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Building with insulated concrete forms really is a green construction process. Some take the stance that an expandable polystyrene (EPS)  barrier filled with concrete is not necessarily eco-friendly, but the true environmental friendliness of insulated concrete forms lies in the big picture of sustainability and detachment from utilizing more natural resources.

Building a new home with insulated concrete forms is environmentally responsible. The cement in concrete is made of limestone which is the most abundant mineral on Earth and EPS produces only 1% waste in our landfills. Compare that with all the acreage of timber destroyed in logging activities to produce construction lumber and ICFs already have an early advantage.

Real Reasons ICFs Can Be Considered Green Building

It’s true that there are some real advantages to building with insulated concrete forms that begin at the time of construction. However the real environmental impact is achieved over years and years of home ownership. Take for example:

  • At least 22 trees are required to be harvested for the lumber in a stick frame home.[1]
  • ICF forms reduce energy usage which helps preserve natural resources.[2]
  • ICFs are more efficient in heating and cooling and can reduce energy consumption. Saving up to 40% in energy costs.[3]
  • There is less construction waste associated with ICF forms compared to stick frame building. ICFs deliver 1% – NET 0% waste by the end of the project compared to upwards of 15%.[4]
  • EPS is comprised of 95% air and displays a .[5] ICF foam panels are made of 2% plastic derived from a petroleum by-product (usually harvested from already existing petroleum waste) with a 1% noncombustible component. Making the foam panels 100% recyclable for multiple manufactured products. There is no limit to the amount of times EPS foam can be repurposed into another product.[6]

Those who think that ICF use is not a complete green building process have some arguments that we must take note of. There’s no arguing that carbon dioxide is released into the air during the manufacturing of concrete. However, scientists at UCLA are working on a way to recapture carbon emissions from the air and use them to make a recycled concrete product.[7] This will help solve this problem and at the same time create a more sustainable product to build with. Furthermore, in the ancillary evaluation of the building process, concrete only omits only 10% carbon emissions into the environment from its extremely long lifespan this is still being researched and the Chinese Academy of Sciences researcher Fengming Xi states that it actually could be even less.[8]

Although only accounting for 2% or less of the EPS panels in ICFs, flame retardants and fossil fuels are indeed being used to produce the expandable polystyrene foam of ICFs. This is why it is imperative to minimize construction waste and recycle the EPS waste from jobsites to repurpose this carbon material into other products and resources. Although flame retardants  and non-organic materials aren’t the best eco-friendly elements out there, they assist in making sure an ICF structure stands up to natural disasters and is free of rot, mold, insects and pests. This ensures a longer lasting, stronger and more resilient, maintenance free home or building.

The Big Picture Regarding ICF Building Methods

There are two main things to consider in the big picture of ICF construction. First, there is going to be environmental harm caused by the manufacturing of almost any construction material including the logging of trees and the production of wood studs in sawmills. ICFs are able to offer less impact than these traditional methods in the multiple ways mentioned above.

Second, ICF forms have a lifespan of 75+ years, meaning their environmental damage during manufacturing prorated over that period is miniscule. It can still be argued that there are very few, if any, “perfect” green construction materials as of yet. As it stands now though, insulated concrete forms are at the top of that list. The reduction in energy consumption over multiple decades provides the best option for green construction today. ICFs will continue to push the limits of current standards and will strive to be the greenest and strongest method of building in the years ahead.

[1] https://www.thehousedesigners.com/articles/how-many-trees-does-it-take-to-build-a-house.asp

[2] http://buildblock.com/icfs/

[3] http://formingsolutionsicf.com/5-reasons-why-to-build-an-icf-home/

[4] http://formingsolutionsicf.com/building-green/

[5] http://www.michiganfoam.com/eps_technical_info.html

[6] http://markofoamblanks.net/

[7] http://newsroom.ucla.edu/releases/ucla-researchers-turn-carbon-dioxide-into-sustainable-concrete

[8] https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Fengming_Xi

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