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Cost of ICF vs CMU


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By Jeff in Boston, MA on 12/8/2007


What is the overall cost differential in the finished product?  For instance, CMU has no attach points, no insulation, and requires some form of structure to be attached to the inside of the building to allow for plumbing, wiring, and insulation to be run. All these items add up in cost.  The one advantage is that there's no hurry to really finish the exterior...  It isn't attractive, but if you're on a tight budget, that could be a temporary sacrifice.

ICF has insulation built in, but requires special tooling to run the same items mentioned above, and I have no idea how interior finishing is done...  ICF also doesn't seem like it would take very well to being left unfinished for anything more than a very short period of time.

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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 12/10/2007


I have no idea about CMU costs. However, let me clear up a misconception you have with ICF.  ICF does not require special tooling to run electric or plumbing. Any sub that has worked with this in the past uses either a router or an electric chainsaw. The only person telling you to use a hot knife is your ICF distributor, any sub doing work learned long ago that this was too slow to make money.

The polystyrene will deteriorate with exposure to sunlight, you get yellow dust that may need to be brushed off depending on your choice of exterior finish. This deterioration is only on the very surface. You will need to finish ICF exterior.

As to interior sheetrock, you screw it into the webs that are every 6-8" on center. I used #8 drywall screws instead of #6, but otherwise exactly the same for your sheetrocker as finishing a stud wall.


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By Jon in Ellicott City, MD on 12/10/2007


I've left my ICF semi-exposed for nearly two years, and it seems to be holding up fine.  I used an airless sprayer to apply a coat of exterior latex paint.  The paint seems to be enough to stop the UV damage.  I also have some scraps of ICF laying around that are unpainted.  They have behaved just as Ken described - outside layer degrades but the majority of the material is sound. 

I'm not suggesting leaving your ICF exposed is the greatest of ideas, but my walls seem to be fine.  I wouldn't let this issue sway your decision.  The ICF is probably fine for a few months.  A coat of paint seems to protect it if you want to leave it for several months to a year.

As far as CMU... I've bought standard 8x8x16 blocks for $1 each.  The old rule of thumb was $1/block for a mason to lay them up.  I think the younger guys are charging about twice that.  You'd also have expense for rebar and filling some of the CMU cores. 

My WAG would be about $4 per sq ft just for the CMU wall.  When you add the cost of insulation and furring strips, I'd guess that you're getting pretty close to the $6-$7 range.  ICF tends to run in the $8-$10 range, if you do the install yourself. 

Labor, concrete and pumping service prices can vary quite a bit from region to region.  The only numbers that will really be of use to you are the quotes from your local masons and concrete guys.

One additional thing you might consider is that a poured concrete wall will be significantly stronger than CMU.  If your foundation wall will have a lot of unbalanced fill (say, more than half the total height of the wall), then that extra strength may be a major plus.


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By Jeff in Boston, MA on 12/11/2007


This is excellent and useful information.  Thank you very much for sharing it, both of you.

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