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By Paul in Round Rock, TX on 1/9/2007


We are looking at building a 3,500-4,000 sq ft house near Smithwick (Burnet County) and we would like to use ICF. We have been looking at the Reward Wall System "iForm" (rewardwalls.com). The local representative for this company is based in Marble Falls which is about 12 miles away from our site.

What I was looking for some feedback from other people who have built with ICF products - which brand, overall building experience, cost, ease of use, which subcontractor and overall satisfaction. I only mentioned the Reward brand because it seemed to get some good reviews. I'd like to contact a few people who have used the Reward ICF to see if they were satisfied with the brand, the builder (local rep) and what their electric bill was.

Everything I read says you save "x" amount on your electric bills in building with ICF/concrete, but I haven't really found much on "real world" examples - the size of the house, the monthly electric bill, the number of people who live in the house, how often are they running the AC or how often they are home. I know the last one sounds like I am casing the place, but the reason is sound. For example, years ago my wife worked the night shift and I worked during the day so our AC was running night and day during the summer. Now that we both work the day shifts we have the programmable thermostat take the temp up during the day when we aren't home and the AC cost is highest, then bring it down at night. Obviously there was a huge difference in our electric bills between the two.

Any feedback would be appreciated.

Thanks.


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By Michael Penn in Dripping Springs, TX on 1/16/2007


I think you've got the right idea looking for real world examples.  And it's best if they're in the local climate.  A lot of the general statements about energy savings with SIP's, ICF's, etc. are partly based on other climates where the  insulating qualities of the wall part of the envelope is more critical than it is here.  Seems the ceiling/attic insulation is more critical here where most of the annual energy load is for cooling (and you're not using ICF's anyway for the ceiling).

Right or wrong, after researching it quite a bit, I decided ICF's or SIP's weren't worth the costs, and to just go with conventional stick construction, and to just try to do the best I can with quality control in the insulation I use.


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By Mike in Bonham, TX on 2/10/2007


Paul,

I have quite a bit of experience with different types of construction.  You have to have an understanding of the principles at work with the different construction systems.

Non-ICF systems primarily use insulation as the medium to control temperature in a structure, i.e. to keep energy either in or out of an enclosure.

ICF technologies are primarily based on the principle of thermal mass, i.e. the sympathetic use of the earth's energy to maintain the temperature of a house.

Example: (Sorry for the simple primer, but there is a point to this.)

Thermal mass construction is a much more ancient building technology than is insulation.  Look at the adobe structures of the southwest and at mud/stone construction of the ancient world.  When the sun is up, it heats up the massive walls of the building, this takes time for the energy to "load" the walls and by the time the sun goes down, the walls have quite a bit of heat energy in them.  While this is happening, the interior temperature is lower than the outside temperature, but is rising to match the walls.  The sun goes down, the outside air cools, the energy in the walls then transfers to the cooler outside air, while the interior temperature stays warmer than outside.  Simple thermal dynamics, no insulation!

Now, with modern ICF technology, we supercharge the thermal mass operation by enclosing the mass (concrete) with insulation (the EPS or extruded forms).  This helps to keep the walls at a more consistent temperature. 

The point of this is that the amount of "living" activity in the home is not nearly as impactful with ICF because there is much more thermal mass in the walls to compensate.  Bottom line is you don't program a thermostat to chase the sun!  It takes quite a bit of energy to change the temperature of the walls, but it takes very little energy to maintain a constant temperature in the walls and thereby the house.  Or as one old gentleman in coveralls said to me at a show once, "Basically, that wall is a flywheel".  It took me a bit to figure out what he was saying, but finally I realized he was right, the walls are used to store and release energy in sympathy with the natural cycles of the earth (day/night, heat/cool).

Basically, with an ICF type of structure, you will set the thermostat to one temperature and forget it for the season.  Most of our ICF owners have two temperature settings, one for summer and one for winter. Done.

With an insulated system (sticks and bat, sticks and foam, SIPs, straw bale, etc.) it takes a lot less energy to change the interior temperature of the home compared to ICF, but it takes more energy to maintain a constant temperature than an ICF home.

Up until the recent TXU and Texas utilities price hikes, our ICF clients typically ran around $100-150 per summer months for their AC and electric bills. And these are homes from around 2,100 to 10,000 sf.

Having said all this, attic insulation techniques, windows, design, AC efficiency, ducting, orientation to the sun, roof design, etc. all contribute to the overall performance of a home.  There is no single silver bullet when it comes to energy performance of a home.

Either post here or send a PM, I'll be glad to provide more details if I have them.

Mike M.


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By Mary in Corpus Christi, TX on 2/20/2007


We live on the coast and plan on using Nudura ICF. Our installer said her would and could use any ICF product, but he really likes the Nudura because it is not as labor intense, the sheets are 8 ft and fold flat for shipping, and lots of other reasons. Check them out. Also the blocks are a light green, making them much easier on your eyes when you are working in the sun. There may be an installer's class you can go to. The classes are not very expensive. I took one in Corpus Christi about a year ago and I have not found another product that I like as much. We plan on breaking ground in April.
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By Paul in Round Rock, TX on 2/26/2007


Thanks all for the posts. We have been engrossed in actually reading The Owner-Builder Book and checked back on out posts since it had been a while.

We have researched some ICF manufacturers, but we really haven't researched the Nudura ICF, but we will now. We would also be very interested in knowing what the cost per square foot the Nudura went for if you don't mind sharing that information, Mary. Since you went to the class are you planning on building/setting the walls yourself or are you paying someone to set up the walls? "Building the walls" was one option we looked at, but obviously we would have to take a class like you did and mentioned. We have seen some offered classes, but a couple of the companies seemed to only have classes outside of the state and some will send an "adviser" while you put up the walls.


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By Mike in Bonham, TX on 2/27/2007


Paul (et al)

In my experience, there's not a whole lot of difference in building with ICF blocks from one mfr. to another. We don't rep any of them by choice. We've built with the top brands, and the success and expense of your project really comes down to how well you prepare, brace and pour your walls, not whose block you use. As long as you are using a quality product, a dime's savings per foot on the forms can be thrown away with one blowout due to poor prep/installation yielding $200 or more of concrete on the ground, frustration and being overwhelmed with the enormity of the recovery. Most problems with ICF's come from installation/erection issues, not the block itself. 

As has been noted in other areas of the forum, there is a dearth of qualified installers. Ask yourself why aren't there more buildings using ICF technology? Because it isn't like nailing boards together or stacking Legos.

Experience is a great asset to have when erecting ICF walls. You really have to pay attention to what you are doing or you will have a very poor job on your hands, out of plumb walls, hardened concrete mounds to clean up afterwards and compounded problems down the line. Ask your framers if they have worked with ICF's and get their reactions. In my experience interviewing framers, most that have had to frame-in an ICF house generally prefer not to after their first job.

I'm not trying to scare anyone away from the technology, I personally think it is the best overall system for building, although not perfect. I am advising caution and being aware of the issues involved with doing it yourself. Read, get training, bring in the advisers, help out on someone else's job. 

Which leads me to the following:

I'm offering a blanket invitation to all members that are interested in ICF's and would like to get their hands dirty by working on a project before they do their own. Anyone is welcome to come and tour any of our projects and even get involved with stacking/bracing/pouring walls. We have about 8 currently scheduled to go up this year in Texas as well as an SIP house near Mineral Wells in May. Many of our projects combine the different systems/technologies, such as ICF, SIP, timberframe, and steel, so you may get more education than you bargained for. 

Send me a pm if anyone is interested.


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By Mary in Corpus Christi, TX on 3/5/2007


What would be the closest to Corpus Christi? It is a good idea to see as many of these ICF projects as possible. If an O-B can learn about the slump and how to inspect that all walls are sealed, it could be worth thousands. This is not to say that there is not much more to the ICF. Also, that seeing one go up, any O-B would benefit.
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By Kara in Abilene, TX on 3/10/2007


Hi Mike. I am in the early stages of researching ICF systems and I live in Abilene. There are currently no general contractors in Abilene who are familiar with ICF systems and are willing to comply with all the additional requirements (e.g. roofing) to make the home energy efficient and tornado-proof. I am probably looking at contracting a house myself if I want to accomplish this. I would be very interested in seeing an ICF system go up. Could you let me know if any are going up within a 200-mile radius of Abilene?

Thanks,

Kara


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By Mike in Bonham, TX on 3/26/2007


Kara,

I may have one going on near San Angelo in a few months. It all depends if the owner can get his financing.

I'll have others going up in Celina (north of Dallas). My company travels all over the state doing ICF, SIP and alternative construction and helping owners because of the very reasons you cite.

I'll be posting locations and dates as they come online.

Mike


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By Brian in Manvel, TX on 3/28/2007


Paul, here is some info :

What I was looking for some feedback from other people who have built with ICF products -

Which brand- I used Polysteel, which uses a steel web.  Was not too comfortable hanging 6,000 sq ft of exterior stucco on plastic webbing. If you are not using stucco, I think that most of the blocks are fairly equal. I don't believe any would be a bad choice. If you like the dealer and they are close by for consults -- use them.

Overall building experience- Very pleased with the results. No blowouts since installer braced properly - that is the key. You can never have too much bracing. Especially on the corners. we used plumbers pipe strap to strap the outside corners. Just left in place when done. Your framer will have to come two times for a two-story. Once to build first floor walls and second floor. ICF installer needs a working surface for second floor walls. Then framer can come finish second floor and roof.

Cost ICF, labor, rebar, foam (glue), window buck (2x12trtd), pump truck, concrete, joist hangers for second floor came to $50,000. Since no exterior framing wall wood was purchased ($15,000 value) it was approx. $35K or 8.7% more for my project.
Total project was $43,625 with ICF or $94/sqft. Without would have been $401,000 or $86/sqft. 

Ease of use - stack just like Legos -- they all do. Some brands are universal, no top or bottom. Polysteel only stacks one direction. Steel web every 6 inches is not as easy to cut as plastic. Need a steel circular saw blade- same as the one used to cut the rebar. Not a big deal really.

Overall satisfaction - very satisfied. House is nice and quiet. In previous home when strong winds blew the house would click and pop. We had 50 mph winds the other day when a storm moved through. Not one tick. We live 30 miles from the Gulf of Mexico near Houston. Our main reason for ICF was for the wind resistance.

When we moved in Dec, 2006 the outside temp was low 40s. Then is got to 30s. It took three weeks for the house to stabilize. The heat ran a lot for three weeks as the walls equalized and the AC learned the house properties.

Now it is 80s outside day 60s at night and is 73 inside but the AC has not run for three weeks. I did manually bring it on a few times to kick on the dehumidifier since it is really humid in our area.

I have a 1,200 sqft guest house that is stick framed that we built three years ago and lived in it while we built the ICF house in front of it, 4,636 sqft.  I calculated my cost per square foot to heat/cool based on the last 12 months that we lived in the small house against the ICF house for the last 4 months.

The stick house cost me $.18 cents/sqft to cool the ICF has been $.10/sqft and that included the first month of equalization. I expect it to improve.  The 1,200 sq ft stick house has four tons; the 4,636 sqft ICF only 9 tons.

We used sprayed in place foam to insulate the underside of the roof deck. I highly recommend this product. We also put one return and one vent in the attic to keep it conditioned space.  My attic temp is within 3-5 degrees of my house temp. Usually an attic will be in the 120+ degree range. If you use spray foam you will also need an air exchanger and dehumidifiers. The house is so tight that the air will get stale and water vapor from showers and cooking and clothes drying can not escape.

What their electric bill was. My electric bill avg. is $460.
Water well, water treatment, aerobic system, five mercury vapor security lights put higher demand on bill due to rural area. Also three computers always running for work and two kids never turn off the lights. All electric house, did not want gas in such a tight house. Also, electric prices per kw in our area are $.15/KWH. Other areas may be more or less per KWH. We use approx 3,000 KWH per month so far but I am still averaging out the first month where usage was very high. Last month was only 2,077 KWH usage, so I do expect improvements in the future.

Rather than asking for the bill total, you should collect info on price per KWH and KWH used. I think that would help you more since the KWH price is so variable.

Everything I read says you save "x" amount on your electric bills in building with ICF/concrete, but I haven't really found much on "real world" examples -
the size of the house 4,636 sf
the monthly electric bill $460
the number of people who live in the house  4
how often are they running the AC  set it and forget it at 73
or how often they are home. Work Mon,Tues,Wed 6-6. off and home most of the day Thur, Fri, Sat, Sun

ICF will cost you more up front but you will save in other areas for a lifetime.

Insurance on 1,200 sq ft guest house. $800/year. Insurance on ICF house $2,036/year
Maint. costs - termite treatment, wood rot, settling cracks, etc that do not apply to ICF.

ICF is not for everyone, some can't justify the cost. You can build a stick-frame house and use spray foam insulation and get similar utility performance. To have built my home in stick with spray would have cost about $1.34/sqft of wall (6,000 sq ft) for the insulation. We built ICF solely based on wind resistance properties, nothing else mattered, they were just bonuses.

Hopefully that is some real world stuff that you can use in your decision process. Anyone needing help or other info can PM me, would be happy to try and help out where I can.


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By Carl in Austin, TX on 4/1/2007


"Most that have had to frame-in an ICF house generally prefer not to after their first job."

Mike, 

Could you please explain more about your statement here. Also, I'd like to "sign-up" for your offer of watch/participate on an ICF job site. Anywhere around Austin or DFW.

Thanks,

Carl


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By Mike in Bonham, TX on 4/1/2007


Carl,

When we've had clients build ICF in other areas where I don't have an experienced framing crew, I've had to interview framers to get bids to complete the house. 

What I have come across is this: When I find a crew that has framed an ICF house, it generally was only one, and they almost universally had problems with plumb walls, square walls, unfamiliarity with working with lumber vs. the walls, etc. It takes extra time for them to learn, and then even more time trying to compensate for the issues with the walls. 

They then want to charge more than if they framed the walls entirely. 

I like to use crews with prior framing experience who have gone through the learning curve. How to compensate for wall issues, etc. Or, I like to take a new crew and teach them on walls my crew has stacked. Inexperience in both the block crew and frame crew with block can be frustrating, costly. 

I'm sure there are good first time experiences, I just haven't heard about them. 

As far as wanting to see a block job, just send me a PM with your email address and I'll send out announcements, invitations when they come on-line. 

BTW, it looks like we will be getting our SIP package on our project near Mineral Wells around May 1st. 


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By Brian in Manvel, TX on 12/10/2007


Just an update for those using ICF or who have participated in this thread.

Last 12-month avg kWh usage is 2,028 per month.

For our market, that is $320 a month for electric bill.

See previous posts for more detail on sq. ft., etc.


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By Carl in Austin, TX on 12/10/2007


Thanks for the update, Brian.  Numbers look great.

 

carl


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By Richard in San Antonio, TX on 12/17/2007


Brian,

I would also be interested in visiting an ICF construction site.  I'm in San Antonio.  Please let me know if and when you may have one going on nearby.

So far I have been to an Amazon Grid seminar.  They use a cement/foam mixture for the block and that seems to me to be better protection against mold and insects.  Plus you can place stucco directly on it.

Thanks

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By Myleen in Austin, TX on 2/1/2008


How much cheaper was it to do conventional stick construction and foam insulation? From several reports I've read, it is actually more expensive and time consuming to do it that way. Also, I will have to disagree that SIPs aren't worth the costs or aren't good for Austin climate. We have some of the hottest temperatures of the nation! SIPs will definitely benefit A/C bills.

I have calculated the cost difference between SIPs construction and energy savings vs. stick built with their thermal bridges and energy inefficiency, and I found that I would pay back the difference in less than 4 years! I have also talked to J.D. Holt, a local environmental engineer here in Austin who has one of the highest energy star rated homes (he has a SIP home and geothermal heating/cooling system) and he pays $40-60/month on A/C bills for his 1,650 sf home, a savings of over 50-60%! I think I would rather pay that savings to my mortgage than to a utility company.

ICFs, while I think they are good, are even more costly and labor intensive than SIPs. One major advantage they have over SIPs is that you can apply stucco directly on them. However, doing a two-story is much more difficult. If you have the time and money, than go for it! They are the strongest structures of the bunch, especially if you're concerned with tornadoes and hurricanes.

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By Paul in Round Rock, TX on 2/11/2008


Brian,

Thank you for the very detailed and informative post, I appreciate it.

I was curious about the spray in foam you used in the roof deck and the air exchanger and dehumidifier. You used the spray in place foam in the roof deck and I was wondering what insulation, if any, but assuming there is, you used  between the ceiling joist? I like the idea of treating the whole house as an envelope by having a vent and a return in the attic and have read some articles on that approach. I plan on visiting a "green builder" who has a new subdivision started in Georgetown and their homes use this approach. I just want to go by and physically see the setup.

Did your HVAC person work with you on the air exchanger, dehumidifier and the spray in place foam? I was just wondering since as you mentioned, the house is air tight and would be prone to stale air and moisture issues without a properly designed system. If you don't mind, which brand of the air exchanger and dehumidifier did you end up using?

Thanks again for all the information.


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By Brian in Manvel, TX on 2/12/2008


Hi Paul

The normal blown insulation is no longer necessary for insulating purposes. You could use it if you wanted some level of sound control but it would not be much.

You will need a good AC person who will show you the manual J calcs. If not you will have the wrong size and waste money on the machine and your monthly usages. Most will just guess or use the rule of thumb which is probably fine for a normal house. But it's not for an ICF or SPF built home.

My neighbor has 4,200 sq. ft. and 12-tons and five units. I have 4,636 and only 9-tons and three units. I spent less and will keep spending less than he will.

I did spend more on insulation by about 4,000 - I estimate that I saved half of that by not purchasing two additional units and the rest I will save on lower utility bills indefinitely.

Look at Aprilaire dehumidifiers and ERVs. You will want both and they are pretty inexpensive.

Brian


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By April in Midland, TX on 5/17/2008


Hello Kara,

I am in Midland, and am in the research stage you were in about a year ago.  You may have already built your house by now, and if you are, I would love to hear about your choices with ICFs and with whom. 

If your plans are still in the works, (or if anyone is checking out this thread and is interested) I have found that there is a PolySteel distributor in Lubbock who is having a seminar June 3 and 4th of this year 2008.   It is fairly soon, and it does cost $400, but if I can talk my husband into it (we don't even have land yet) I am willing to pay it. 

When I saw the seminar posted on their site, I called Polysteel directly (based out of Albuquerque NM) and talked to Mr Hayes for quite a while.  He was very helpful and informative and when I contacted Mr Pat Kelly in Lubbock (the nearest dist. for me in Midland), he was also very helpful.   Apparently Mr. Hayes will be at the seminar, which will include some "classroom" time (product info, applications, overview, footing/concrete info.) and then the 2nd day hands-on block building on one site and pouring on another.  (Two lunches, dinner, transportation to sites, and materials included.)   Mr. Kelly said that, while he is willing to come to Midland and provide on site consulting ($300 + expenses) if you could attend the seminar, you could probably do it yourself with phone consultations (free).  I am confident we could do it ourselves, especially with the training, although I like the idea of someone checking the final work before and/or during the pour.

If my understanding (and general feeling) is correct, that which ICF company isn't the most important, but making sure you stack and brace right, having someone close (or fairly close for us) might be worth any small differences in the material cost.  

I am still researching though, and appreciate the specific numbers posted in the thread. 

If any of you reading this have any new ICF projects and more numbers, I would love to hear from you.  Our initial plans now are for ~5,100 sq/ft, but we might not be able to finish the 1,024 ft basement (my dreams seem to be bigger than our budget and I haven't even started the main quotes yet:).

Happy building!

April


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By Andrea in Dallas, TX on 6/27/2008


Hello Mike!

I am new to this forum and have just read the threads. I spoke to my hubby about the ICF.  We are interested in observing and learning how this will benefit us.

Please let us know where and when you are building in the DFW area.

Oh!

I'll go ahead and send a PM.

Thanks!


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By Mike in Bonham, TX on 6/27/2008


Andrea (and members),

We are currently bidding a 9,000 sq ft. home in Dallas.  If we get it, we'll be starting in 4-6 weeks on the block.

The owner is deciding on which material to use.  We've presented PerformWall, Rastra and NuDura.  When he decides, I'll let everyone know. In the meantime, if you want any other information on projects, then either PM me or I have started a journal under "NTxHUB Projects".  I'll be posting pics of past projects during construction and some details of the homes.  I will NOT be posting addresses or contact information for my clients.  This is for two reasons: 1) I have a contractual obligation to not publicly publish these addresses in order to protect the privacy of my clients.

2) If this was your house, would you want countless phone calls regarding your home years after completion or random drive-bys "scouting" your house?

As always, I'll be glad to offer my professional experiences and advice for any who care to ask.

- Mike

P.S. We've just completed the SIP house project a few months ago and are almost finished with the 4,300 sq ft log "cabin" NW of FW. I'll be putting pics up of those as well.


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By Texas Redneck in Central TX, TX on 6/29/2008


Mr. Pat Kelly is one of the most respected ICF men in Texas. He is HIGHLY recommended. I can't say the same for Polysteel as I am not educated enough on their products. Some say it's more difficult to install while others love it. Due diligence is the key, of course.
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By Mike in Bonham, TX on 8/20/2008


OK, here's a followup on the 9,000 sq ft home in Dallas.  It is really 6,778 H/C area; 9,000 is under roof.  We had an energy audit run on this home with a total encapsulation of the attic in foam. The exterior is going to probably be Perform Wall (owner's choice).  The independent energy audit on this home shows a $175/mo. avg HVAC bill utilizing an 18-SEER geothermal system.  That's a $466/month savings over current state-mandated energy-code construction figured at $0.12/kWh for electricity.

When calculated with a 16-SEER conventional heat pump setup, the costs aren't much more.  It comes in at $227/month average.  And the company that does the audits will guarantee that usage for two years, if the home is built to the specs that they figured.

Anyone ever have their plans run through an independent energy audit?  I'm not talking about the calc the AC installers run. 

BTW, check out the MUST READ post for storm water permits. 


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By Brian in Smith, TX on 5/23/2009



Mike,

Is your offer to let people come work on your projects using ICF still open?  I would like to do something this summer (2009) if you have any projects being worked on.   I live in the Houston area. 

Thanks,

Brian

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By Lars in Granbury, TX on 8/5/2009


Hi owner-builders, I saw an ad in the Dallas Craigslist today (Aug 5, 09) for a good deal on Polysteel ICFs. Look in the "Materials" category.  When it's gone they will delete the ad -- so go look quick.  Good luck.
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By Dennis in Bowie, TX on 8/10/2009


Hi Paul,

I looked at several ICF systems before selecting ECO-Block.  After getting verification of the certified builder/installer we began.  While I still believe ICF is an excellent building medium, selecting ECO-Block and Mark Allen Construction of Runaway Bay, Texas was the worst mistake in my entire life. Go to skytrax.com/sky_wp .

While in litigation, I came to know several ICF manufacturers.  Avoid any ICF provider that is connected to AARX (ECO-Block, Polysteel) and ARXX themselves.  When anything goes wrong you could be left on you own.

I do suggest looking into LOGIX ICF Systems at 1-401-601-5763 or logixicf.com.

Good luck!


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By Jim in Conroe, TX on 11/29/2009


You indicate $35K more and that your framing package would have been $15K.  Are you saying your labor costs are exactly the same for ICF as they would have been for stick frame?  Having built custom homes in the past, I have estimated the cost of labor (for about 100 homes that I had framed) was about the same as the cost of the framing package.  That being the case, it would be helpful if you could break out the cost of labor for ICF as well. 

Thanks,

Jim

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By Brian in Manvel, TX on 12/6/2009


Hi Jim,

Here is what it cost to frame both ICF exterior and wood interior and rafters.

5,272 frame feet

ICF labor $17,000
Concrete, pump
$8,000
Steel/Buck/Glue $5,000
ICF $25,000
Lumber $28,000
Framer $12,000

$95,000

If I had done traditional stick framing (2x6 ext wall) with treated plywood wrap for stucco I would have spent an additional $15K on materials and another $5K on labor.

Lumber $28,000
Framer $12,000
Extra lumber $15,000
Extra labor $5,000

$60,000

Essentially, $35K more to build ICF for me. Others may not have the same results, since lumber and rebar is way down from when I built and I paid just over $2 a foot for frame labor. I got a quote for the framing as high as $7 because the ICF scared them. Hope it makes more sense now.

I also just calculated my kW usage for Jan thru Nov, 2009. 11-month average is 1,906 kW. Current rates here are now down to around 10 cents per kWh. Avg. bill is now only $190 a month. 2007 usage noted in this thread in my post above.  2008 kW usage was 2,101 kW avg. per month.

Brian

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