By Melissa Dunson
When Lamar resident Jenice Gaither encountered a tornado as a young child, she decided that any house she would occupy as an adult would have to be safe.
Gaither found the security she was seeking in an insulating-concrete-form house that uses layers of Styrofoam, thin plastic and 6 to 8 inches of concrete for the walls. The result is a structure that resists fire, water, mold, termites and winds up to 160 mph.
Gaither said the indestructible nature of her Lamar home is reassuring, but her husband’s favorite feature of the ICF house into which they moved in 2000 is their monthly utility bills, which run 30 percent to 50 percent lower than those of some of their neighbors.
“There’s so many things we appreciate about the ICF house,” Jenice Gaither said. “If we ever had to build again, I wouldn’t have second thoughts about doing another ICF house. It’s well worth it.”
The combination of the increased energy efficiency and structural soundness of ICF buildings uses technology that Webb City builder and developer Danny Phillips said has been around for more than 20 years. But the concrete homes are just now gaining popularity in the Joplin area.
Phillips is finishing a 6,350-square-foot ICF home in the new Oakwood subdivision in Webb City. He estimates that the house normally would cost $450 a month to cool, but the monthly electric bill will be only around $250. The ICF buildings cost $4 to $5 more a square foot than traditional wood-frame construction, but Phillips said the energy savings pay for the added cost in three to five years.
In addition, Phillips said, federal tax credits are available for building ICF homes. Builders are eligible for up to $1,500 per home, and home buyers can qualify for up to $2,500 through the government’s Energy Star energy-efficiency program.
Because of the ICF construction’s resistance to natural disasters, Phillips said, insurance companies usually will reduce rates for the concrete homes, and lending agencies typically will lend more money to projects focusing on higher energy efficiency.
Area ICF projects
Johnny Bates, owner of Bates Building in Carthage, said he has been involved in four ICF projects recently, ranging from a basement built with the Styrofoam-concrete blocks to a home with floor-to-ceiling ICF construction that was part of last year’s Parade of Homes tour. Bates said he is bidding another full ICF house in Carthage.
He said that while the ICF technology has been around for years, customers now are starting to do their homework and are seeing the concrete construction as an option.
“As our customers are getting more educated, builders are responding to it,” Bates said. “Whether or not people choose (ICF), they are at least asking about it. I have a customer right now who wants the numbers of a regular wood construction versus ICF construction.”
Dennis Suiter, office manager for Sprouls Construction Inc. in Lamar, said his company has been a distributor for ARXX Styrofoam-concrete blocks for the past 10 years, and the benefits of the structures are attracting the attention of a diverse group of customers and builders.
“The great thing about this stuff is it works just as well for a Habitat for Humanity house as for a 6,000-square-foot house,” Suiter said. “It’s not just the energy savings. It attracts a lot of different people for a lot of different reasons.”
Phillips said ICF homes are nearly 100 percent soundproof, and the construction eliminates some entryways for allergens such as pollen, mold and dust.
Suiter said Sprouls Construction has built or supplied material for more than 100 ICF projects, including the new, 7,800-square-foot Barton County Ambulance District building.
The growing popularity of energy-efficient homes will have a dramatic impact on the environment, said Art Boyt, director of the Missouri Alternative Renewable Energy Technology Center at Crowder College in Neosho.
Boyt said buildings in the United States use 72 percent of the electricity in the country, and 40 percent of the base energy that is used. He said it is estimated that if every household in the country changed one light bulb to a more energy-efficient version, it would have the same effect as removing 1 million automobiles from the roadways.
Boyt said that if ICF construction cut the energy consumption of a building in half, the growing popularity of the Styrofoam-concrete homes could have a “profound” effect on preserving the environment. He said the greatest impact would be a decrease in the amount of coal and natural gas used.
He said he thinks ICF construction will have enough of a place in the future of construction that he has included the building procedure in a new class he is teaching at Crowder called Green Construction Technology. He said the enrollment numbers in the class are “unprecedented.” Crowder also is using ICF technology for some of its building projects.
“We’re impressed enough with this method that we’re going to use ICF construction in a portion of the new MARET Center we’re building,” he said.
Suiter said that with all of its benefits, he isn’t sure why ICF construction isn’t more widely known about, but he thinks it’s just a matter of time before residential and commercial consumers latch onto the technology that’s been slowly changing the construction industry for the past 20 years.
“It’s going to be a force to be reckoned with one of these days,” he said. “After 10 years, we’re still very passionate about our product. The costs are similar to building with wood, and the benefits are so good, it’s a no-brainer to us. I can’t imagine not checking it out.”
Melissa Dunson is the business writer for The Joplin Globe.
Concrete alone has an insulation factor of R-2 to R-8. Traditional building insulation is R-14 to R-18. The insulating-concrete-form blocks with concrete and Styrofoam have a factor of R-28 to R-32.
Source: Danny Phillips, Webb City builder and developer
The ICF home in the Oakwood subdivision in Webb City is for sale for $452,900. Construction started July 22, 2006. The house has 12-foot ceilings, 3,150 square feet on the main level and 3,200 square feet on the unfinished lower level. The house has five bedrooms, four bathrooms, a three-car garage, two decks and a theater room. Information is available at www.oakwoodsubdivision.com.
Source: Danny Phillips, Webb City builder and developer
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By Melissa Dunson
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