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What are Insulated Concrete Forms?

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  • Written By: S. Mithra
  • Edited By: L. S. Wynn
  • Last Modified Date: 28 September 2016
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Built at the request of Dag Hammarskj√∂ld, the United Nations Headquarters has a meditation room dedicated to silence.   more...

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Insulated concrete forms are hollow molds made of polystyrene that assemble like building blocks to construct walls. The empty forms interlock in customizable patterns and are held together with connectors and rebar. Once laid out and assembled, the forms are filled with concrete. The new technology of insulated concrete forms unites the benefits of concrete with superior insulation, stability, and environmental friendliness.

Those overseeing residential and commercial construction benefit from many advantages of choosing insulated concrete forms over wood framing. Of course, concrete is extremely solid and durable because it can't be devoured by insects, deluged by flood, damaged by fire, or deformed by humidity. Using molds streamlines the labor-intensive process of forming concrete walls. The insulated concrete forms themselves are made of recycled material, like plastic ties and foam cups, so they don't adversely affect the environment with deforestation.

Most importantly, the thermal and sound insulation of walls made from insulated concrete forms is unparalleled, with R-values of 30-40. An R-value estimates the insulating power of any material against noise, heat, and cold. These forms create silent rooms that maintain their temperature and can save an incredible amount on energy bills. This can make up for the slightly more expensive cost of construction with concrete versus lumber.

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Building using insulated concrete forms starts with a floor plan. Then the molds can be stacked from the ground up into simple walls. The molds come in three varieties: blocks, planks, and panels. All types allow for doors, windows, plumbing, and electricity, and all require steel reinforcements like braces and rebar. However, some use more concrete, vary in thickness, or work better in certain applications.

In flat walls, using blocks, a large amount of concrete slurry is sandwiched between two sides of insulated material of varying widths. Plank forms are a bit longer, allowing for less design flexibility, yet requiring less concrete. In this type, the concrete flows into a waffle-like grid, so its thickness varies from a few inches to half a foot throughout the wall. Finally, panels are the largest unit, about the size of a sheet of drywall. They form post-and-beam walls because the concrete fits in a series of cylindrical vertical beams and horizontal posts, with the remainder of the wall being composed of foam. Since the concrete doesn't fill the entire wall, the panel system is less expensive and lighter.

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