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Superior Wall vs. ICF's, Which is best for PA?


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By Vince on 6/27/2004


I am torn between these two products for the foundation of my new home. Both provide good insulation, and are design to not leak, but which is better, cost effective, and and best for finishing off later?
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By D' in Tucson, AZ on 6/27/2004


Either direction could be good. ICF's are easier to work with. A lot depends on your budget. ICF's won't go up as quickly. Do you have room for the truck and crane to install the Superior panels? Try getting bids for finished wall before making a decision.
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 6/30/2004


I would get bids for both before making a decision. I ended up with all sorts of bids (ICF, SIP, 2x4 and 2x6 stick-framed, light-gauge steel-framed, red iron steel framed) just based on how I wanted to construct the house. Once I sorted out the how (I ultimately decided to use ICF), then I sorted out the specifics of who, when, etc. They all have advantages and disadvantages, cost is only one part of the equation.
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By Mindy on 7/2/2004


I'm in northeast MO and have been checking out all of these products myself. We've got bids for the Superior walls, ThermaSteel panels and OSB SIPs coming (hopefully soon). Which products did you end up using, and how did the costs compare with each other? Did you do the ICF basement yourself? I'm going to get a bid from Lowe's for the ICF forms and see about doing it ourselves along with getting a bid from the Amvic ICF installer from Quincy.

Thanks.
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By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 7/7/2004


We will use ICF for basement and above-grade walls, everything to the eaves. I would caution against buying ICF material from Lowe's if you have never done this yourself. When we were considering DIY for the ICF block, the quality and price of the block was secondary to the technical assistance we would get from the supplier, the ability to rent bracing equipment, the supplier connections for concrete pumps, the supplier expertise for concrete mix, etc. When you buy from Lowe's, you don't get any of this stuff.

I would recommend finding the closest ICF distributors and talking to them. Of all of the ICF material-only bids we got, there wasn't enough difference between them to justify buying material on cost alone without considering the technical aspects and hand-holding we were going to need to get the job done. We ended up with Amvic, but only for the reason that the contractor we hired for the ICF portion prefers this block. If I were to DIY, I would have ended up with ECO-Block.
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By Martyn in Effort, PA on 7/16/2004


Would any of you care to give the details of the bids you received on the Superior walls? With a basic description of size and general shape of basement.
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By Jill in Randleman, NC on 9/30/2004


I got quotes from Superior Walls and PolySteel for my basement. PolySteel (ICF) was $22K and Superior was $18K. The basement is 2,400 sq ft. I think I would go with PolySteel over Superior for several reasons: the R-value, I have heard SW crack, I don't like the idea of not having a footing, and ICF is drywall ready. I do plan to get quotes from other ICF distributors...
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By John in Erie, CO on 10/1/2004


I would second the above post. If you are going to DIY ICF, buy a good block, and buy from a distributor who really knows what they are doing. I did my own ICF work.

The only block I would be willing to install myself is Nudura, or maybe Reward. Nudura's price was better than any other block at the time I did my project, but I think the prices are pretty close right now. Nudura folds flat, so shipping costs are a lot less than many blocks. It also goes up in 8' sections, and you don't really have to assemble it like some of the blocks. The ties lock the courses together, so there is no need to glue seams unless you end up with a bastard joint.

So, either way, here are some guidelines and experience that I either learned on my project, or other ICF projects I helped with before my project.

  • Buy from a distributor who has the experience and equipment to help you do it right. There was a PolySteel project I helped with that had nothing but problems on the first level, the second level was better, and the last pour went great. Why? Because the distributor was no help, didn't really know what concrete was, and the owner had to learn it as he went. I learned a lot watching his project.

  • Rent the bracing/wall alignment systems - don't try to make your own bracing out of 2x material - you will waste a lot of time, and you won't get as good results. Also, if your block allows for vibration, your distributor should have a vibration/consolidation tool for you to rent/borrow.

  • If you can, take a class. Nudura offers a two-day class, when they then credit the cost of it back to you on your first order. Even if the class isn't for the block you will be installing, the techniques they teach will apply to any ICF you choose to install. They will save you a lot of problems and you will get a better result.

  • It usually took us about 3-7 days (two guys) to stack a level, and then another 10-14 days to get all the bracing installed, pour, and then cleanup/teardown. We lost a lot of time due to weather, but we finished quicker than one of the contractors I was considering hiring, but we worked hard. (9 working weeks, 12 weeks total) That included a vault roof, basement floor, main subfloor framing, and the garage out of ICF.

    One thing that I'm glad I did was using VBUCK (vbuck.com) for the window buck material - it is much lighter and easier to work with than the pressure-treated lumber (needed in contact with the concrete) and doesn't warp/twist. Two guys were able to build and set the window bucks on a level of my house in one day. The guy I had helping me had done a dozen ICF houses, and was astonished with the ease that the window bucks went in.

    I would strongly recommend visiting job sites of each block you are considering. You will see dramatic differences, in terms of waste, problems, labor, and overall quality. There are lots of good blocks I've seen, and some I wouldn't want to use.

    Good luck!


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    By Kenneth in Lees Summit, MO on 10/1/2004


    John,

    Great post. There is a lot of good information here; you should get the post of the week for this one. I agree when you are shopping for ICF to DIY, the distributor is much more important than the block itself. I got quotes from Amvic, Arxx, ECO-Block, Fold-Form, Logix, and Reward, among others. The prices between block are not significant enough to shop prices alone. Service after the sale is much more important for DIY.

    Around here, the best support comes from the ECO-Block distributor, and while that was not my preferred block, I would have purchased this hands down based on support after the sale. I agree that renting the bracing is critical. I talked to a DIY that didn’t rent the bracing for the basement level as he felt like he could buy a lot of lumber for the cost of bracing rental. Basically he framed his first floor and used this as bracing to hold the ICF walls prior to the concrete pour. He rented the bracing for the next pour, and said the bracing is definitely more worthwhile.

    Take the class. Even if you later decide to subcontract the ICF portion (as I did), this knowledge is invaluable. It teaches you how to do ICF correctly, usually from a factory representative and not from the distributor. This allows you to see other ICF contractors and identify where they cut corners. If you understand the process, you can make a better decision about who you hire. If you DIY, the class should be mandatory.

    I opted not to use V-BUCK, but went with treated lumber. Some of the distributors recommend it, others don’t. I noticed not all of the professional builders use V-BUCK. I preferred Universal Buck (made by ECO-Block), but the ECO-Block distributor recommended V-BUCK over their own product based on labor savings (Universal Buck is modular and must be assembled in the field).

    I ended up with Amvic ICF based on what the subcontractor I hired liked to use. I have to say after being on several pours, the Amvic was without question the most solid block I have seen. My subcontractor braced it very heavily and glued every joint, there were no shortcuts here.

    Ken
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    By John in Erie, CO on 10/1/2004


    Double good Ken! I think you summarize the pluses and minuses of ICF and methods. Your point on classes is RIGHT ON! I hope more people look into ICF's - I think it's a great way to build a house.

    The V-BUCK was expensive, and I only justified it because of the price of labor in my area. It was nice, but there are some great alternatives as you pointed out. There is also a product called Easy Buck that you assemble with lumber to make bucks, but I think it only works with the Nudura forms. If I were doing it myself again, I'd pay for it, but if I was hiring it out, I wouldn't ask for it, because of the premium cost. I'm a wimp, and didn't want to haul the lumber around.

    I also doubly agree with you on the class. I actually took the class with the intent of hiring one of the subs I had bids from. After sitting in the class, and realizing that most of these "professional" foundation guys couldn't calculate square diagonals, I decided I'd do it. My DIY cost was less than half of the cost from my sub, and I got the V-BUCK and Scapewel window wells as an upgrade, but I wasn't exactly paying myself anything there.

    HINT! - If you can, get a couple of drawings with some diagonal distances for the major boxes, all corners, and 45-degree angles marked on a separate sheet. It will improve the quality and speed of your foundation layout. It's not worth paying a lot for (from your drafter, etc) but if you have your own CAD system, or they are nice (it only takes five minutes) it's a great tool to have.

    I did it with time off from a job, some very experienced help, and excellent factory support. I would caution people against the DIY route unless you have really done your homework. In hindsight, it's something I would have done again, because of the money I saved, but it is a big time commitment. I also offered my "hired gun" (experienced help) bonuses for uneventful pours. (I had been to some pretty awful pours with blowouts and concrete everywhere). In hindsight, I didn't have anything to worry about with my block and the factory support/bracing, but I offered him $100 per pour (two pours) for no blowouts or surprises. I figured it was cheaper than another hour of a pump truck and cleaning up a couple of yards of concrete at $60/yard. Of course, if you hire it out, then it's no worry at all!

    The only other thing I would add is that ICF homes do take a lot of labor to do right - the bracing if you want really awesome walls, takes time. But every trade that has been on my site says this is how they will build their next house. (All these guys like doing it right, it seems). I believe Nudura was formed by the guys who invented Amvic - the blocks have a lot of similarities. :)

    Enjoy your concrete home. Once I get the house finished, I hope to hook up my in-wall sensors and see if I can quantify the "thermal effect" of ICF houses. (i.e. track inside temp, outside temp, and inside concrete wall temp) to see if the buffering effect really works. (I'm sure it does, I'd just like to put science behind the "performs like R-50" sales poo).

    Murph
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