If you’re a subcontractor investigating plumbing, HVAC, and/or electrical work with insulated concrete forms, this blog post is for you. We talked to 5 experienced tradesmen to get their insight on what it is like working with ICF compared to wood-frame and concrete block buildings. You can hear more of their testimonials in the video at the bottom of this page.
The response from contractors was unanimous. Installing plumbing, HVAC, and electrical lines with ICFs is extremely easy. It may be intimidating at first, but once you overcome the minimal learning curve and adjust your approach, the benefits are clear. Mike Sebben, an electrician for 2B Wired, explained, “It’s today’s building method…ICF is absolutely the advancement that should happen in construction.”
NOTE: Be sure to follow your local building codes and reference Nudura's installation manuals for specific application guidelines.
When using insulated concrete forms for exterior walls versus convention wood-frame or concrete block construction, the biggest difference for the trades is cutting the foam to make way for wires, pipes, and ductwork. Thankfully, removal of the foam is fast and simple with a hot-knife, electric chainsaw or reciprocating saw. These tools are easy to learn, offer precise control and leave a neat channel or hole for the corresponding components.
With an electric chainsaw, you can set the guard to a predetermined distance to prevent going too deep into the foam and hitting the concrete, which can dull the chain. You don’t have to drill into the concrete or wood to make room for electrical boxes or staple the lines.
In the electrical trades, once you make your line in the foam, the wires are tucked snuggly into the back of the chase and spray foam may be applied overtop so there is less risk of another trade accidentally damaging the wires.
For plumbing, tracking the pipes to their final destination is easy and those recessed within the foam now have added insulation to protect them during cold temperatures.
The ease of installation for plumbing, HVAC, and electrical lines in ICF walls ultimately leads to decreased time and labor, which equates to financial savings.
One contractor noted that with wood frame houses, the electrical could take 1-2 days, but with ICF, it only takes half a day since you are significantly reducing the mechanical attachment points where installers must staple and secure the wires and boxes. “Once the wire goes into the wall, you’re done with it,” David McCauley, President of McCauley Electric, explained simply.
Running service penetrations through the outside wall is extremely easy with ICFs. Before the concrete is poured into the forms, holes should be cut into the foam to run PVC sleeves. These pipes will hold the wires or plumbing and can withstand the weight of the concrete. This process saves installers significant time running these outside lines.
Like with any job, carefully planning the mechanical systems and trade sequencing is critical. ICF construction is no different, so upfront coordination is required to ensure penetrations for the HVAC, plumbing, electrical and fire protection are in the right spots and will not interfere with one another. However, when using ICFs, there are some other factors to keep in mind to ensure proper installation.
While there are different factors to look out for as a contractor working with ICFs, there is plenty of training available to alleviate any concerns. Plus, by adding in ICF construction to your scope of work and adapting to new building methods, you are expanding your opportunities and advancing your business.
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