Achieve Net-Zero Status with ICF Construction

A net-zero building, one that consumes and generates equal amounts of energy, is an ambitious goal that requires a coordinated effort from the project teams to best maximize energy efficiency throughout the design, construction, occupancy, and maintenance phases.

Leaks in the building envelope are a major contributor to a structure’s energy loss, so using insulated concrete form (ICF) technology for structural walls offers an airtight solution for net-zero construction. ICFs help buildings get that much closer to attaining net-zero status by ensuring that other energy-saving strategies, ranging from solar panels to triple-glazed windows and ongoing energy monitoring, are not wasted.

Typical construction methods, such as wood or steel framing, facilitate thermal bridging that makes the resulting structures less energy efficient due to gaps in the building’s insulation. For projects in the education, hospitality, and government spaces, which tend to have higher energy requirements, ICFs provide the continuous insulation necessary to effectively contain the heating and cooling within the structure.

ICFs consist of two continuous panels of EPS foam connected with an inner web system. The ICF blocks are stacked to the desired height and filled with concrete. The resulting reinforced and monolithic concrete walls with interior and exterior insulation can be used below- and above-grade in both residential and commercial structures.

ICF blocks themselves come in a variety of shapes and thicknesses to accommodate all types of building designs and energy requirements.

In terms of net-zero construction, the advantage to building with ICFs is the sustainability aspects. Because the walls are thick and have no thermal bridging, there is less airflow overall, which results in a higher R-value compared with wood- and steel-frame construction and lessens the strain on mechanical and HVAC systems. All of this equates to a reduced carbon footprint and lower monthly heating and cooling costs for the owner.

The Insulating Concrete Form Manufacturers Association (ICFMA) conducted thermal performance testing to compare structures built with ICFs with those constructed with wood- and steel-framing.

The results indicated that the 6-inch ICF wall assembly provided 58% better effective R-value and up to 60% greater energy savings than the 2×6 traditional insulated wood-frame cavity wall.

ICFs are only one piece of the puzzle to designing and constructing a net-zero building. But because they incorporate both the structural and insulating elements of the building envelope, they are a critical component. Ultimately, when structures use ICF technology in combination with other energy-saving initiatives, they can more easily achieve and maintain the much-sought net-zero status.

Learn more about how ICFs offer greater energy efficiency and durability compared with wood-frame construction by visiting

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