Mike Schwab giving instruction at the Roy Junior High School job site in Roy, Utah.

The last couple of years have been challenging for contractors, and the construction business with supply chain issues, instability for material costs, labor shortages, and pandemic isolation, in the face of high demand for the construction of all building types. Contractors who have survived are now generally overwhelmed with demands from customers to catch-up while still dealing with material and labor shortages, delivery schedules, and high material costs.
During this unforgettable time period, the ICF industry stepped-up, growing successfully into a viable building material alternative over wood framing and masonry wall assemblies. As more and more projects converted to using ICFs, the inherent benefits were being recognized by design professionals, developers, general contractors, property managers, new contractors, and homeowners. The demand for ICF installers, contractors, and products for all building types has been tremendous and opened great opportunities for all ICF contractors to develop strategies to grow their businesses.

Seek Out New Opportunities
As an experienced ICF contractor, these new opportunities are there if you wish to expand your business. Stepping up to the next level requires commitment, planning, and a well-thought-out strategy. If your current market is in residential custom homes, look at small commercial and residential projects like retail stores, warehouses, two-story motels, apartments, etc. These may seem like bigger projects, but they require expertise similar to large custom homes. Some projects may involve tall walls, firewalls, or larger storefront openings, all within the capability of ICFs. The major step is moving into larger projects like schools, theaters, hotels, or multi-story residential. These require more crew, more equipment, bid bonds, insurance, and deadlines.

Having a high-quality product is only one major selling point. To make any step to expand you need to develop a solid business plan. Evaluate your region and take notes. Are there opportunities and a fit for ICFs? Review how building with ICFs will provide a construction solution. Each and every project experiences some issues with the build or performance of the contracts. Potential issues could be building material supply chain, current material costs, building walls to high efficiency standards, delays building through the cold winter, speed of completion for occupancy, resiliency, sound, fire, plus the use and availability of multiple trades. Be prepared with solutions for all these issues when comparing ICF construction to other construction assemblies and your ability to solve these problems. Promote that ICFs are a 6-in-1 wall assembly.

Develop A Portfolio
Start developing a portfolio of projects with specific attributes, addressing any potential design and construction issues that may arise with conventional wall assembly construction. Being prepared and confident will allow you to speak directly to a design professional, engineer, general contractor, developer, or owner and either convince them to switch to build with ICFs or allow you to submit an alternative bid, which could be attractive enough to close the deal.

A typical business path is being a subcontractor for only the ICF work on larger projects that may be controlled by a general contractor. Initially start slow, and once you experience life in this “faster” lane, make a decision that will fit your business strategy. Always evaluate the project experience, resolve the growing pains, and work on how to improve. Building a relationship with design professionals and general contractors brings your name to the top of the list for the next project. Expand your crew, enroll in ICF training courses, and be prepared with an educated, experienced labor force.

The expanded market and realization of the benefits of ICFs have turned many heads in the design professional’s realm. More and more schools are being built with ICFs because ICFs solve problems and provide solutions related to costs, occupancy timelines, energy efficiency, and resiliency for safety. The same thing is happening with theaters, hotels, and property-managed buildings. ICFs have been proven as a great solution and are being repeatedly specified.

Similarly, for contractors that just do ICF basements, as a builder, the benefits of ICFs are an easy sell to encourage homeowners and designers to build right to the roof with ICFs. Marketing yourself as a sustainable builder, with resilient, energy-efficient homes and net zero-ready homes, is easily available to you. If possible, have your homes evaluated by an Energy Rater (in some areas this has been adopted or will be soon as a code requirement). Having third-party proof that the ICF home exceeds current energy efficiency standards provides an amazing marketing tool and may be recognized for approved financial rebates.

Network & Build Relationships
Contractors, generally speaking, don’t have time or money to spend on marketing their business. Word-of-mouth recognition is itself a very successful marketing tool. Building relationships, providing solutions, and delivering great high-performance builds with satisfied customers are key elements to expanding your business. All ICF jobsites draw a lot of attention, use that to your advantage by inviting influencers to see you and the ICF build in action. Utilize what may be available to you from your ICF manufacturer’s website — case studies, technical documentations, reports, and support, as well as your local distributor as a main reference.

Every year ICF Builder Magazine evaluates fantastic ICF projects from all over North America. The scope of projects has expanded tremendously, from the beginning with foundations, now to custom pools, large and small homes, multi-story commercial, retail, industrial, houses of worship, agricultural, etc. When you look at the array of amazing projects in the awards, it must be obvious to any contractor, developer, or design professional that ICFs have unlimited scope in design and quality construction possibilities. The materials and methods devised to upgrade conventional wood wall assemblies to be more energy efficient, air-tight, and moisture-resilient have become very complicated, with multiple materials and more labor required. The simplicity of ICFs, as satisfying all
these with one product and one installer, definitely provides a proven solution.

This “how to” article is meant to express to any ICF contractor, large or small, that now is the time to look at your business and your business strategy. The markets for ICF design and construction are ripe. ICFs provide many solutions in comparison to conventional construction for the evolving high-performance wall and building assemblies. Time to ring the old cowbell. Yes, we need more cowbell! Yes! We need more ICFs for all building types, with more experienced ICF contractors in the marketplace.

Tom Patton

Tom Patton had a 30-year architectural design background prior to joining the ICF industry in 2001 with the technical support department at ARXX. Over the last 20 years, Tom has worked with major ICF companies developing technical documentation, application details, and training programs, as well as consulting and promoting ICFs with various associations including the ICFMA, NRMCA, and codes and standards committees. Currently, Tom is Corporate Brand Ambassador for Fox Blocks and co-developer of the Fox Blocks Integrated Learning Center.