The demand for trained, qualified, ICF installers is growing exponentially. Some companies, like ICW specialize exclusively in being installation subcontractors. Other organizations are working to make trained qualified ICF professionals easier to find and identify.
There has never been a better time to be in the ICF industry. With green building rapidly going mainstream, residential and commercial contractors, developers and industry leaders across the country are looking for ways to prepare themselves for the inevitable sea change that will certainly affect the way they do business in the foreseeable future.
Some are embracing the change based on a sense of civic, social, or environmental responsibility. (It was Wal Mart CEO Lee Scott that recently said, “Green is the new red, white, and blue.”) Others will be dragged in kicking and screaming by either legislative mandate or economic survival or both, but change they will.
Already on a path of impressive growth, the ICF industry will no doubt benefit from the opportunities that result from this “green wave” of construction activity. With over 80 different ICF companies currently doing business, the issue is not whether we will have the product available to meet this demand. The issue is “will we, as an industry, be prepared to provide trained, qualified, professional installation services to these builders.”
Specialized Installation Contractors
One company that has been preparing for what they felt was this inevitable “tipping point” in the ICF industry is Insulated Concrete Walls (ICW) of Stuart, Fla.
“We observed the industry and saw this growing interest in ICF construction, and consequently, a strong need for qualified ICF installers,” says Jeff Alexander, president and CEO of ICW. “Most builders were reluctant to spend the time and money to train their crews in a new construction method. We started ICW to take away that obstacle to the ICF sale, by providing the builder with a professional subcontractor to erect his ICF walls.
“We also wanted to lend credibility and professionalism to a relatively unknown but burgeoning industry by providing company-owned vehicles and equipment as well as trained, uniformed employees,” continues Alexander. “In addition, our company’s primary initiative was to become the market leader in the insulated concrete form contracting segment, operating as a subcontractor to ICF manufacturers, dealers, distributors and builder/contractor customers.”
The results so far have been impressive. ICW has installed hundreds of ICF projects in Florida and California and has plans to expand their services in 2007 to include Colorado, Arizona and other areas where demand is sufficiently strong.
ICW is just one of a growing number of installation-only subcontractors that have been springing up around the country.
Brocon Inc. is a full-service ICF installer headquartered in Charlotte, NC. Brocon is a fully licensed general contractor in the states of North Carolina, South Carolina and Florida, but provides ICF installation services throughout the country. Doing business since 1993, “we are a family-owned business that strives to be an industry leader”, says principal Pat Moore.
Moore has seen his business grow exponentially as ICFs have gone mainstream over the last decade. However, he continues to see obstacles holding the industry back, namely “the need to get architects and engineers to specify ICFs from the beginning so that we are listed as a primary rather than an alternate product.”
“Once the project is spec’d in CMU for instance, it is difficult, time-consuming and costly to reengineer plans, and the owner decides he doesn’t want the hassle,” says Moore. He believes that “once we, as an industry, can begin to get more projects specified ICF, then more builders will see the industry potential and begin to seek out ICF installation training.”
Ian Giesler, owner of ICF Builder Network has also seen his ICF wall subcontracting business grow rapidly over the past few years. Giesler believes the demand for specialized ICF installers will be market driven.
“There are many installers that are part-time, which quite honestly can do more damage to the image of ICF construction by producing less-than-desirable results,” Giesler says. “The idiosyncrasies of ICFs almost force or dictate that a subcontractor that specializes in ICF wall construction must do it right. If so, that subcontractor is going to succeed since one bad project will kill ten good ones.”
So how do we ensure that there are not only a sufficient number of ICF installers to meet the demand everyone feels is coming, but that these installers have the skills and experience to “do it right”?
The Insulated Concrete Form Association (ICFA) has an ICFA Specialist Designation. The designation was created to identify qualified ICF contractors and installers. It is intended to increase awareness of ICF construction, and increase the visibility of qualified builders and installers. The designation is subdivided into commercial, light commercial, and residential categories, each with specific criteria the contractor needs to meet.
Terry Hale, vice president of operations for ICW, thinks that the ICFA program is a definite step in the right direction. “As an industry we must provide homeowners and the professional building community with a high level of confidence in our ability to complete ICF projects on time and with a minimum of problems. The ICFA designation program will help insure that installation companies meet those basic requirements.”
Advanced Manufacturer Training
“At ICW, we want to take it a step further and require individuals to meet certain standards based on experience and skill level,” says Hale, “much like the Apprentice-to-Master Carpenter designations in the wood framing industry. ICFs are not rocket science, but an inexperienced installer can run into a myriad of problems when working with a building material as unforgiving as concrete.”
Another issue is the large number of ICF systems currently on the market. While on the surface most of them look similar, in reality each block is unique and has certain design features, strengths, and weaknesses that an installer needs to be familiar with. This unfamiliarity can result in an installation with less-than-satisfactory results.
One way around this is to require an installer to attend an ICF manufacturers training class in order to be authorized to install that company’s product.
“We require at least one crew member to attend that ICF manufacturer’s training class in order to be authorized to install that company’s product” says ICW’s Hale. “I’d like to see this requirement written into any ICF installer industry standard that we adopt.”
Generic, In-Depth Training
Having addressed the need for industry standards, how do we then ensure that there will be enough qualified, experienced ICF installers to meet the coming demand?
One source is coming up through the ranks, so to speak, with the growing trend of vocational/trade schools offering courses in ICF construction. Richard Oglesby of Oklahoma ICF, was instrumental in developing an ICF curriculum for the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education.
“Because this is an alternative and fairly new construction method within Oklahoma,” says Oglesby, “we have developed an online curriculum set up for all technology centers to provide this unique training within the construction trades programs free of charge.
“We want to start our ICF education with the technology centers so their students will have an opportunity to learn this advanced building system,” Oglesby says. “By providing a skilled workforce, building with ICF will become much more affordable to the consumer in a short time.”
“This type of a program promotes the latest technology for students in our carpentry and masonry programs”, according to Larry Bullock, Oklahoma CareerTech state trade and industry program specialist.
“Residential and commercial sectors are moving toward greenbuild construction techniques and more efficient modes of construction using alternative materials,” Bullock said. “This alternative material is cutting edge in that it also offers more shapes and radius without cutting and patching and replaces the need for wood and steel in the construction process.”
The National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) is also beginning to take a role in providing technical training for individuals interested in ICF construction. NAHB’s University of Housing now offers an 8-hour course titled “Building with Insulated Concrete Forms”. The course provides the traditional homebuilder with the information needed to evaluate and begin using ICFs. Arrangements can be made to teach the class through any local home building association (HBA) chapter.
Another source of ICF training is the United Brotherhood of Carpenters (Carpenters Union). Additional information on this training course is available at local union halls.
Searchable Database of Trained Installers
Building professionals and homeowners also now have an excellent resource to find qualified ICF installers, www.icflist.com. It contains listings for hundreds of companies that offer ICF installation services throughout North America. Users can search for contractors by proximity to jobsite; contractors with paid listings can include their experience, training, and brands they frequently work with.
Looking to the Future
These are exciting times in the ICF industry and we have all worked hard to get to this point. By continuing to work together we can meet the growing demand for trained, qualified, professional installation services that the general construction industry requires. Doing so will insure that our industry will continue along its impressive growth path now and into the future.
Steve Reiter is vice president of marketing for ICF Solutions Inc. He can be reached at (800) 216-1820 ext. 403.