Construction Science Faculty Conduct Research on ICF Homes

Dr. Somik Ghosh, an Associate Professor in the Division of Construction Science, and Ben Bigelow, Director of the Division of Construction Science, are leading a research project to compare the energy performance of houses with insulated concrete form (ICF) exterior walls to the performance of conventional wood framing. The project will also track the cost of ICF to compute the current cost difference between ICF and conventional wood framing.  Terry Clinefelter, a doctoral student in the Construction Science Division, was instrumental in coordinated with partners R&R and Dolese for this project.

The project recently received funding from the Readymix Concrete Research and Education Foundation and will begin soon.  

ICF construction is an alternative to stick framing where two layers of foam insulation are held together by plastic webbing that act as the formwork. Traditional reinforcing steel is placed in the forms, and they are then filled with concrete. After finishes are installed an ICF wall appears identical to a stick framed wall; however, the ICF wall outperforms the stick framed wall in almost every aspect of building performance.   

Previous studies have found that building houses with ICF exterior walls increases construction cost, but this cost is outweighed by savings in energy performance. However, most of the studies have depended on computer simulation to come to this conclusion. This project, led by Dr. Ghosh and Ben Bigelow, will combine actual energy usage data with computer simulation to compare energy performance of ICF and traditional houses. 

The project will collect energy performance data for comparison across six homes. These houses will have two different floor plans, each built three times – one with ICF walls, one with stick framed walls but upgraded insulation, and one stick framed with fiberglass insulation.  

R&R, a homebuilding company in the OKC metro area, is the homebuilder who is building the houses that will be used in the project. They have agreed to work with the research team so that the team can collect energy usage data from those houses after occupancy. Dolese Bros. Co., a construction supply and materials company in Oklahoma, connected the research team to R&R and are supplying the concrete for the ICF homes.  

Energy performance of the homes will be compared in a twofold approach. The research team will compare the energy performance of the homes by computer modeling before occupancy and through monitoring actual usage data after occupancy for a period of one year.  

The outcome of this project will provide up-to-date cost of material and installation costs for ICF construction in the Oklahoma City region, allowing regional Readymix Concrete suppliers to update their database. This study will also provide empirical evidence of the energy performance of houses with ICF exterior walls in comparison to stick framed houses that is current and applicable to this region. 

Homebuilders will be able to update their cost database on ICF. Previous studies have mostly provided anecdotal evidence of the benefits of ICF on the energy performance of the houses. This study will provide empirical evidence based on predictive energy simulation and actual energy usage information. The homebuilders will be better informed about the energy performance and cost of ICF.   

Prospective homeowners will be able to be educated by homebuilders about the cost and energy performance benefit of ICF in order to make informed decisions about using ICF for their homes.       

Dr. Ghosh and Ben Bigelow are supported by graduate students Alexander Smith and Olayinka Omole for this project.