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7 Reasons Typical ICFs Fail for Commercial Construction

Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) have become popular for their ease of use, durability, and energy efficiency in home construction, and they have gradually made their way into commercial construction as well. However, using typical residential ICF blocks for large-scale commercial projects can lead to several challenges and added costs. Choosing commercial-grade ICF blocks for large projects can lead to significant time and cost savings, making them a more suitable option for commercial construction.

7 Reasons Typical ICFs Fail for Commercial Construction

Over the past 50 years, insulated concrete forms have gained popularity for the ease of use, durability and energy efficiency they bring to home construction. In recent decades, they’ve moved into commercial construction as well.

But most ICF blocks aren’t built with the commercial project in mind.

They serve their purpose, of course. But not without a lot of hassle and unnecessary headache.

Think about it. There’s a big difference between a 3,000 square-foot house and a 60,000 square-foot hotel. So why would you build them the same way?

Here’s a list of 7 ways residential ICF blocks make commercial projects take longer, cost more and make you wish you had a do-over.

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#7: Small Size

Most insulated concrete forms measure 16 x 48 inches – or less than 6 square feet – with core widths up to 12 inches.

This might work fine for building single-family homes of two or three levels.

But what if the building was 10 times that size? Would you want to work 10 times harder? Or just smarter?

Most people would say the latter.

So wouldn’t it make sense to build a larger building with larger blocks?

The largest ICF block available measures 24 x 96 inches – or 16 square feet – with core widths available up to 24 inches. That’s three times larger than typical ICFs, meaning walls go up nearly three times faster.

On large commercial jobs where much of the cost lies in labor, that’s a significant savings to both the timeline and budget.

Larger blocks also mean fewer weak points and less blowouts, which can be both dangerous and costly.

#6: Fixed Height

Most insulated concrete forms are one standard height and must either be cut-to-fit or customized by gluing on height adjusters to accommodate variances.

But commercial-grade blocks offer several height options, plus the ability to mix and match panel heights on individual blocks. For example, one block might be 24 inches on one side and 18 inches on the other.

This makes it much easier to pour elevated slabs and eliminates the need to rip forms in the field – points that don’t matter on residential dwellings with wood floors but can mean a lot of added time and hassle on commercial jobs.

#5: Limited Core Widths

Most residential ICF comes in core widths of up to 12 inches – once again, not an issue when building small houses.

But large commercial buildings often call for thicker walls – not only for structural load requirements, but also for improved sound ratings and energy efficiency.

After all, owners are trying to make money on these structures. Providing the bare minimum isn’t going to help increase sales, occupancy or profitability.

But quieter buildings in high noise areas and lower energy costs both earn and save more money in the long run.

So the ability to construct thicker walls is an obvious asset. Commercial forms are available in any custom width up to 24 inches for the thickest walls possible.

#4: Vertical Plastic Attachment Studs

Typical ICFs require that you line up vertical plastic studs on which to attach finishes.

But commercial blocks are outfitted with 22-gauge horizontal steel fastening strips – requiring no alignment and allowing for the easy attachment of partition walls and interior/exterior finishes.

This makes installation faster, labor costs lower and produces less waste – all important factors for commercial jobs.

#3: Complex Connections

Standard ICF blocks stack and lock by fitting together dozens of Lego-like nubs and holes along the edges, and often require glue to prevent floating and shifting during pours.

This makes it difficult – if not impossible – to precisely cut and fit block pieces together in an efficient manner. A lot of material is wasted as blocks are cut to size and extra must be trimmed to allow for accurate edge alignment.

But commercial blocks use simple shiplapped edging to allow for the most efficient and cost-effective wall assembly possible – instantly fitting cut pieces on wherever they’re needed to save time and eliminate waste.

On commercial jobs where time is money and material costs are much higher, it’s just one more way that choosing the right block can make all the difference.

#2: Uncut Blocks

Insulated concrete forms are normally delivered to job sites uncut, requiring hours of manpower to measure and cut them, and producing loads of waste. This can be especially problematic on tight urban lots with limited space.

But commercial forms can be purchased precut, in numbered and labeled kits that make assembly a snap.

Walls go up 30% faster, with less labor in the field and minimal jobsite waste.

#1: Cheap Plastic

Perhaps the single element that causes typical ICF blocks to fail on commercial jobs is the use of cheap plastic crossties.

Commercial projects are much larger than residential ones, with much more concrete and heavier walls. So commercial ICFs use steel crossties instead of plastic.

It’s a big improvement.

The plastic crossties in most insulated concrete forms are bulky, and concrete can’t flow around their large surface area without the use of expensive pea gravel and additives. Plus, the crossties can break under the pressure of concrete pours or when vibrating walls. They require a specialized rebar vibrator — or users are instructed to knock the outside of walls with a 2x4 — not a recommended consolidation method.

In addition, plastic ties can cause ICF blocks to float up when concrete is poured, causing dangerous blowouts, misalignments and remediations.

Such problems are expensive and time consuming – but completely unnecessary when using commercial-grade forms built with steel.

Steel wire crossties won’t impede the flow of concrete, so you use less costly aggregate and no additives, and they can easily be used with a standard concrete vibrator. This prevents problems like voids and honeycombing that are common with typical forms made with plastic ties.

Commercial forms also feature welded steel wire mesh embedded within the EPS panels that can withstand over 1,600 pounds of lateral pressure. This eliminates bulging, scalloping and prevents wall movement so walls come out straight and flat.

On commercial jobs when problems like deformations, blowouts and remediation can cost big bucks, choosing to start with the right materials can mean the difference between project success and failure.

So which block would you trust for your commercial project?

Commercial blocks are three times larger than typical ICFs so walls go up faster.

Commercial blocks are three times larger than typical ICFs so walls go up faster.


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