Cast-In-Place Concrete Block Finds A Home in Arizona
“When I first saw the product, what came to mind is that the public has a right to this amazing building material," Carl Hendrickson says. The venture capitalist wasn’t shy about taking on the Pacific Northwest’s most beloved building material with his Ener-G-Block insulating concrete forms (ICFs) company.
“The Ener-G-Block and building system was developed to compete against wood-constructed homes in that region,” he says. “My criteria was the speed of construction. An Ener-G wall along with the certified Ener-G building components would be the most economical home to own and give the greatest quality of life to the people living within.”
His outlook is supported in a recent study comparing energy bills for heating and cooling. “Original Ener-G Homes built 20 years ago have saved the owners tens of thousands of dollars in heating and cooling cost over similarly sized homes built to the standards of the day,” Hendrickson says. “These savings are added to the quality afforded by the Certified Ener-G homes.”
Ener-G-Block Co., which has won awards from the Home Builders Association, American Concrete Institute, the Office of the Governor, and the Department of Energy, has its roots in a new building material the company crafted in the early 1980s. ICFs create cast-in-place concrete walls sandwiched between two insulation material layers, which are robust and energy-efficient. Typical applications for this construction method are low-rise buildings used for residential, commercial, and industrial purposes. Traditional finishes are applied to interior and exterior faces, so the buildings look similar to typical construction, although the walls are usually thicker.
ICFs date back to World War II when the Swiss used blocks of treated wood fibers held together by cement. In the 1940s and 1950s, chemical companies developed plastic foams, which by the 1960s allowed a Canadian inventor to create a foam block that resembles today's ICFs. Europeans were developing similar products around the same time.
American companies got involved in the technology, manufacturing blocks and panels starting in the 1980s. By the mid-1990s, the Insulating Concrete Form Association was created to help domestic building code acceptance of the technology. ICFA also worked with the Portland Cement Association to build awareness of this type of construction.
There were some obstacles. Costs could be more significant than frame construction because people didn't understand the system. Builders had to work closely with inspectors to get code approval. Materials were proprietary, yet there were growing numbers of ICF manufacturers. As a result, competition increased, and costs moderated.
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Jul/Aug 2021 issue, Vol. 10, No. 4.