by Ian Geisler
I’ve been involved with the ICF industry full-time, since about 1991. I’ve seen the potential of this technology first-hand. At the time, I was based in Oregon selling—and building with—an ICF system named SmartBlock. The company was one of the first to market ICFs to a mass audience, partnering with the PCA in radio and print advertising to create a huge awareness of ICF that previously didn’t exist in North America. In 1993, they sponsored construction of the first New American Home near Las Vegas for the 1994 NAHB International Builder Show. I was personally involved in the construction, and this was huge in presenting concrete homebuilding to North America and for the ICF product.
In 1992 or so, Mike Dalzell and maybe five other ICF sales reps joined me in the Northwest, and within a few years we were selling several hundred truckloads of ICF materials yearly—even in the lumber-friendly states of Oregon and Washington—and had reached a saturation level that created self-generating sales. The introduction of several next-generation ICF brands in the mid-1990s bit into the market share and consequently, most of the products available back then have faded away. There were just too many systems competing for the same slice of the market.
I moved from Oregon to Texas in 1996 and saw the same pattern. When I arrived in Texas, ICF was little known. Today, it’s one of the leading states for ICF commercial construction. However, I also see the same challenges: lack of training and infighting among the industry.
About ten years ago I moved to the Cayman Islands. In that short time I have seen ICF go from being unknown on the island to the preferred construction method for everything from homes to hospitals.
Over the years, I have built with virtually every ICF system on the market, including the insulated concrete composite blocks. I’ve built projects from Dallas to Dubai. I know what works, and what doesn’t. Having no axe to grind or ulterior motive, let me put it simply: The ICF industry, if amalgamated into one front with a unified product design standard, would be unstoppable in terms of market dominance over wood frame, metal frame and masonry.
Instead, I see highly fragmented,
self-centered, often negative selling by representatives purporting to be experts, which casts the industry in a poor light.
Additionally, manufacturers stuck on “making the sale” continue to work with sub-standard installers. Frequently, this leads to huge cost over-runs and a poor-quality end product. This is still a huge industry problem. I’m aware of projects where the cost overrun due to repairs was about the same value as the original six-figure installation bid. The state of Texas has many large projects slated, but as long as manufacturers refuse to say “watch out for that guy,” the industry will never really achieve saturation. Unfortunately, Texas is not alone in this.
The lack of a unified training module and skill-set evaluation presented without bias is still a shortcoming with the industry. I’d say this is the industry’s Achilles heel. The challenge with a generic training module, of course, is that some systems are more robust than others. Frankly, a few current products require too much plywood and extraneous added support, and the expense of this extra material and labor is a major turn-off to potential ICF converts. With luck, a few more years and the introduction of a system with less waste and stronger design will eliminate some of the poor systems on the market and finally create the “Kleenex of tissue” or “Crescent of adjustable wrenches” of the ICF industry.
When that happens, I believe ICF will become truly mainstream in all walks of wall and floor construction.
Ian Giesler has built with ICFs for nearly three decades, and has successfully completed dozens of commercial and residential ICF projects across the globe, including the Middle East and Caribbean. He can be reached through his website at www.icfresource.com.