It’s no secret that commercial construction is currently the fastest growing—and most lucrative—sector of the ICF industry.

It’s also far more difficult and demanding than the residential sector, and owners typically want an exterior finish that looks great, requires no maintenance, and is cost-effective to apply.

The ICFA reports that commercial projects currently account for about 30% of all ICF use. The commercial sector, however, is growing three times as fast as residential, and could account for 50% of all ICFs sold before the end of the decade. 

Designers used Dryvit’s Tuscan Glaze on sculpted EPS foam to recreate the look and feel of old Venice on the San Marcos Mall in Texas.

Energy costs, “green building” mandates, and life-cycle/maintenance issues are creating opportunities in this sector. Schools, churches, condos, apartments, and government installations are all prime growth markets for ICFs. 

Commercial projects require exterior coatings that are durable, maintenance free, relatively inexpensive, easy to apply, and versatile enough to create a wide range of styles.

Fortunately, exterior finish manufacturers have recently developed a number of innovative coatings specifically formulated for ICFs that meet these requirements.

Established Manufacturers

Several products have been on the market for years which work extremely well with ICFs. These “textured acrylic finishes” are usually applied with a trowel over a basecoat and mesh. (See “Keys to a Great ‘Stucco’ Finish” in the June ’05 issue of this magazine, available on the web at”

“Any EIFS finish works on ICF,” says Mike Sweeney, marketing manager at Sto Corp. “These coatings are designed for foam, so they work great on ICF walls.”

Dryvit is one of the most popular brands of finish, and is also one of the most versatile.  Derick Wiaderski, senior staff architect at the company, says “When you look through our catalogs, you’ll see that we can achieve virtually any look you can think of.” Styles range from traditional stucco to limestone, granite, or Italian plaster. Dryvit can also imitate brick at a fraction of the cost of actual masonry. It eliminates weep holes and expansion joints. Wiaderski adds that the company can produce nearly any color, and send it to the jobsite pre-mixed and ready to go.

ORO, a new finish specifically designed for ICFs, will adhere directly to vinyl window bucks, and can span the differing substrates without cracking.

PermaCrete is another acrylic finish with a proven track record in the ICF industry. It’s one of the strongest, 10-12 times stronger than the typical EIFS coating, according to Walt Lippincott, vice-president of worldwide sales. It is the only cementious coating with ICC approval for ICFs, and is code-approved for both vertical and horizontal applications. Another major advantage for commercial applicators is that it can be spray applied to make big jobs go faster. Lippincott estimates experienced three-man crews can apply up to 2000 sq. ft. a day.

Fossilcrete, a division of Shasta Enterprises, is usually associated with detailed custom work, but can be extremely valuable on large-scale jobs for window treatments, cornices, and other detailing. Fossilcrete doesn’t need ties, mesh or other reinforcement, and has the advantage of being completely waterproof, extremely durable (with a compressive strength of 2,700 psi) and easy to apply.

Any exterior finish designed for EIFS can be applied to ICFs using similar techniques. The project above used a Sto finish over Quad-Lock ICFs.

New Products

Several new exterior finish products have recently been introduced that can create great-looking exteriors while dramatically reducing the time and labor involved in application. 

Jim Hempel of Advanced Coatings applies ORO’s basecoat to the Regatta Condos in Newport, Ore. The project involves 50,000 sq. ft. of walls and an enormous amount of window detailing, so being able to apply the product directly to the vinyl buck was a significant time saver.

ORO Coatings for instance, is a non-cementitious finish system specifically designed for the ICF market, formulated to bond with polystyrene foam and protect it from degradation.

Mike Gandee, vice-president of sales for the company, calls the product “an ICF problem solver” that virtually eliminates callbacks. The product is waterproof, extremely flexible, and will bridge gaps up to ¼” or more.

While not designed for use below-grade, it does provide an excellent water and vapor barrier for the ICF Wall. Gandee says the product works well as a parge coat up to 6” or 8” below grade.

The key to the system is ORO-Base, designed to minimize the effects of wall movement between the ICF and the finish topcoat. The product is composed of polymer resins, crumb rubber, and marble dust, and utilizes fiberglass reinforcing mesh to control the thickness of the basecoat.

The material is so flexible that it can span differing substrates without cracking. “There’s no problem with a change of materials,” says Gandee. “Seaming is not a problem. It adheres directly to OSB and cement board and absorbs the movement of the wall.”

“It also adheres directly to V-Buck,” continues Gandee, “There’s no prep, no anything. You just wrap the detail mesh right around the V-Buck to the window.”

ORO-TopCoat is available in fine, medium, and coarse textures and 24 standard colors. Custom textures and colors can be produced as needed, and in small batches.

Gandee claims marble dust in the topcoat absorbs color better and retains color longer than other products, and that the crumb rubber keeps the product flexible. He notes that the rubber is all post-consumer waste that can contribute a point toward LEED certification.

“We have an extremely strong commitment to the ICF industry,” he says. “We provide hands-on service by people who really understand the ICF business. We understand what can crop up, and we’re there to help them through those issues.”

Another recent entry to the ICF finishes market is GigaCrete, maker of StuccoMax-ICF. The product is a one-coat, impact-resistant finish specifically formulated for insulating concrete forms. Applied 5/8” to ¾” thick, the finish is literally bulletproof.

“It’s a silica sand based, ballistic-grade stucco,” says Andrew Dennis, founder of the company. “We originally developed the product for hurricane resistance, but we’ve received a tremendous amount of interest from higher-end construction—schools, banks, and even military barracks overseas. Our tests indicate the finish will stop all sidearms and even bullets from an AK-47 when properly applied.”

StuccoMax is extremely easy to finish. While most products require a two- or three-coat process, this is truly a one-coat stucco. It can be applied with either a trowel or conventional stucco sprayer, and requires no lath, mesh or extensive preparations. “Hand-trowelled, the installer applies a thin coat
to cover seams and imperfections, then applies the final coat the same day. Spray applied, it can go on in one thick coat
which is then textured. There’s no mesh, scaffolding rentals, or going back over cracks,” says Dennis.

“This system offers significant advantages in speed, cost and performance,” he continues. “And even if the labor costs were the same. StuccoMax will not shrink, and not crack.”

The company also manufactures StuccoMax-E, an ash-based product that also works well with ICFs and is designed for LEED projects and the “green building” market.

A third new wall finish product is manufactured by Sider-Oxydro. “What we offer is a direct-applied, one-product system that recreates an Old World stucco finish on ICFs,” says Ivan Burgand. “It’s a true portland cement-based stucco, but it’s flexible enough to be applied directly to the ICF, similar to an acrylic finish. There’s no metal lath, no ½-inch scratch coat.”

Sider-Oxydro offers a cement-based stucco system flexible enough for ICFs which replicates the look and feel of an Old-World stucco finish.

The basecoat and topcoat are the same product, a bagged just-add-water system that provides integral color at all levels. The product can be applied with a trowel or spray gun; some trowel work is required to embed the mesh and texture the finish.

Sider-Oxydro also makes a below-grade waterproofing system that is fully compatible with the finish, which allows the finish to go all the way to grade if necessary.

“When clients want an antique, old world stucco finish, we can provide that at a significantly lower cost than anyone else,” says Burgand. “In 90% of the cases, we’re cheaper than most EIFS finishes.”

So for all of the additional challenges that commercial ICF construction presents, there are products designed to handle them.

Whether it’s a proven product with decades of performance, or a new system that promises to outperform, options abound. In today’s industry, there is a variety of products that are durable, versatile, maintenance free, relatively inexpensive, and easy to apply.