Alternative Building Materials for Homes
The majority of homes today are built with wood frames, the traditional home building material and the material of choice for many. However building a wood framed house requires a very carefully designed plan and a construction crew with much experience and skill.
Traditional wood framing can lead to premature failure when small details are left unchecked. Wood is also susceptible to infestation, rot and simply poor quality. Now home owners today have a choice when green building a home to instead use Insulated Concrete Forms (ICF) or Structural Insulated Panels (SIP).
What are Insulated Concrete Forms?
Insulated Concrete Forms are preformed blocks made with expanded polystyrene (EPS) and metal ties or rebar which can be stacked to create a "form work" which is then filled with concrete to create an insulated and exceptionally strong concrete wall.
This concrete building technology is not actually new, it have been around for approximately 30 years. However the product has not been generally accepted by contractors especially for home residences until now.
Pros for Building a Home with Insulated Concrete Forms
Ease of Use - These building blocks are very easy to use. They require much less crew and take significantly less time to build than a traditional home.
Energy Efficiency - The insulation properties of polystyrene and the high thermal mass of the concrete help to reduce the internal temperature fluctuations to create a more efficient and comfortable indoor environment.
Noise Reduction - Insulated Concrete form walls make an enormous difference in the reduction of noise transmission.
Fire-resistance - This product is highly rated for fire-resistance and has been proven in some products to have a four hour resistance rating!
Strength - These walls are exceptionally strong and can be built to hurricane/seismic standards.
Mildew/Rot - These walls will not support the growth of mildew and mold.
Cons for Building with ICF's
Cost - Building with alternative block structures is definitely more expensive than building with wood, however this cost can be off set by the amount of labor required and the time in which the project can be completed.
Infestation - Not all products are safe from infestation. All though termites cannot destroy the walls they can eat through the polystyrene and eventually reach your wood framed doors and windows. You can ask to have your foam treated to prevent infestation.
Is Concrete Construction Really Green?
That would depend on the manufacturer. Concrete forms do have some significant green construction concerns.
Virgin concrete that is made without recycled materials and concrete substitutes is actually an enormous environmental hazard. Concrete's dependency on water, its use of aggregates and the energy consumption used to create it does not give concrete the eco-friendly grade.
There are many new building material advances being made regarding cement substitutes which are incredibly environmentally friendly. If you wish to build a home with ICF blocks request that your concrete be made with cement substitutes such as Fly-ash. This will significantly reduce your environmental footprint in building such a wall.
EPS is essentially a form of Styrofoam, a chemically formulated product that is a known pollutant.
Luckily today home building innovators are discovering ways in which this potential environmental hazard can in fact be recycled. In fact some companies which manufacture ICF's are finally manufacturing their product using recycled EPS.
Expandable polystyrene is not recycled in many areas so if recycling is necessary you will need to do some research.
What are Structural Insulated Panels?
SIP's are high performance building panels that are used to form and build walls, floors and roofs both commercially and residentially. An eco-friendly building material.
They are made by sandwiching foam insulation between Oriented Strand Board (OSB). OSB is an engineered wood product that is formed with wax and resins and compressed.
Pros for Building with Structural Insulated Panels
Insulation - SIP's are an incredibly well insulated panel creating a truly air tight building envelope.
Construction Time - Time taken to build a SIP home is considerably shorter
Labor Cost - Labor is also considerably reduced in the construction of a SIP home.
Waste - Much less waste is produced at the construction site.
Noise Reduction - The solid foam core of SIP panels help to reduce noise transmission
Cost - Using SIP panels to build a home can actually be cost effective. In many cases they
are competitively priced with traditionally wood framed homes.
Cons for Building with SIP's
Fire-Resistance - Unfortunately they do not compete with insulated concrete forms for fire
resistance capabilities, although they absolutely meet fire testing standards.
Infestation - These wall panels are also subject to insect infestation, however they can also
be treated to resist insects and termites.
Both insulated concrete forms and structural insulated panels are excellent options for the green home builder. They are both subject to some scrutiny so it is up to the home owner to insist on more information regarding the manufacturing process of their product of choice.
Find out if they are using recycled plastics and wood by-products to further reduce your environmental footprint. One company to look out for is Eco-Block. They are a leader in the industry and are dedicated to achieving the highest environmental standards. Eco-Block's concrete forms are made from up to 40% of recycled material! Visit Eco-Block's web site for more information on environmentally friendly green home building materials
When this homeowner decided to retrofit her small 1950s house -- which involved a total gutting of the interior -- she knew that she wanted to reuse as much of the materials as possible. Enter deconstruction, "the eco-friendly sister of demolition." http://www.my-green-home-project.com
Read more about the Beginner's Guide to Electric Cars and other green vehicles.