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.