Concrete Walls Gain Popularity

According to a survey by the Portland Cement Association (PCA), concrete wall systems are becoming increasingly popular for home construction. Insulating concrete forms (ICFs) experienced more growth than any other concrete system in the past 5 years.

The questionnaire, conducted in early 2007, was sent to custom homebuilders throughout the United States to assess the awareness and use of concrete above-grade wall systems. The results were revealed in mid-August. A similar study was conducted in 2003.

The 2003 study revealed that only 2% of builders had used ICFs in the past year. This jumped to 6% in the 2007 survey. Surprisingly, 36% of builders surveyed have used ICFs at some point in the last decade. The use of removable concrete forms also showed strong growth, doubling from 1.2% in 2003 to 2.4% in 2007.

In total, 13.8% of builders used a concrete above-grade wall system in 2007, up 60% from 2003. 

“Homebuilders in our survey reported that energy efficiency was the most important issue for homeowners,” Jim Niehoff, PCA residential promotion director said. “It appears that more and more often this need is being met with concrete wall systems.”

The survey also showed that builders, even if they are not currently using concrete wall systems, are becoming progressively more aware of them. All the concrete systems had awareness levels of 92% or higher.

The complete Homebuilder Report 2007 can be purchased from the Portland Cement Association,


Greenbuild 2008 A Success

The 2008 U.S. Green Building Council’s International Conference and Expo (Greenbuild) was held in Boston, Mass., November 19-21.

The show attracted about 25,000 attendees and 1,300 exhibitors, and is the world’s largest tradeshow dedicated to green building. It was recognized last year as one of the fifty fastest growing shows in North America.

This year’s show was themed “Revolutionary Green: Innovations for Global Sustainability,” with Boston serving as an appropriate backdrop. More than 100 workshops and educational sessions related to green building were held throughout the show, including updates on the USGBC’s popular LEED certification program.


LEED Certification Changes

The popular LEED program, a green building rating system administered by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), is undergoing a shift in how certification will be performed.

Currently, all LEED project submissions are reviewed by USGBC, but popularity of the program has made that method unsustainable. Beginning in 2009, as part LEED Version 3, the USGBC will transfer administration of the LEED certification process to the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), and delegate certification authority to 10 well-known organizations.

The move is intended to expand service, eliminate backlogs, and comply with ISO standards.

The list of certification companies, released in late July, include:

• ABS Quality Evaluations, Inc.
• BSI Management Systems America, Inc.
• Bureau Veritas North America, Inc.
• DNV Certification
• Intertek
• KEMA-Registered Quality, Inc.
• Lloyd’s Register Quality Assurance Inc.
• NSF-International Strategic Registrations
• SRI Quality System Registrar, Inc.
• Underwriters Laboratories-DQS Inc.


NRMCA Best Driver Tournament

In October, the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA) held their National Mixer Driver Championship in Nashville, Tenn. Three dozen top ready-mix concrete truck drivers competed for bragging rights, a trophy, and $5,000 cash.The drivers included winners of state competitions as well as the best drivers from NRMCA member companies.

The competition included a driving course, vehicle inspection and a 90-minute written examination.

Bill Emerson of Irving Materials in Greenfield, Indiana, finished first. He’s been driving ready mixed trucks for Irving Materials 30 years.

Bobby Sanders of Transit Mix Concrete and Materials Company in Dallas, Texas, took second. He has been driving a mixer with Transit Mix for seven years and is a certified professional driver/trainer. Darren Lowe of the Knife River Corp. from Central Point, Oregon, finished third.


Tax Credits Extended

Federal energy tax credits, which were signed into law as part of the Federal Energy Policy Act (H.R.6) in 2005, have been extended a second time.

A number of construction organizations interested in sustainable construction, including the ICFA, successfully lobbied to have the tax credits extended through at least 2009.

The extension was added to the finance industry bailout bill, which was signed into law Oct 3, 2008. It extends the $2,000 energy efficient new home tax credit through 2009. The energy-efficient building deduction, which offers a 30% tax credit for qualified properties, extends through 2013. The procedures and benchmarks outlined in the original 2005 law remain the same.

An updated Tech Brief on the ICFA website contains additional information on how ICF builders can take advantage of the credits.


ICFA Offers AIA Accreditation

The Insulating Concrete Forms Association (ICFA) has recently become a registered provider of education courses for the American Institute of Architects (AIA). 

The AIA requires all architect members to enroll in a number of educational classes every year. Among the choices for these “continuing education credits” are several classes that provide background information on designing with ICFs.

In order to teach these classes more effectively, the ICFA can now certify instructors for these classes. At the first training course, held during the ICFA Expo in Portland, 22 candidates completed the program.


Fire Sprinklers Mandatory in 2011

The 2009 International Residential Code, which was finalized last month in Minneapolis, includes a requirement for fire sprinklers in all one- and two-family homes and townhouses as of Jan. 1, 2011.

The vote would have failed by a nearly 2-to-1 margin had it not been for the sudden — and controversial — arrival of 900 fire officials eligible to vote at the hearings. With their support, the measured was ramrodded through with a vote of 1,283 to 470.

About 1,200 voting devices were turned in immediately after the residential fire sprinkler mandate was approved, suggesting that most of the proponents left immediately after the vote was taken.

“It seems clear that these particular officials were focused on one issue only — residential fire sprinkler mandates — without any benefit of perspective regarding how such mandates jibe with the hundreds of other code proposals considered at this hearing,” said James “Andy” Anderson, chair of the NAHB Construction, Codes and Standards Committee. “That’s unfortunate.”

It’s estimated the new mandate will cost about $1.50 per sq. ft., and bring sprinkler manufacturers about $5 billion per year in revenue. The fire sprinkler industry provided funding for officials to attend the hearings.

Several nagging concerns remain unresolved. Whether home owners will maintain the sprinklers to ensure they stay operational is one major issue. In cold climates, pipes in attics may freeze, and damage from accidental discharge remains a concern as well.

A national shortage of qualified fire sprinkler installers means that although the sprinkler requirement will appear in the 2009 International Residential Code, it will not take effect until 2011.

Several jurisdictions, such as the state of Michigan, have already signaled that they will not be implementing the sprinkler portion of the new code.


Masonry Lobbyists Reach Goal, Help ICF Industry

The National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA) is close to achieving its top legislative priority in 2008, one which will also benefit the ICF industry.

The goal is to require government planners to use sustainable design and life-cycle costing in all military construction projects.

Language to this effect was inserted into the 2009 Department of Defense authorization bill, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate last month. NCMA worked with the House Armed Services Committee on the development of the bill.

Passage suggests that Congress agrees with the NCMA argument that the Army Corps of Engineers and the other military service branches should be using construction techniques that are more cost effective over the life cycle of the building.

ICF Blogosphere Expands

Several ICF companies have initiated reader-driven websites to encourage better communication between manufacturers, distributors, and installers. Web logs, or “blogs,” are a mix of newsletter, diary, and reader comment sections. Amvic was one of the first ICF companies to start a blog; recent postings include articles on how ICFs can contribute to LEED Certification, and a request for information on how high-rise commercial projects can be executed successfully. Last month Rastra Corp, makers of the original gray ICF, launched their blog. “Doing a blog is different than writing a technical paper or a piece of literature,” says Mike Warren, Rastra’s director of marketing. “I had to make a few passes before it actually read like it was coming out of my own mouth.” The Amvic blog is online at The report can be viewed in its entirety at

USGBC Publishes Strategic Plan

The U.S. Green Building Council has developed its strategic plan for the next
five years.

“Green is booming,” notes the report. “Being green has become mainstream. At the same time, achieving sustainability on a large scale is still very far off. Green buildings and other green products remain very small percentages of total market shares.”

The report then outlines a number of goals the organization will work on over the next five years. None of the goals include specific benchmarks or timeframes, referring instead broad themes the USGBC is already working on. The two top goals are: “Catalyze and lead the building sector’s active participation in the movement to achieve sustainable cities and communities” and “Lead the dramatic reduction and eventual elimination of building construction and operations’ contribution to climate change and natural resource depletion.”