Styrofoam, Concrete and Going Green

The differences in building techniques and priorities in a society where people are concerned about renewable resources and the responsible use thereof, such as in USA, as opposed to the cheapest way to build without any thought about the ecological footprint was something that was interested in from the very first day I got to USA. Coming from a country where wood frames are almost non-existent and even residential buildings are built from the ground up using mortar, bricks and concrete, I was very much interested in the differences in mentality behind the construction and design here in the US.

Going green and conserving energy as well as reducing the ecological footprint are a necessary part of today’s design mentality as everyone in the society is willing to play their role in helping out mother nature, be it through recycling or going paperless at the office and schools, or more relevantly to our field finding ways to be more environmentally responsible.

One technique that caught my eye in this regard and interested me quite a bit was the use of Insulating Concrete Forms, or ICF for short as opposed to the norm of using wooden frames. Wood frame buildings seemed like a strange choice to me as an architectural engineer from Pakistan, where concrete is used even for residential buildings.  Wood frame buildings contribute to the diminishing of our forests. Homes that are built with this technique are more susceptible to mold infestation and fire control can be a real issue with these homes. The new technology of insulated concrete form uses premade Styrofoam walls that fit together like pieces of a puzzle. The walls are erected by assembling the forms and stacking them together. There are two layers, an outer and an inner layer and the layers are re-enforced with steel on the inside of the two layers. Concrete is then added to the inside, between the two layers, making a concrete sandwich enclosed by Styrofoam. These walls are not only superior in strength to the wood frame alternative, but they result in better sound attenuation, better fire resistance, and a key advantage called the “thermal mass advantage”. Thermal mass advantage can decrease energy costs in one year by up to 70% by slowing down the flow of energy through the wall due to the concrete core of the insulated concrete form. Wood frame buildings are becoming outdated and for good reason.

For those interested in ICF the following resources might be useful.

http://www.spokanehomebuilders.org/insulated_concrete_forms.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulating_concrete_form

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