Housing Decline Continues

The residential housing market continues to decline, and predictions for a turn-around are becoming increasingly pessimistic. 

Sales of both new and existing homes were down for the first three months of the year, and the inventory of unsold homes challenged record highs in both markets. 

On the production front, single-family housing starts and permits moved down substantially in both January and February. 

Monthly surveys conducted by the National Association of Homebuilders (NAHB) have yet to provide convincing evidence that prices or housing production are anywhere near bottoming out.

“It’s increasingly obvious that the core problem for the housing market, the economy, and financial markets is… declines in house prices,” writes Jim Neihoff, chairman of the Concrete Home Building Council (CHBC). “The deteriorating market situation is forcing serious discussions on all fronts and some adjustments have been made, but the range and depth of policy responses has yet to be determined.”

PCA Predicts Turnaround in 2010

U.S. construction activity will experience significant declines this year, according to a recent PCA Economic Research report.

“High fuel prices, acceleration of home foreclosures, and the impact of the sub-prime crisis on credit standards are some of the current conditions that lead us to believe the economy is already in a recession,” says Edward Sullivan, PCA chief economist “Even when there is recovery later this year, it will not immediately affect the construction and cement industries.”

Sullivan anticipates the inventory of unsold homes will cause a 26.5% decline in housing starts in 2008. 

The nonresidential sector, which is closely tied to economic activity, will fall 7% from 2007 levels.


Fox Blocks Unveils New Logo

Fox Blocks, a division of Omaha-based Airlite Plastics Company, is rebranding itself with a new logo and tagline. The move is designed to capitalize on the growing green building trend.

The logo, and the tagline “Be Clever, Build Green with Fox Blocks,” hopes to help readers associate their unique ICF to this movement.


Amvic Redesigns Website, Launches Blog

Amvic Building System has redesigned their website www.amvicsystem.com to reflect the new direction charted by the company’s executives.

Over the last few years, Amvic has expanded their ICF product line to
include AmDeck floor and roofing system, a foam window/door blockout, and brand-specific design software for the North American market.

As part of the company’s redesigned website, they have launched ‘Around the Block’, a blog aimed at the architectural and design communities covering trends, challenges, and other topics relevant to the ICF industry. 

Aleya Suleman, marketing manager at the company, says, “We invite you and your customers to actively participate in this section of the website. Please subscribe to the RSS feed… and send us suggested topics and content.” 


BuildBlock Adds California Facility

BuildBlock Building Systems LLC has partnered with APTCO, LLC, to manufacture their BuildBlock ICFs in McFarland, Calif. 

“We’re excited to bring our eleventh manufacturing facility online,” said BuildBlock CEO Mike Garrett. “This new location will make our product more cost-effective and convenient for the California market.”

The APTCO facility, located 20 miles north of Bakersfield and three to four hours from Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Sacramento, is the biggest EPS molding facility under a single roof in North America, with 61 state-of-the-art presses running 24/7.

Headquartered in Oklahoma City, BuildBlock already has manufacturing facilities operating in Alabama, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Massachusetts, Missouri, Utah, and Wisconsin. The Florida facility was recently relocated
to Orlando, where the company is partnering with Cellofoam, Inc. They also have foreign licensees in Europe and the Middle East.


PCA Recognizes PolySteel’s Murphy

Patrick Murphy, president of American PolySteel LLC, was recognized by the Portland Cement Association (PCA) as a “Distinguished Industry Partner” at the PCA’s spring meeting in late April. 

The award was one of four presented to professionals who “demonstrated a commitment of time and energy beyond regular responsibilities to promote concrete and other cement-based materials.”

Murphy was recognized for his efforts to gain Cradle to Cradle (C2C) Certification for PolySteel’s line of insulating concrete forms, the first ICF system to earn this distinction.

Brad Reed, senior building inspector for the City of Lubbock, Texas, was recognized for his role in building ICF homes for low-income residents.

The other award winners were American Red Cross of Greater Chicago for educating the building industry and consumers on building disaster-resistant homes; and the Institute for Business & Home Safety, for its efforts to inform key sectors nationwide on the disaster-resistant benefits of concrete walls.


Weather Channel Promotes Concrete Homes

As part of Tornado Awareness Week in mid-March, The Weather Channel used a wind cannon to shoot debris at wood frame, brick and concrete walls. 

The segment illustrated the strength and safety of concrete walls, and also discussed the Fortified…For Safer Living program, which specifies construction guidelines to increase a home’s resistance to natural disasters

Viewers were shocked when the cannon shot 2” x 4” wood planks—traveling at F5 tornado speed, or about 60 mph—easily puncture the wood and brick wall samples. 

Jim Cantore, a Weather Channel reporter famous for shooting in extreme conditions, pointed out that a family would not be safe from debris in a wood frame or brick house in the event of a tornado. The concrete wall, however, provided ample protection; the board simply bounced off. 

A video of similar tests is available on our website. Conducted at Texas Tech University, it includes testing of several ICF wall segments.



Concrete Popular for Sustainable Design

Concrete is the material of choice for green building. According to new study conducted by the Portland Cement Association (PCA), three out of four sustainable design professionals say concrete is their material of preference.

In the survey, 77% of respondents ranked concrete favorably for its energy efficiency, durability, and reduced maintenance.

“There are few, if any, construction materials that offer concrete’s wide range of sustainable and environmental benefits,” said PCA president and CEO Brian McCarthy. “This survey shows
the design and building community recognize that concrete can address the issues most important to their sustainable development activities.”

Of specific interest to the ICF community, energy efficiency was perceived as the most important attribute when selecting a building material. Durability placed second, and aesthetics third.


Miami-Dade Approves Fox Blocks

Fox Blocks, a division of Omaha-based Airlite Plastics Company, has received yet another code compliance certificate, this time from Miami-Dade County in Florida.

Considered the most restrictive among American building codes, the Miami-Dade County building code approval for Fox Blocks is the latest in a string of approvals the company has received over the last several months, including the city of Las Angeles, states of Wisconsin, Florida, and ICC-ES.

“This demonstrates Fox Blocks’ commitment to its customers in providing one of the most recognizable ICF wall systems among building code inspectors,” says Dave Jackson, sales and marketing manager for the company.

The certificate, N.O.A. Report 07-0919.10 can be viewed on the Fox Block website.


Logix Uses Neopor

In an effort to improve the energy efficiency and sustainability of it’s ICFs, Logix Insulated Concrete Forms now offers BASF Neopor as a value-added option.

“Neopor is widely used in Europe and we’re pleased to bring its superior insulating properties to the North American ICF market.” explains George Kosmuk, director of marketing for Logix. 

Neopor is a type of expandable polystyrene (EPS) that contains tiny graphite particles. These particles reflect heat and give the material its silver-gray shine. The material was developed by BASF, a global chemical company.

“Normally, additional layers of insulation have to be added to provide higher insulation values, but with Neopor we’ll be able to maintain our current thicknesses while increasing insulation capacity by 15%,” says Kosmuk.

In addition to Logix, at least one other North American ICF company, Amvic, is developing a Neopor ICF.


Amvic Romania Going Strong

As ICFs are introduced around the world, they continue to find success. Eastern Europe is no exception. Marin Crutescu, a distributor just outside Bucharest, Romania, is just one example of these
pioneer businessmen.

His company, SC Amvic SRL is the largest representative of the ICF industry in Central and Eastern Europe.

“We have invested millions of Euro in installation costs,” says Crutescu, noting that they benefited from the know-how of Amvic Canada, and are using molding machines from Hirsch.

“Our 6,000 sq. meter [55,000 sq. ft.] ICF plant is off to a good start: 60,000 ICF blocks in 2006, and 120,000 ICFs in 2007,” he says.

The company had a Sunday television program, “AMVIC – the House of the Future” that explained the benefits of building with insulating concrete forms. 

“Hundreds and hundreds of families, especially young families, contacted us
in order to practice a better way to build” said Crutescu.


Arxx Project Gets Attention

The afternoon sun was scorching hot. Temperatures at the Tucson, Ariz. jobsite hovered near 90 degrees as organizers planned their Earth Day presentation. 

Inside the office buildings, however, the buildings were cool and comfortable—even though they were only partially complete. With exterior walls made from ICFs, the La Cholla Professional Office Park convinced some 65 people of their energy efficiency before a single word
was spoken. Randy Daniels, a regional manager for Arxx, called it “a dramatic example of the power of green building with ICFs.”

With two complete building shells up and two more stacked and ready to pour, the 80,000 sq. ft. complex is the first speculative LEED-certified office park in the region, and received extensive coverage in the local Arizona Star.

“Originally, I was a little bit hesitant and nervous about doing this, but I’m coming to find out there’s a demand for it,” says developer David Volk.

BuildBlock Training in June

BuildBlock Building Systems LLC, is conducting a “BuildBlock Certified Builder Training” June 12-13 in Oklahoma City, Ok. The intensive 2-day course covers all aspects of building with BuildBlock ICFs and includes a jobsite visit. The course is open to the public and is ideal for contractors, installers, and owner-builders. More information can be found on the company’s website at www.buildblock.com/training.

NRMCA to Teach USGBC Courses

The National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA) has been approved to teach courses from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

The USGBC Education Provider Program teaches professional development courses that increase knowledge and understanding of green building theory, techniques and trends.

NRMCA is launching its first approved course, Green Building with Concrete, on Tuesday, July 15, in Silver Spring, Md. The course provides detailed instruction on how concrete can minimize the environmental impact of buildings. Specific topics include stormwater management practices, minimizing urban heat islands, and how to incorporate recycled content into concrete.

USGBC Launches Green Schools Website

One school a day. That’s how fast America’s schools are registering for the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) LEED certification program for green schools. 

That’s why the USGBC launched a website specifically designed to meet a goal of having sustainable, green schools for every child within a generation The site contains resources and information for students, parents, teachers, school administrators, elected officials and community members. 

“When you consider the fact that 50 million young people spend 8 hours a school day in a school building, we should do everything we can to make that environment work for them,” said Michelle Moore, senior vice president.

The USGBC also announced a LEED for Schools green building rating system at a California trade show in December. LEED for Schools is the USGBC’s green school rating tool that is intended to promote healthy, energy-efficient, 
school buildings. 

“Twenty percent of America goes to school each day,” says Rick Fedrizzi, president and founder of USGBC. “We owe it to our children—the future
leaders of our world—the opportunity to live and learn in healthy, comfortable and safe structures.”

For more information on green schools, visit www.buildgreenschools.org.