There is a perception in some marketplaces that building with wood is faster and cheaper than Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) construction in the 4-6 story mid-rise market segment.
The problem is that building with wood isn’t necessarily faster or cheaper. That’s exactly why this blog post will take a look at what happened when HP Builders Inc. in Winnipeg built these two nearly identical mid-rise buildings (one constructed with wood-frame and the other constructed with ICFs and concrete) beside each other and at the same time.
As you will see, building with wood was more complicated, lengthier and labor-intensive.
WOOD VS CONCRETE: HP BUILDERS’ EXPERIENCE
Here is what happened when HP Builders built two nearly identical buildings beside each other:
- Wood Was Much More Complicated Than ICF. The wood home had 28 different wall designs and a wide variety of lintels and beam designs within the wood building.
- In comparison, the ICF construction had just two simple wall designs. This included an 8” core in the parkade, 6” for above the grade walls and one basic lintel design for the entire building.
We like to think of Logix ICF as ‘six construction steps in one simple package’, as you can see in the image below. The result is a much more efficient building process, which means more money saved (more on this below).
- Wood-Frame Needed Double the Crew Size. Since the wood-framed construction was more complicated, it required a crew of 15 to 20 laborers. Only eight laborers were required to build the ICF construction.
With the additional crew involved, the wood-framed building in this case consumed 18,000 hours of labor compared to only 12,000 with ICF. Keep in mind that you can also build through both wet and cold conditions with ICF as well.
(In fact, one builder assembled an entire ICF home by himself! (stay tuned for a future post on how he did it)).
- Wood-Frame = High Labor Costs. The two buildings worked out to roughly the same price in the end because the cost of the wood-frame building was largely attributed to labor. On the other hand, the cost of the ICF construction, however, was attributed to higher quality materials, and therefore a higher quality, more efficient, durable and profitable building. Also, keep in mind a lot of unpredictable costs can come up when building with more traditional materials like wood. Another benefit of ICFs, then, is the greater predictability of construction costs.
- Wood-Frame Construction Required More Tools and Equipment. Building with wood also required a lot more tools and equipment than the ICF construction. The wood-frame construction required a telehandler, a variety of air tools, a variety of different saws, different types of drills, impact wrenches, cords, impulse nailers and levels. In contrast, the ICF construction simply required a crane, some drills, saws, rebar tie wire and levels. In general, you only need basic handset tools to start building with ICF.
Here is a video of Harvey Schellenberg, one of the owners of HP Builders, discussing why he built with Logix ICF:
You will notice that many builders, including Schellenberg himself, go on to specialize in ICFs. This gives them a competitive advantage in the industry and sets their business apart from the rest due to all of the advantages that come with ICF.
Here’s another look at why builders and general contractors choose ICF through an interview with Will Gonell of Gonell Homes.
OTHER BENEFITS OF BUILDING WITH CONCRETE
There are a lot of other advantages to building with concrete over wood:
- Energy-Savings. The fact that ICF is so energy-efficient makes it a great advantage for your business, particularly when it comes to selling your product to the homeowner (not to mention the lowered operating costs). One study, for instance, found that exterior walls made with ICFs require 44% less energy to heat and 33% less energy to cool when compared to wood-frame walls, even though both had a similar insulation value.
In general, the built-in energy savers with ICFs are attributed to the thick panels of insulation, which provide a wall assembly R-value of R-25. Put another way, ICFs offer continuous insulation. With traditional walls, the stated R-value isn’t accurate due to the gaps between the insulation. With ICFs, the wall assembly is also airtight, making occupants much more comfortable. Lastly, Logix blocks also provide a 5-day thermal lag as well.
- Disaster Resilience. Wood-frame buildings buckle and blow over in extreme weather such as hurricanes. They also easily catch on fire. In fact, it only takes 15 minutes for a building made of wood to catch on fire. ICF buildings, however, can stand up to over 300 mph and have a 4-hour fire rating. They also don’t rot. There are numerous examples of ICF homes managing to survive category 4 and 5 hurricanes on our blog while the homes made of wood were completely destroyed.
WRAPPING IT UP
It is a commonly thought that building with wood is faster and cheaper than building with concrete. But, it is this type of thinking that can cost your business both time and money.
As HP Builders’ experience shows, building with wood is more complicated, takes longer, requires a much larger crew and is not any cheaper.
Where cost is concerned, the two buildings worked out to the same price because of the high cost of labor involved with wood. With ICFs, the cost is attributed to the material itself, making it a better choice.
Lastly, building with ICFs also gives builders a competitive advantage in the construction industry due to the energy-savings and comfort involved with ICF construction, not to mention other benefits like disaster resilience.