competitors and all I can say is, “so what.”  I calls them as I sees them and have neither the time nor patience to be bothered with being subtle about benefits or detractions of any material, method or system….

ICF’s are here but make up a very small part of the market as a whole.  In fact I have only witnessed one house actually being built out in the Guanacaste like near to 13 years ago.  I do know a supplier who does import and promote such but I have never seen any other builds going on so as I see it this makes up a teeny tiny portion of the market.  The following may well explain why such is the case.

My beefs with ICF’s are as follows:
1.  C = Concrete = NOT GREEN BUILDING-
They still use way toooooo much concrete hence are not nearly as green as the suppliers of such would lead you to believe.  If half your wall volume is concrete made of NPC (Normal Portland Cement) then that cement produces 80% by volume of CO2 so when they make one ton of cement you get also 800 kgs of CO2 being released due to the oven cement is cooked in as it is not cement until after it has been baked at 1,450’C.  So yes better than a block wall but great on any honest green building principle, not at all.  This I would call green washing or more directly BS and not an honest analyses by anyone concerned with their footprint.
2. Heavy or Medium Weight versus Light Weight-
Also with that C comes the weight so they are at max only 40% lighter than block construction so do not for a second fool yourself into thinking this is a light system.  Yes insulated as the I would indicate hence not employing the typical pizza oven effect of a heat sink as most homes here and no doubt 90% of those that surround any neighborhood you may be considering to build in.  Even with that let’s not forget that 90% of your heat gain is from the roof not the walls especially if you have used correct eave protection of the home’s walls in the design phase.  However let’s add the big factor that when the ground is dancing and your new home is getting bounced around by one of our earthquakes I personally do not want to be in even a middle weight house versus a light weight one.
This does also bring about another fundamental belief and as I say to people who come to me with both Coventec (mortar covered styrofoam panels) and ICF’s both being somewhat lighter than traditional block, “would you like me to hit you with a 16 oz hammer or a 32 oz hammer?  Or maybe none of the above?”
I am a firm believer in building as light weight as is humanly possible in a seismically active zone.  One of our panels weights in at 72 kgs or 158 lbs each which means there is absolutely nothing on the market that compares to that other than steel stud but once you insulate that and then typically they put cement board on it then that option is actually heavier but either method is in essence within the realm of reasonable.  Having worked with both I have every confidence that the SIP concept of engineering is superior as has been demonstrated in various Cat 5 Hurricanes and Tornado alley of the USA.    In those zones of the USA if the industry actually had any brains stick framed wood homes would be outlawed entirely.  Take note light weight does not mean light weight in the protection of your investment and family.  Plus the final fact is that our method is economical as you can get and no one can or will beat us in an honest value/cost analysis.  The only two that can compare in speed is steel stud/frame and SIP’s but the Achilles heal of any steel frame is what do we sheet it with.  If they revert to the typical cement boards then you are hit with a product that breaks very easily and is not in any way green due to the cement content.  Also lets not forget steel produces even more contaminants than cement does however you use way fewer tons of it so there is a bit of a trade off but in order to get one ton of steel you produce 1.8 tons of CO2 +++ a pile of other contaminants.  Does or can that possible really pass a GREEN test???  You decide.
3. Slower build out –
No ICF home can possibly build as fast as a SIP since I am erecting a 32 sq ft panel at a time versus a 2 sq ft block at a time so a mere 16 to one ratio.  But the difference certainly does not end there in fact that erection to is the smaller part of the difference.  Now both have to be plumbed and have electrical installed as you go unlike stick framing so lets not forget as compared to what most of us are most used to we are doing 3 processes all at one time as an absolute must.  At times it may appear slower than it actually is because we are doing all of this as we move forward panel or block by block versus a stick frame.  However a huge  difference in the SIP – ICF comparison is that once I put up a panel it is done ready to simply be taped and have an exterior finish like acrylic stucco added (I NEVER USE CEMENT BASED).  With ICF you have to stick an exterior finish on those blocks and then somehow tie an interior wall covering to them as well.  This is all quite time consuming and requiring a much larger quantity of materials as well which all of course = $$$$ coming out of your pocket to do so!
4. Interior Wall quality –  
Lets remember you see the inside of your home way more than the outside so the quality of what stares you in the face every day I submit is a big deal. So what is that interior going to be?  Sheetrock that loves to grow mold or as we say here, “hongos”, is going to be the typical builders really bad but cheap answer for this application.  At the beach gypsum board (sheet rock) to me is one bad idea, yes cheap but then just maybe you are getting exactly what you pay for a cheap problem prone finish.  Once we meet and you have a piece of MgO in your hand and a piece of sheetrock you can see the massive difference between the durability of the two.  In a rental situation this is horrendously critical since that paper covered board that the molds and termites like to eat also damages so easily.  Paint peels and dents so easily plus when it is hollow, as it usually is when they strap an ICF wall, renters can easily punch a hole right through it quite unintentionally.  All it takes is a couple of tourists horsing around to accomplish such a task.  In the long run nothing in that formula spells cheap!  However what it does spell is a never ending pain in the ass for the owner who ends up constantly throwing more money at one bad idea.  As an extreme comparison  I have a piece of SIP that has been swimming in a bucket of water since Oct. 2012 and it has grown nothing, zip, zilch, nada nor has it deteriorated in any way shape or form.  Now that is a pretty extreme test which would never be duplicated in practice but it does indeed demonstrate that MgO is an incredibly resilient building material.  MgO also has a much higher fire wall rating that gypsum does.  
5. Quality Credentials Comparison:
Summary of the MgO on SIPs versus what is put on ICF’s:
A.  20% lighter than any cement board
B.  Totally green being it is formed at ambient temperature so not footprint from manufacture
C.  No off-gasing like Durock and such waterproof cement boards
           (go to a supplier and walk up to a pile of this stuff and stick you nose into it)
D.  Won’t grow anything,  not that that carries much significance in the tropics 🙂
E.  Nothing will eat it
F.  Fire proof – won’t support flame in fact I have taken an acetylene torch to it at 2,200’c with end                   result of a black spot at point of flame, rather important when protecting a styrofoam core.
G.  High insulation factor so has high resistance to transfer of  heat, again not much importance in     Costa Rican beach weather
H. It is fairly flexible in that it does not break into pieces with a simple drop as is the case with all    cement boards.
One big point for the reader to grasp here is that you cannot just compare the raw product of an ICF to a SIP, you have to include all the components that will make up the final wall system before you know what you are getting into.
6. COSTS +++! 
Any system of ICF’s I have seen are substantially higher in cost of materials and massively more labour intensive to the point that your cost per square meter of wall is going to rise in the 40% to 60%  range.  Take note that ICF walls are much thicker than SIP’s hence much bulkier so they carry a much higher shipping bill to get them to Costa Rica.  To what gain is all this extra expense is the most valid of all questions.  Well I can  only think of one selling point, they will withstand bombs and flying bullets better.  Since Costa Rica is not exactly Beirute I think that is not likely a big concern for you and if you have a reason to need to dodge bullets then you are not exactly on my preferred client list to begin with. 🙂   Yes they will make for a much better basement in North Dakota or Saskatchewan but you cannot just take any technology or system move it thousands of miles into a totally different climate and think you will get good results.  Sorry folks that is preposterous.  
To be clear on my personal prejudice as follows:
To be blunt with you, you don’t have enough money to make me want to build with ICF’s ignore the block this is due to my extreme hatred for concrete both what it represents as a major environmental offender and the fact I hate working with the crap!  I only use it in foundation work, retaining walls and water control where I currently have no other options..  Hopefully one day down the road we will be able to get Magnesium in bags to make magnesiums cement to avoid such problems entirely.
In summary if you want the best bang for your buck and build as green of a home as you can with as low of operating costs as possible there really is no other viable choice IMHO than SIPs.  We selected this option as the best for our own homes after which we graduated that to now offering what we had accumulated in over 60 years of industry experience along with 27 years of Costa Rica living between Michael and myself hence passing on this solution to our clients.  I am not here to convince anyone only bring forth the evidence and make the comparisons to educate you while pointing you in the right direction of empirical facts.  Once you study our library of information unequaled by ANYONE in the Tico market I might add, then you may come to agree with us and our research and experience or you will go your own way.  That is your choice.
July 9th, 2014 Addition to this subject.
Okay  folks today I received an amusing attack on Linkedin with regards to this particular article/ post.  Below I have copied the post and added my rebuttal to our competitor who did not like the facts and analysis I brought forward in the above.
I elected to post this on our own blog as a demonstration as to how much of the construction industry and the world in general often thinks about the Green Movement or fails to entirely to do any critical thinking at all.  This is just a glaring example from someone that is a few bricks short of a full load ecologically speaking that I would not dignify with the privilege of carrying my tool box.  These following comments are also a glaring example of something that I am certain will not surprise my regular readers one bit, as it is a clear demonstration of  something that really pisses me off, what I affectionately refer to as “Green Washing.”  Meaning someone who has grabbed onto the green or eco movement solely with the intent of cashing in on it strictly driven by personal gain rather than how any of us in the industry can help everyday consumers improve their life and their footprint on this planet at the same time.  
We here cannot make people want to think “Green” all we can offer is how and why to do it in a real fashion as well as to debunk Green Washing when ever and where ever it occurs.  I do happen to think that many people have become wary of this kind of behavior hence do not pursue green building with any vigor.  I took note of this as I studied our own numbers with regards to what is searched on our site in Google.  To my surprise even though we are one of the few who really do think and operate as green as possible yet less than 10% off all our visitors ever searched under green or eco construction in order to find us.
Before I get into this lets set the lay of the land first.  Michael, myself or anyone who works with us does really think this way we are not just on a cash cow ride.  Being green is a set of beliefs that carries one through out their life.  Contrary to what you will read in this entertaining battle of wits we have had this mindset and belief for many years.  Michael joined the Solar Energy Society of Canada 35 years ago in the dinosaur age of solar use.  He designed and built a 164 unit mobile home park that utilized a bio-filter waste water treatment system on Vancouver Island 28 years ago.  In Jaco we designed and got approval for, the first commercial bio-filter in Costa Rica because we dislike mechanical waste water treatment in its costs, ambiance and efficacy.  For that same project we designed and had approved an air conditioning system that would have run at 20% of normal operating costs simply because it only functioned in off peak hours at night producing chilled water during hours when there was a surplus of electricity.  This system had a payback in under 3 years yet with a 15 year minimum life cycle since its maintenance costs were less than 20% of conventional yet horrible split units.  For our homes we go to great lengths to be able to offer clients homes that never need an A/C unit which is the most contradictory of all fixtures to real green living.  Other than that we entertain ourselves by being conmen as Ed accuses.
Another point that everyone I have ever caught committing the grave act of “green washing” ever considered as a significant part of thinking and building green is the aspect that truly successful green initiatives must also be green economically, meaning they have to put green stuff back in your pocket in relatively short order.  In my opinion there has to be an ROI when you spend extra money going green, in fact it has to have a payback in less than ten years.  Longer than that to me nullifies it being actually green.  Additionally a valid green initiative must also lower either operating or maintenance costs or increase your living comfort or ideal all of the above.  That is what real green is, it is not phony green washing BS as this case provides a perfect example of or worse when someone claims a method or material is green when in fact it is not even remotely so, let alone worrying about it being economically viable.
Just to be forewarned before you go any further this attack was very rude and more than a tad ignorant hence my rebuttal to Ed is pretty much of the same tone.  No apologies offered.
Trevor,I stumbled across your bullshit blog about ICF’s. I had a feeling your were another bottom feeding conman who hasn’t built anything with you products in this country and by thee looks of your experience, maybe not even a good cabinet maker.You are most incorrect Ed in fact you are actually quite full of the same bullshit that you mention in your first line.  Our team that is committed to our specific direction has over 150 man years of construction experience to back up our opinions and hence our advice to all clients.  I do not even need to ask or wonder what you have as actions speak far louder than words.  Any competitor who finds it appropriate to post such nonsense is not what I would consider a suitable adversary and certainly no one worthy of a real debate.  As the old saying goes better to remain silent and thought a fool than to speak up and remove all doubt.Ed since you came on the attack wanting to be rude two can play that game.  I was also polite to you on our first meeting even though I thought you were seriously full of shit and would not know green or eco building as you claim to be doing, if it bit you in the ass.  Now as to your ability to know my capacity as a cabinet maker I have no idea how you could possibly know such without actually seeing any of our work.  You are obviously just mud slinging for the sake of mud slinging about something that has nothing to do with the crappy idea of using ICF’s (Insulated Concrete Forms) in the tropics.  Nor are you ever going to actually know as anywhere we do work you are not very likely to ever visit and you sure as hell are not about to get an invite. Facts not fiction is what we provide to our clients. Your info is based on your clearly misinformed opinion.

Facts yeh right!  Well here goes some facts that are not my opinion just scientific reality.  We had a choice of course to use ICF’s but it was never even remotely considered in our selection of an ideal building system for the tropics. The system never even entered discussion first and foremost because it is not even remotely green and second it is not economically viable.  Just like we did not consider buying a Lada, Pinto, Aerostar or an Edsel.  Your forms are just that, forms for concrete which of course uses cement  and steal which make up two of the worst environmental offenders there is on the planet.  NPC – Normal Portland Cement produces 800 kgs of CO2 per ton and the steel that goes into that concrete made from NPC produces 1,800 kgs per ton of steel during the manufacture process.

Now let’s just step back and compare Ed’s soup to ours.  Our two major  ingredients are, MgO sheets which have zero carbon footprint and laminated Costarican plantation grown hardwood.   This consumes CO2 during its growth which is then stored in the walls of our homes in perpetuity, as it were a carbon bank.  On top of this let’s also step back and look at another part of this concept, these specialized wood products produce jobs and economic activity here in Costa Rica.  ICF’s on the other hand are imported and in the end only make it easier to carry forth with one horribly bad idea.  Nothing more nothing less.

Let’s put this suggestion in another format kind of like making soup: we take one road kill skunk, then add one mercury laden fish from the Love Canal, then add appropriate soup stock, spices and vegetables and out the other end comes an award winning soup and culinary delight Wolfgang Puck would be proud of.  Well folks that is what concrete is two very stinky base products mixed with aggregates, water and additives and out the other end comes perfect green/eco friendly ICF’s.  Now if you want to believe in fairies that is your prerogative but suggesting that this soup is green or eco is nothing but BS or if you prefer a lie that is totally divorced from the reality of nature or what you will find under any Google search should you care to question Ed’s version of facts.

I have also seen architects who also have the audacity to promote one of their homes made out of a hundred meters of concrete as being green/ eco friendly.  Bloody nonsense is all that is or shall we call it what it really is, fanciful BULLSHIT!  There is absolutely no reality based on facts or what is well established knowledge, that is once you step out of the realm of the cement cartel.  Yet Ed has the balls to call me a conman when in fact what he sells to his clients is unadulterated crap.  He is married / heavily invested in a product I would not build a home out of under any circumstances not even for my ex-wife. Worse yet even as much as I hate block construction it actually uses quite a bit less (40 – 60%) cement in the process than ICF’s do.  The only saving grace is that his homes are insulated by the styrofoam walls of the ICF’s however there is a number of far smarter and more economical ways in which to accomplish that same task while using less environmentally offensive materials or even how about REAL green materials.

Our info is based on fact and proven with 1000’s of m2 in this country with the oldest being 16yrs old. I would have put this on your joke of a blog but it is not open to the public. 

You just really can’t keep a straight story going here can you?  My blog is most certainly open to the public, in fact I am going to post your delusions there after I reply to you along with all the other public posts that are there for anyone to follow.

I could care less as to how many homes you have built or not built that is quite irrelevant to this discussion on green products.  Numbers mean nothing, they most certainly are not a measure of a great or good idea versus a really bad one.  If it did then the Betamax would have won and Microsoft should have gone broke nor did it make Pinto a good idea whether 1 was made or 10 million were.  Numbers are only really a measure of how well a company or salesman can sell a naive fool on a bad idea!

I am not saying this system does not have any validity as it does work well for basements in the frozen north but no matter where it is used it is not and cannot be considered green hence those who suggest it is are the conmen not those of us who care to step up and say “the emporer has no pants.”

Now i was pleasant and helpful the first time we met since you were sent to me from a contact that i hold in high regard, now I will be addressing your bullshit with the influence of 2000 contacts worldwide here on linkedin. In addition , not only can I disprove your $60sqft pitch as Bullshit but you as well.

Well once again Ed you got it half right, you were pleasant enough but not especially helpful since you did not have the plastic driveway product we were looking for.  You were the one who asked me how you could get rid of gypsum (another bad product in the tropics) for a better product hence why I suggested our MgO sheeting at least it would have added some green to your formula.

Gee Ed are you pissed off because we can do something that you cannot?  Yet that makes us conmen.  We sell a BMW for a Lada price and you sell a Lada for a BMW price.  That clearly must really get under your skin in order for you to only come up with this as the best rebuttal for a product that is one really bad idea hence you are left with calling all competitors conmen which of course justifies you in reverting to name calling.  I guess everyone who sells a building product for a lower price than you or with different objectives must also be conmen.  That would make a shit load of us.  Take note I did not attack Ed Fieramosca privately or publicly or his specific product I just stated in my article that I felt ICF’s on the whole made up an example of a bad product for tropical use just as I did with concrete block and went on to site my reasons which are far more than just the green aspect.  Now none of the makers of other cement based building products would like my opinion any better but most of them will not touch or mention the green/eco issue in any way shape or form because they do not want to open up that one ugly can of worms.  Even then that is better than to suggest you have a green product when in fact you do not and cannot with this foul recipe.

At any rate Ed I have no doubt you will NEVER recognize the folly of your fake green/ eco lying banner since your business would be toast by that same admission hence there is no reason to take this duel any further.  You posted your twisted version of reality and I responded in kind.  Now let prospective clients do their own research and see whose idea of the pertinent facts is real and who is using sales bullshit to con them into less than smart decisions.  I have no doubt that the clients you get are clients that we certainly do not want to deal with under any circumstances for any price nor would the clients that follow our approach to building would ever consider your product!   Yes that is my being arrogant, in suggesting you get the dumcoff’s and we get the smart well studied client.  So be it.



About Trevor

I have lived in Costa Rica for 19 years and have been active in real estate development over that period and construction in general. I am a qualified Journeyman carpenter and cabinetmaker from Canada. My current focus project is building custom green homes and housing packages all built out of SIPs or Structural Insulated Panels.


ICF’s – Insulated Concrete Forms – Viable option for Costa Rica or is it greenwashing BS? — 14 Comments

  1. Thanks Trevor for the comparison between ICF (insulated concrete walls)and SIP’s panels.

    This said, and I don’t want to add oil in fire after this nice article, what do you think of the Panel 3D of Panacor? Would that system be a kind of compromise between blocks and SIP’s? I mean not outstanding as the SIP but certainly better than the cinder blocks?

    I would really appreciate your critical mind on this system!


    • Roger thanks for great questions and an inquiring mind hence here is a long answer to your questions.
      Explain to me what 3D is as I don’t know what this is in simple language as that is a trade name not a real name. I suspect that their version of a Coventec panel which consists if a wire frame work around styrofoam blocks that is then mortared. This I did include in my ICF comparison on the weight factors but if this is what your question is really about then I need to add more detail to explain such. We beat out a Coventec panel system on a 140 unit condo by well over $20,000 so lets end any fallacy that such a system is cheaper. It sure as hell is not faster nor is it as consistent as you have guys spreading out mortar manually (which is totally not competitive) or blowing on mortar as they would have in this case either way that does not compare to an assembly line process that produces panels of equal sizes any and every day of the year. This method does however appease the person of a concrete mindset since its structural base is still hinged upon the use of cement but at half weight.

      This same mindset is what lead to my kicking our structural engineer Orlando Gei off of our job in Jaco as he was still thinking and doing shit in the old world. Like one foot on the concrete pier and one in the coventec boat which as I say can only lead to swimming. Either believe completely in your technology or never switch. This I see prevalent in all Tico engineering they way overkill even after they have supposedly switched yet part of their mind never really comes with them.

      Coventec is a better solution than block that I will give it plus it has an insulated core so it does not amount to putting a screen door on a submarine as a concrete home at the beach is without question. However its economics and efficiency just do not and cannot compete with a fully panelized system like steel or SIPs do!

      I know they also make SIPs of a quality that sucks since they use crappy environmentally offensive cement board. Whose skins by the way actually costs more than our MgO skins because we can use a much thinner board to get the same strength as the base product is so much better than anything in a cement board. They also use a metal connector system and thousands of screws whereas I know a glued together home using our glu-lams will far outperform such under stress due to the 100% bond versus pressure points at each screw supported by crap cement board. That is like comparing a wheelbarrow to a dump truck.

      Now many will argue with me simply because they are invested in a fundamentally bad product so they do not want to hear of another material. That would be like discussing organic farming with Monsatano! Not???

      Also most have never worked with both so they have no idea of the apple and orange comparison. Now MgO does not equal wood in malleability but it is at least half way between its two major competitors wood based sheets (OSB & plywood) and cement board crap. FYI if a sheet of fibrolite subfloor simply falls over on the job site it will typically break into 2 to 3 pieces and at 34,000 col that royally sucks. Our MgO is 30% – 40% lighter so much easier to handle and it is not like handling crystal. We also tongue and groove all flooring which makes a massive difference in its structural solidness but you cannot machine cement boards to even dream of doing this. At this point we charge a bit less for our T&G than they sell the standard Fibrolite crap flooring for.

      However here for most people lacking this product access and knowledge there just is no other choice for everyone else if they don’t want to take the chance on hongos or termites attacking plywood subfloor. MgO is simply the best and safest economical alternative there us however its one problem is only combating a very large cartel industry that is invested in cement. If all you have is a hammer everything looks pretty much like a nail:-). With an open mind backed up with experience there is no argument as to which direction one will find most beneficial.


  2. My wife and I recently had the opportunity to meet with Trevor and Michael at a build site in Uvita. I was very pleased with the technology being employed(SIP)along with correct electrical and plumbing techniques being used. We have property in Ojochal and over the course of the last 3 years I’ve visited a number of homes in the construction phase; needless to say I was never impressed do to poor building practices(plumbing, electrical, roof). Even some of the nicer homes all showed signs of cracks in the concrete walls and ceramic tile floors after an earthquake. Another consideration is how to prevent mold formation in the tropics. I believe the building technology Trevor is employing is of a much higher standard and well suited for the climate and environmental conditions of Costa Rica. My wife and I plan on building a home sometime in 2016 and look forward to working with Trevor and Michael.

    • Thank you Rick and Valerie,
      It was indeed a pleasure to share our first home of this generation with you.
      We can’t wait for it to be your turn to have a home started.


  3. Re.: comment to your 09 July 2014 post.

    Like you, I do not see the “green” of using ICF’s (Insulated Concrete Forms)


  4. Having been General Contractor in the states 30 years and after doing some quick math I have determined that I have poured enough concrete to cover Costa Rica with a 6 inch slab. I have learned many lessons, 1. Green is the color of the plants and forest..green building is plan common sense, its been around long before green builders sprouted up on every corner…2. Construction Sucks and finally Trevor has developed a method of construction that works in this country and has taken the the time to pass this along to anyone who has even a simlpe questions on what finish to use on a floor…this take time and a lot more patience than I could possibly muster….and for those who want to do battle please go back to wherever you came from and carry as many concert block as can with you …Lex

  5. Trevor thank you for educating your readers and informing those who do not want to know the truth about green washing. Insulated concrete forms (ICF’s) are not a green product . It is only an energy effient construction methodology . It is ideal for the cold winter and humid summers in Canada it provides a dryer basement if installed correctly with the proper waterproof membrane and parging. It is the only foundation system I use here in Canada on my clients projects. I only promote it as the most practical and energy efficient foundation or complete house based on the region of the world I build. Using ICF in Costa Rica would be an insane choice and a waste of money and not green.You would be better off giving the ICF & concrete material costs to the earthquake rescue fund if there is one .
    I had the opportunity to visit Trevor and Michael in Costa Rica in June for a week. I’ve been a design/build builder for 30 yrs, and you cannot bull shit me, client or builder. I watched the crew at the Uvita build site cut and frame pre stained teak rafters like fine cabinetry, absolutely top notch team work .
    These guys know how to build houses, and they get a thumbs up from me just for protecting the entire house with a tarp and bamboo post and beams. How many builders have you seen do that in the rainy season. That’s preparation and keeping the clients money/investment protected as well as helping the job to stay on schedule.
    If you plan on building in Costa Rica get on a plane and meet with Trevor and Michael before you buy property .
    Listen to Trevor, the SIP system they build with is the most practical, green, and energy efficient product to use building a house in Costa Rica.
    David Kilby
    Kilby Design/Build. (Canada)

    • David,
      Thanks for your comments and most valuable entry into our little debate over the use of ICF’s in a tropical climate.. The big take away here for our readers, with your entry into this debate, was started by Ed regarding his claim that Green Building and ICF’s can or should exist in the same sentence. Just to ensure no one misses the big point here… David uses this product extensively in Canada, north east of Toronto for a number of reasons as he states but none of which happen to be its Green component, which does not exist. Hence he hardly has an axe to grind with the product in general HOWEVER that relates to its use in a Canadian winter. What one cannot assume is that you can take any product out of a winter climate and transplant that into the tropics with equal results or using the same reasoning or should I say the lack there of. Any such supposition is nothing short of preposterous.

      Thanks for your visit to us in June. Our crew had a lot of fun working with you on site and helping you get a crash course on construction Spanish.

      We look forward to your return in December as you escape that wonderful Canadian winter experience.

      Highest Regards,


  6. Hello Trevor;
    My husband and I have a building lot in a gated community approximately 2 km north of Samara (Guanacaste region). We are planning to build a home on the lot within the next few years. The type of home we envision has a clean contemporary design with a focus on energy efficiency. Like most people, cost efficiency will also be an important consideration as will construction speed. I am intrigued with your discussion about SIP panels and am wondering if you know a good contractor in the Samara area that is familiar with SIP construction that you would recommend. Also, it would be helpful to know your opinion on the cost of using SIP vs conventional concrete or wood for home construction in Costa Rica.
    Thanks for any info you can provide on this!

  7. Hi,

    Loved the read. I don’t know to much about a lot of things so forgive my ignorance. I have done a little investigation however into the Panacor products. From what I have seen they are using an exterior finish on both sides of the panel that is made from Mg.

    I know someone in San Vito that has had great success with his cabinas. The cost was less far less than standard construction and since they use a Mg finish it seems much of your arguments above have been negated.

    I’d be interested in knowing if you have actually looked it these panels or not. I’m not really sure how the Panacor 3D panel is or why it is different than the Panel-I they also manufacture IN Costa Rica. I’d really like a fair evaluation since I am considering the Panel-I. If I could post a link I would but you can search Panacor Costa Rica and find them. They also have videos on youtube in which they show a small home being constructed.

    Best regards,


    • Ken,
      Unless there has been a drastic change of attitude and knowledge level they are not using MgO but Plycems Plyrock cement board. During our final meeting with them 3 plus years ago they advised us they would no longer use MgO as they had had too many quality issues. Which may well have been the case as the only MgO products I have seen in this country other than those we have brought in are third rate crap flogged by brokers that could care less. We use what is most likely the most expensive sheets and panels out of China simply because of quality issues and that these products are the only ones in the world to have passed this level of moisture resistance and certified by ASTM standards as well as the Australia and New Zealand certifications that are just plain anal. Now the question remains if they have switched back then whose board are they using as there is significant differences in quality standards?

      FYI when Steve came to visit us here in Costa Rica I did contact them again advising them that I had one of a handful of the world’s leading experts in MgO and they would not even give us a meeting time. That does not make you naive that makes you just plain stupid! When living in a country with such a small population base having a leading expert in anything is something that one should fawn over not deny without any opportunity what so ever. Hence my attitude towards this company is verrry poor with my history with them nor do I think the probability of it being run by anyone with real brains is extremely unlikely. There is more details that I shall not bore you with as to how they behaved when we were perspective clients of theirs but it is their behaviour that directly caused me to go scour the planet and establish the relationship with Steve Maraskel and MgO Board Corp.

      Other than that I have a client who used their products (contracted prior to my meeting him) and I followed his build that was such a disgusting mish mash of engineering cluelessness that demonstrated a general lack of understanding/comprehension of light weight and SIP construction in general. I also do not like their metal connector system on a basis of not being a green product but then someone who will use cement board has no capacity to even begin to understand what makes green and what does not. Also in a severe earthquake situation our methods would vastly outperform thiers because everything we do is glued together which is what makes a true monolithic structure, dry screwing simply does not do that. All our glue also drastically affects our two greatest and ever present enemies, rain and bugs, neither gets through our Manisbond barrier.

      Standing on a job site would do far more for you than anything I can begin to write but following our home diaries does indeed help. Anyone is more than welcome to show up on one of our jobsites at any time.

      Cost comparisons are in the end somewhat irrelevant as for our clients the issue is will the system remove the proverbial problems and low quality and high maintenance issues that come with the typical Tico home, all of which comes back to bite the owner in the ass down the road. Also what I keep preaching is a green high quality home is a whole system not just about any single component as if the whole orchestra is not on the same tune then it is not going to be beautiful music. Eg. I inspected a home being built by a company who licensed a verrrry expensive rolled stud system brought in from New Zealand yet they still used crap PVC water line and their electrical system would not pass any electrical code, 35% more steel used than needed and then they used sheetrock/gypsum! Well in the tropics I find that rather ludicrous as its service life is just plain horrible. Yes it is cheap at install but not a pretty picture for the owner going down the road. Conversely I have a piece of MgO panel I put in a bucket of water in Oct. 2013 so over two years swimming and it has not grown anything (a remarkable feat in mold hell), flaked or deteriorated or swollen basically nothing has happened. No it is not cheap like sheet rock yet it is cheap compared to anything out there that is water resistant! At any rate talking about a high tech structure without equal matching mechanical, electrical and septic back up systems is indeed a fools game.

      Hope that helps in a bit of history and reality of comparing systems.

      Trevor Chilton

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