Sunday, November 24, 2013

Fix It Anyway

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” A time tested proverb, right?

Well, I came across an ad for GMC trucks the other day that talked about using a rolled steel process rather than the normal stamped steel for making the truck bed. Even though there’s nothing wrong with the stamped steel process, they found they could make truckbeds lighter, stronger and more durable using a different process. GMC calls this mind-set “an adamant desire to fix the unbroken.”

R-Stak inserts are a full eight feet long
That’s what we're doing with our R-StakTM inserts. Gluing and screwing EPS boards to the outside of an ICF wall is a perfectly fine way to add more insulation. It’s been done that way for a long time. Except it leaves the studs buried 2.5” from the outside surface so you need longer screws and a better aim with the screwgun to fasten your exterior finish.

Other ICF companies came up with the idea of moving the extra insulation to the inside of the cavity. They make 8 inch wide EPS inserts that slip between the cross ties inside the ICF where the concrete goes. That usually works ok, too. And then you don’t need such long screws to reach the studs because they’re right there near the surface.

We took that good idea and made it great with R-StakTM inserts.  Full 2 foot x 8 foot panels that drop into the concrete cavity in one motion and use only fraction of the labor. We make two standard thicknesses, but customization is a piece of cake so you can have just about whatever thickness you need.

Expander clip holds R-Stak firmly in place
Our flexible manufacturing lets us make the cavity up to 24” wide so you can easily add ridiculous amounts of insulation and have as thick a concrete wall as you want. Ingenious expander clips snap into place and secure the R-StakTM insert without need for glue or screws.

America wants energy efficient structures that stand up to Mother Nature. That doesn't have to be hard, and PolycreteUSA just keeps making it easier. 

Adding extra insulation to your ICF wall wasn't a broken process, but we fixed the hell out of it anyway. Call us today to learn how we can simplify your project. 

Friday, August 23, 2013

Stala system cuts time and labor on ICF doors and windows

We were in Louisville, Kentucky recently and had the pleasure of visiting with Adam Blair of Stala Integrated Framing. These guys have created a key component in commercial ICF construction that’s becoming an industry standard. They fit right in with our mania for simplifying energy efficient construction because their system eliminates steps and saves time and labor. 

Traditional wood window buck
Traditionally, block-outs for door and window openings  in ICF walls have been created with pressure treated framing lumber. The ICF installer has carpenters on the crew who spend their time building wood frames to create the rough openings for windows and doors. Cheap materials in a labor intensive process.

Those frames (called “bucks”) are set into the ICF wall and braced so they stay square and plumb when the concrete is pumped into the wall cavity. The wood bucks can be set inside the ICF cavity and left in place or wrapped around the opening and removed after the concrete cures to leave a finished concrete surface. 

Twenty-five yeas ago, vinyl products emerged that serve the same purpose. They have made-to-order widths and integrated bracing systems that are easier and faster to work with than wood. The materials cost a few dollars more, but save labor and present a prettier finished product.  These methods have worked just fine for residential construction for many years.

As ICFs moved into the realm commercial construction, it became clear that a commercial grade solution for door and window openings was needed. Stala has taken on the challenge and reinvented bucking systems.  

Stala IFA door frame braced on footing
Stala stands for “System To Assemble, Link and Align”. It’s the brainchild of the Atlas Companies. Since 1972, Atlas has been supplying hollow metal and wood doors and hardware to the commercial construction industry. 

Over the years they've added Division 6, 10, 12 and 17 items to their product line, but their claim to fame is doors, door frames and hardware. Some of their products are off the shelf and some are made to order. That’s why metal bucking systems were a natural step. They were already making them.

Stala’s pre-engineered steel door and window bucks incorporate the hollow metal door and window frames into the bucking system. They call it an Integrated Framing Assembly (IFA). The door frames can be designed to receive the door hinges, so no additional hollow metal components are required. Same for the windows.

These IFAs can be really basic or quite sophisticated – You can get them fire rated, blast resistant and even with thermal breaks. Normal steel thickness is 14 gauge, but you can get heavier gauges for secure applications. Stala IFAs are made to order in a mass customization process.

The red-primed material is the IFA component
The interior profile can include a return for sheet rock and that cuts the dry waller’s cost by saving money on labor and materials. The exterior profile can be configured to receive whatever exterior finish system you choose.

The Stala IFAs, fully assembled and primed arrive at your jobsite on a flatbed truck. The ICF installer’s only work is setting the IFA in the correct spot in the wall and bracing it. 

The ICF panels fit into slots (called alignment flanges) in the frame which keeps the ICF properly aligned at the door/window opening – it’s simple. Flanges welded to the inside surface of the assembly extend into the cavity and become embedded in the concrete. That makes it super solid.

Everybody wins when this system is used. In a nutshell, the Stala Integrated Framing system cuts labor and materials for:
  •          ICF Installer
  •          Drywaller
  •          Door Installer
  •          Window Installer / Glazer
  •          Mason
  •          Architect/Engineer
  •          General Contractor

The key to success of this system is for the architect to know that it requires a collaborative effort. The Stala system needs to be designed in partnership between the architect and the Stala folks. It must be drawn into the plans and speced in the spec book so that the sub-trades that are impacted know they are impacted and can bid accordingly.

Stala door frame assembly configured to
receive hinge and standard 4" clay brick
Stala Integrated Framing Assemblies have been used on US Military projects throughout the country and have also been used on many K-12 projects, including Richardsville Elementary School in Warren County, Kentucky -- the nation’s first net zero energy public school.

One other good reason to use Stala Framing: Stala IFAs are made right here in the USA using sophisticated state of the art manufacturing equipment and processes. They provide plenty of good manufacturing jobs which support American families.

PolycreteUSA reps have samples of the Stala Integrated Framing Assemblies and include them in all of our architect and general contractor presentations. Contact us today to set up an appointment or call Adam Blair at Stala directly: (502) 779-2127.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

PolycreteUSA’s new website makes it easier for architects, contractors and building owners to learn about a better way to build...

PolycreteUSA’s mission is to make it easy to design, build and own energy efficient structures that stand up to Mother Nature. We took another big step in that direction recently with the launch of a new website,

We want to get our story across more clearly. Who we are, what we do and how we do it. We think the new format accomplishes that. Our technology has been used in Canada, Europe, Asia and even here in the US since 1988, but a lot of people here still think of it as new and mysterious. We want everyone in the construction community to see how cool it is and to realize that this technology really will make their project easier to complete.

Polycrete’s technology is a system for constructing commercial buildings with highly insulated concrete walls. Conventionally formed concrete walls involve a labor-intensive process of constructing a wood or metal formwork structure, filling it with concrete, then dis-assembling all the formwork after the concrete hardens. 

The Polycrete formwork is set up in a fraction of the time and does not have to be dis-assembled. It’s made from expanded polystyrene panels that contain a steel reinforcing structure which makes it strong enough to contain the concrete. Since the formwork becomes the insulation for the building, it also eliminates the insulating step in the construction process.

The Polycrete system eliminates several other steps, too. Four or more. Normally you would have to build a wood or steel stud wall inside the masonry wall to hold your insulation and sheetrock. That all goes away with this system because you can attach sheetrock directly to the Polycrete wall by means of its built-in steel fastening strips.

The new website includes useful information for architects, contractors and building owners.

Architects will be pleased to see CAD files that can be downloaded to make their design work easier and detailed information on how doors, windows, floors and roofs are incorporated.

Contractors will find complete information on assembling  Polycrete walls and how it works with electrical, plumbing and other building systems.  

Building owners can learn about operating costs savings and even how they can benefit from Federal tax credits and deductions from using the Polycrete system.  

Building products like the Polycrete Big Block ICF system have to undergo a thorough series of tests before they are approved by the International Code Council. The ICC sets the rules that most local building codes are based on. Polycrete makes all of its ICC test results available on the website for download.

Intertek testing service ran all of our ICC tests. They’re the number one building materials testing service on earth, and I can tell you their results prove Polycrete Big Block is the strongest ICF on the market. Fastener withdrawal, shear tests, fire ratings, you name it. Some other ICFs are close to us in one or two areas, but overall, The Big Block is tops. That’s why we put all the data on the web for the world to see. This is not just a salesman making up stories, it’s the real deal.

We want to hear from construction professionals after you look over the site. It’s an evolution. We’re currently working to develop more resources for installers. In the meantime, we really want to hear what the community thinks of what we’re presenting and what you like and dislike about the site. It’s not about us, it’s about you. We’re going to continue to improve our usefulness. If there‘s other info or services you’re looking for, tell us and we’ll figure out how we can get it for you. 

The new website is at We’re also on Facebook. There’s more pictures on the Facebook page. Contractors send them to us as their jobs progress and we just throw them up on Facebook.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

All ICFs Are Not Alike!

I haven’t had a really good rant for a long time, so here goes. Indulge me – You'll definitely learn something and you might even be entertained.

I’m angry because the ICF myths and misinformation continue. I’m tired of hearing people say all ICFs are alike. ALL ICFs ARE NOT ALIKE!

Some are utter garbage and should not be legal. Others are not legal at all. Some are OK, a few are good. Polycrete Big Block, though, is so far advanced that it can hardly even be compared to the rest. Am I biased? Of course I am! But I’m not just blowing smoke and you don’t have to take my word for it. Just stick with me for a few minutes, look at the evidence and decide for yourself.

Insulating concrete forms (ICFs) are forms for building reinforced concrete walls. They’re made out of expanded polystyrene foam. These forms stay in place after the concrete cures and serve as insulation for the building. Sheetrock attaches directly to the ICF surface on the inside and siding -- brick, stucco or whatever you like -- attaches directly to the outside surface.

It’s a great way to build highly energy efficient buildings that can stand up to Mother Nature. As long as it’s done right. This construction method has been around since the 1960’s. Very popular in Canada, it’s become more widespread in the USA over the past several years.

Let’s all agree that we have building codes for a reason. If you aren't on board with that, you can stop reading now and go back to checking the baseball scores. This article is not for you.

A series of basic tests is required for an Insulated Concrete Forming system to be approved by the International Code Council (ICC) – the governing body that most U.S. building codes rely on. The tests need to performed by an approved independent testing service. Most often, that’s Intertek, one of the largest and most well-known building materials testing laboratories on earth. 

We recently spent several days poring over technical data available on websites of all the major and some minor ICF manufacturers in North America. It’s been an eye-opening experience.

There is a “Fastener Test” in which a screw is screwed into the fastening system of an ICF test wall. The wall is a complete wall with concrete cured under controlled conditions. Using a carefully calibrated machine, the screw is then pulled out of the fastening system and the pounds of pressure required to pull out the screw is recorded. They do this several times and calculate the average.

Get this: One mainstream ICF company didn't like the results they got from Intertek, so they went out and hired a screw supplier to run their own test. Surprise! The screw supplier discovered that if you put a screw in a very specific location on their plastic stud (they call it a "Sweet Spot") you can get 500 lbs resistance. And they publicize the heck out of that. Can you imagine that happening in the field? This is the kind of misinformation and garbage people have to wade through. 

OK, back to business. The other screw test is a shear test. They test how much lateral (sideways) pressure can be applied to the screw before the system fails. The screw pulls out, the fastening web/strip breaks or the screw breaks. They also do this several times and record the average. This is important  because you want to be confident that if you screw kitchen cabinets, bookshelves or a flat screen TV to the wall, it will stay there – even when a four-year old tries to climb on it.

Let’s talk about results. On Fastener tests, the common plastic tied ICFs have screw pull ratings of about 125 – 150 lbs. Polycrete’s was an average of 311 lbs. with a maximum of 359 lbs. There was only one other ICF we could find that was in our league.

On the lateral shear test, Polycrete Big Block averaged 375 lbs. with a maximum of 420 lbs. The others we found averaged 235 lbs. That’s almost 37% weaker. We’ talking about all the mainstream ICFs. There’s only one in the same league as Polycrete on the screw pull, but on the shear test, the screws reportedly snapped off pretty easily in that one.   

These are all mainstream ICF products, and as you can visit their websites and see from the independent testing reports, they’re woefully weaker than Polycrete Big Block. 

Other tests are “flexural” and “compressive” tests where they test the actual strength and density of the polystyrene panels. The “flexural” test measures the bending strength of the EPS panel and the “compressive” test measures how hard you have to push on it in order to sqwoosh it.

Most ICFs are made from “Type II” polystyrene, and that means the manufacturer uses anywhere from 1.35 to 1.5 pounds of polystyrene per cubic foot. The greater the density, the stronger the form and the more likely it will be to hold concrete. The test results should show that.

Basic stuff, but you need to know because when you fill an ICF wall it’s a lot like dumping concrete into a throw-away coffee cup. You want to have a fighting chance of not ending up with loose concrete flowing all over the jobsite.  

Then come the fire tests. I like fire. There are two different testing protocols. This is where they measure the fire resistance of the entire wall system and also the burning characteristics of the ICF components. I say “components” because if the ICF has plastic cross ties, they have to test the EPS panels and the cross ties separately.

In the first fire test, they build a test wall -- again with the concrete cured to a specified humidity level so all ICFs can be compared like apples to apples. The wall is usually eight feet wide and eight feet tall. They wheel the wall into a furnace, heat it up and record what happens. After a while they turn a fire hose on it and see what happens. They record the results. This is serious business, and it does not come cheap.

Plastic cross ties are usually made from polypropylene and that stuff catches fire much faster than the EPS. The EPS has a flame retarder in it and the polypro doesn’t necessarily have one. For this reason, 6” thick ICF wall systems with steel cross ties usually have a four hour fire rating and the plastic-tied ICF systems are generally only good for three hours. An important consideration if having your building collapse in a fire worries you.

The second burning protocol calls for putting the ICF components into a furnace and recording how long and at what temperature the EPS panel and the injection molded plastic cross ties flame, melt or both.

They also measure the smoke generated and the “flame spread index”. For the record, the smoke generation and flame spread with nearly all ICFs is significantly less than with wood, so we can kill that myth once and for all.

Nearly all the EPS in North America comes from one of a very small handful of manufacturers of raw polystyrene “beads”. Those polystyrene bead manufacturers all use the same flame retardant chemical and supply the beads with the flame retardant included. Burning characteristics of the EPS itself don’t vary much from ICF to ICF. It’s generally the cross ties that make the difference, but you have to do the test anyway so you know the ICF is not made with some fluky pirated polystyrene.

The most interesting test of all is not yet actually required in the USA. But the fact it’s not required doesn’t mean the results aren’t very interesting to read. This is the infamous “Forming Capacity Test.”

Canadians have used ICFs much more widely than we lower forty-eighters, so they are far ahead of us in their general knowledge and experience with the technology. Canadian building code officials know that keeping the concrete inside the ICF wall is important for safety and efficiency. Canadians are also persnickety – they don’t like cheap junk. So they insist on a test that shows just how strong the ICF system is under real concrete pumping conditions.

For the Forming Capacity test, the ICF manufacturer builds an ICF wall using their published recommended construction process. Bracing is done according to the manufacturer’s published instructions. The testing scientists then install sensors in at least nine different places on the wall. These sensors measure the thickness of the wall. The testers also measure the straightness or plumbness of the wall.

Four feet of concrete is then pumped into the ICF wall and the concrete is vibrated using specific equipment and specific techniques . Fifteen minutes or so after the first lift is placed, a second four foot lift is added and that is vibrated as well in order to get proper consolidation of the concrete. Then the readings on the nine sensors are recorded, and that tells you how much the EPS foam panels have bulged from the weight of the concrete. If the ICFs break and blow out the concrete, that is noted as well.

The ICF manufacturer can choose what thickness of ICF wall he wants tested, and their designated personnel build the wall. The thicker the wall, the heavier the concrete and the greater the chance of bulging or blow out. Most ICF manufacturers choose to test a 6” wall. Polycrete tested a 10” wall.

Besides Polycrete, only one other main stream ICF supplier makes their forming capacity results available on the website. That company tested a 6” thick wall. It was not plumb when they built it, and it got further out of plumb when the filled it with concrete. They made no attempt to straighten it. I’m not making this up, it’s in the report. “Why did they build it out of plumb?” you might ask.

Experienced ICF installers know that residential grade ICF walls move when you pump in concrete, so they tilt it in towards the bracing before pumping. That’s because it’s a lot easier to push it out into plumb than to try to pull it back (think screw pull test). We’re going to assume that installers in the field remember to try to plumb it up after pumping. Oh. That wall bulged up to 3/8” also. The testers call that measurement “deformation.”

Polycrete tested a wall with 9-5/8” thick concrete – over 60% more concrete than the plastic-tied one. The Polycrete Big Block wall had zero, zero, zero  deformation. Zero. Can I say that again? ZERO.  It moved a nearly invisible 3 millimeters out of plumb over sixty-four square feet of wall surface, and that was easily fixed with a minor adjustment of the bracing. 

Don’t take my word for it, remember, I’m biased. Look at the Intertek reports. You don’t have to be Einstein to figure out which ICF is stronger.

Now you may ask, “Who cares and why?” Well, deformation is important because if the wall is all bulgy and snaky, you have to deal with it before putting up sheet rock. The common way is to bring in a team of laborers with big rasps and they shave off the high spots where the walls bulged. Undesirable things come from this: Construction delays and labor costs. You also reduce the R Value or insulation properties of the wall because the insulation is now thinner.

What if the ICF system has fastening strips (studs) exposed on the surface of a bulging wall? Flattening it will be impossible. The only way to fix that bulgy and snaky wall is by furring and shimming. More labor, more materials.

Then there are the fringe systems, and that’s where the ICF world really gets problematical. For example, there’s a heavily marketed, vertical, knocked-down system that is more like a traditional cast in place concrete form. It’s a very labor intensive and consists of a lot of parts to be assembled onsite. It’s reported to be prone to blow outs, and knowledgeable ICF people tell us they won’t touch it with a ten-foot pole.

They do a lot of marketing, but here’s the problem: That system has not undergone any ICC testing that we are able to find. No fastener tests, no compressive tests, no flexural tests and no burn tests. No forming capacity tests. No nothing.

So we called the company. No, we didn’t tell the lady who answered the phone we were from PolycreteUSA, we just said we were an interested consumer. We asked if they would share their ICC test results. Well, the phone was covered with a hand or something, there was a lot of whispering in the background, and finally the lady came back on and said no, they did not have any ICC test results to share.

She confirmed our suspicion that the vertical ICF is not a real approved, code compliant ICF system. The EPS was tested and approved for use as a perimeter wall insulation only. There are a lot of other restrictions to its use.  You can read the report for yourself. Look up ESR-1006 on the ICC-ES website. This is the report for the foam panels they claim to use in their system.

Some people may ask, “What about Pensmore?” It’s a gigantic house. It’s under construction (has been for a long time) and it’s being built out of the that system. If you look at pictures of the building under construction, you can see that the foam panels seem to be shored up with corrugated steel, and that seems to support the claims of installers who say it’s a weak system. 

The owner is building this house for himself and he chose a location that has no building regulations. The structure is not subject to inspections. He told the New York Times that building codes and inspections would “complicate” his efforts. Don’t take my word for it, read the NYTimes article.

There are other untested fringe ICF products out there as well. Most common ICFs with plastic ties are made by contract manufacturers—companies that specialize in making things out of expanded polystyrene.  The same companies that actually manufacture many ICFs also make packaging materials, take out containers and coffee cups.

Many brand name ICF companies do not actually own any manufacturing facilities. They’re really just R&D, sales and marketing companies. Instead, they pay a machine shop to make them a special mold, they deliver it to a contract EPS molding company and cut a deal for the molding company to make their ICFs to order. The plastic cross ties can be bought from China by the container load. One EPS molding company may make several different brands of ICF under different contracts.

Sometimes these EPS molders get their own ICF molds and make black-market no-name ICFs. They’re untested, have no approvals, and get sold to unsuspecting do-it-yourselfers or nefarious fly-by-night contractors. These ICFs are often weak and substandard because they’re made with lower density foam prone to bulging and blow outs. They give a bad name and black eye to the entire industry. Cheap contractors want us to try to compete with them price-wise. We won’t do it.

Polycrete Big Block is manufactured on Polycrete equipment in Polycrete factories, to Polycrete standards. We do our own steel fabrication and mold our own EPS. We use no contract molders. Our EPS panels have a steel cross tie system and welded steel wire mesh inside the polystyrene panel for strength. No other ICF has this feature. It prevents bulging and blow outs. That sets Big Block™ very far apart from the crowd.

Big Block™ stands up to 1,600 lbs per square foot of lateral pressure. We invented a machine to measure that strength. We actually got it up to 2,000 lbs and the machine broke before the form did. But we only claim 1,600 lbs. It’s enough. We also measured a bunch of conventional ICFs, and none of them passed 800 lbs. It’s that forming capacity thing.

Big Block™ is also the largest ICF anywhere. Standard size is 2’ x 8’. Install sixteen square feet of wall in one motion and that’s faster than any other ICF on the planet. Yes, there is another 8’ long product, but it’s only 18” tall and it has big clunky plastic cross ties that impede the flow of concrete and can break if they get hit by a rock while pumping concrete. Blow out city.

Cheap materials don’t make a lower cost building if they result in added labor costs, more headaches and construction delays. Who wants angry and frustrated customers? In the end, you get to decide. Are straight, flat walls important to you? Is finishing on time and on budget important? Is jobsite safety and disaster performance important?

Polycrete’s mission is to make it easy to build energy efficient structures that stand up to Mother Nature.  Whether it’s by partnering with other technologies to reduce steps in the construction process or bringing in consultants to help you take advantage of energy efficient tax breaks. We constantly look for ways to make your life easier and building experience better.

Two words about installers: Due diligence. A bad installer can screw up the best ICF in the world. Believe me, I’ve seen it. Pick them carefully. PolycreteUSA seeks out commercial concrete contractors and trains them to install our ICFs. They understand the challenges of commercial construction and already know how to work with concrete. Many ICF installers are wood framing crews trying to move up the food chain. Some work out fine, a lot don’t. Once again: Due diligence.

PolycreteUSA is not interested in one-offs. We want to be your ICF supplier for life. We’re on the team. We are always going to deliver a premium product, we don't snow you with marketing hype and we always have your back.

I hope you found my rant worthwhile. Thanks for your time.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Polycrete Moves The Target Again With Two Major ICF Innovations

Polycrete’s engineering and manufacturing folks have come up with two more advancements that will make it easier for you to design and build energy efficient structures that stand up to Mother Nature. I don’t know which of these is the bigger deal.

A few months ago we told you that size really does matter and announced that we can now make Big Block wide enough to accommodate up to 24" of concrete. Well, height matters, too. 

Since we already make Polycrete Big Block™ in 12”, 18” and 24” heights, we we thought you would want the option of mixing and matching panel heights on each block. We call it Polycrete Split Block™.

So if you have a slab turning down into an ICF wall and you need 24” height on the outside of the wall and 12” on the inside, you don’t have to rip it in the field anymore. We can make that for you. Saves time. Reduces waste.  

Any concrete core width from 5-1/2” to 24” in three different heights that can be mixed and matched on the same block. It just keeps getting easier.

The second innovation is Big Block Premium™. We’re now using BASF’s advanced technology Neopor polystyrene beads to give you the choice of a higher  R value ICF. 

Standard EPS has a minimum R value of 4.00 per inch at 75 deg. F.  BASF’s Neopor  is nearly 15% higher, at 4.53 per inch. Tiny graphite particles added to the EPS act as infrared absorbers and infrared reflectors which greatly reduces thermal conductivity. 

That means the EPS insulation alone is at least R22.65 and an R30 wall is much easier to achieve. As always, the R values quoted here are minimum ratings under ASTM C518. Some ICF manufacturers may claim their products carry higher R-values than this. If they claim it, make them back it up and show you their test results. 

Polycrete Big Block Premium™ with Neopor gets you more energy efficiency  with the same 
EPS thickness and it costs less than 20¢ more per square foot.

Polycrete Big Block is a commercial grade insulated concrete forming (ICF) system.  ICFs are forms for building reinforced concrete walls. The forms stay in place after the concrete cures and serve as insulation for the building. Sheetrock attached directly to the ICF on the inside and all conventional exterior finishes attach directly to the outside surface. Polycrete® lets you build faster , stronger and more efficient than traditional methods.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Smart Apartment Developers Stay on Top

Multi-family construction is booming right now and demand seems insatiable. But we all know that's not going to last. Smart developers look to maximize value for the long term and solid, energy efficient construction pays off.

According to a survey, 86% of Americans would prefer to live in an eco-friendly space and 55% of those are willing to pay more in rent to do so.  Additionally,  42 % were willing to pay up to an extra  $100  to live in a green apartment, and 13% would pay even more than that.

PolycreteUSA believes sustainable construction must also be fast, strong and economical. That's why we're dedicated to making it EASY to design, build and own energy efficient buildings.

Smart developers know that Polycrete Big Block commercial grade insulated concrete form system eliminates subcontractors, saves money and gets their project completed fast. Polycrete®  ICFs get you a structural wall, fully insulated and ready for interior and exterior finishes all in one step.   IT’S EASY.

ICFs are forms for building reinforced concrete walls. After the concrete cures, the forms stay in place and serve as both the building’s insulation and the attachment point for sheet rock and your exterior finish.

There's a tax benefit to building with Polycrete, too. In order to encourage energy efficient construction, The Energy Policy Act of 2005 allows building owners to earn a Section 179D Federal Income Tax deduction of up to $1.60 per square foot. It's valid through the end of 2014.

But there are a whole bunch of other benefits to building ICF Multi-Families. That section 179D deduction is peanuts compared to your annual recurring savings. Here’s a few to mull over:

  • Annual insurance costs will be significantly lower than “sticks and bricks” because concrete buildings don’t burn like wooden ones do.
  • Monthly common area HVAC costs will be 40% less because your envelope walls will be R26+ and have minimal air infiltration.
  • Occupancy rate will be higher. Here’s 2 reasons:
    • Energy efficient apartments are more desirable (lower cost) to tenants.
    • Acoustic values of STC 52+ make a very quiet building and superior acoustic performance increases occupancy rates.
  • Lower construction interest. ICF walls go up much faster than wood. What’s your interest saving going to be if you shave the last 4 weeks off your construction loan and accelerate your rental revenue by a month?
A recent Massachusetts Institute of Technology study found that concrete buildings have a useful life of 75 years. This means that condo conversions will sell faster and when you divest yourself of your property 15 years from now, you’ll be selling a 21st century high-performance multi-family development only 20% into its useful life.

Savvy apartment developers know that environmentally friendly apartments have a lower turnover velocity and new green developments lease up fast. As multifamily development continues towards saturation, developers need to know about our company. Contact us today to learn more.   800-570-4313

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Top Concrete Contractors Join TeamPolycrete

Always on the prowl for new installers who can advance our mission to make it easy to design, build and own energy efficient buildings that stand up to Mother Nature, we've recently added two big dogs and one rising star.

Century Concrete, headquartered in Virginia Beach, serves the Richmond area from its Ashland location and Northern VA from Manassas. Led by Preston White, Century is one of Virginia’s most highly respected concrete contractors and has now added Polycrete ICF installation to its service offering.

The Burke Family has a long history of concrete construction in the Maryland and DC area. Brian Burke of Burke Concrete Construction has been an advocate of ICF construction for many years and developed a green construction division in 2009 to focus on ICF installation.

Jason Carey, owner of Hamptons ICF in Sag Harbor, New York is a native New Zealander. He’s built both residential and commercial in New Zealand, France, Switzerland and the US since 1990. Jason is also a Cuisine Professional who designs and builds world class restaurants and kitchens. These days, he’s a leading ICF installation contractor in Eastern Long Island and works in NYC as well.

Access PolycreteUSA’s Complete installer list.   



Wednesday, January 9, 2013

K-12 Building That Generates Cash? Go Figure...

The Nation’s first net zero energy school was the subject of an article in Forbes recently because it just got its first full annual electric bill… errr, check. Yep, that’s right, after a full year in service, Richardsville Elementary School was paid $37,227 for the energy it delivered to the local electric utility.

If you were asked to guess where Richardsville Elementary School  is located, you might suggest California, Massachusetts, or Vermont -- where Prius ownership is highest and the politics bluest. Well, the answer’s nope, nope and nope. Richardsville’s in that red state of Kentucky.

Yes, Kentucky. Where the grass may be blue but the politics are red. Where coal is king, electric costs are the fourth lowest in the nation, and energy efficiency innovations yield taxpayers $3.3 Million in annual avoided costs.

You might ask what it means to be “Net Zero Energy”. It means that the building generates all the energy it needs (or more) to operate using various passive and active strategies like solar, wind, geothermal, etc. Public utilities are usually required to buy any excess energy generated from alternative energy producers hooked up to their grid and hence the check instead of a bill.

Typical annual energy costs for K-12 schools in the US are $1.25 per square foot. At 77,466 square feet, Richardsville earned almost 48¢ per square foot. In a state like Virginia, where average electric costs are 12.5¢/Kwh, that would translate to almost 75¢ per square foot or $58,100 per year in earnings and $155,000 in annual avoided costs. Assuming an interest rate of 3% and no increases in energy costs, that works out to more than $3 million saved over the expected life of the building.

You’re probably thinking that it costs a fortune to build such an efficient building and the up-front investment won’t stand up to economic analysis. You’d be wrong, though.

According to the National Clearinghouse for Educational Facilities, a program of the National Institute for Building Sciences, average Elementary School  construction cost in the US in 2010 was  $190 per square foot, and Richardsville came in at $156.

Part of the reason for the affordable construction costs is that it’s built with insulated concrete form technology. ICFs like Polycrete® Big Block™ are a very cost effective strategy for achieving high insulation value in walls and that allows downsizing of HVAC systems. ICF technology also adds of lot of other cost-saving attributes. A key to making the overall economic model of a net zero energy building work is controlling the costs of construction.

How does something like this happen? Well certainly not overnight. It took careful design and planning over a decade. Now, nearly all twenty-one schools in Kentucky's Warren County meet Energy Star certification. That accomplishment has resulted in more than $5 million in avoided energy costs to date. Real dollars that taxpayers did not have to shell out.

Richardsville’s Net Zero accomplishment is a result of its innovative building design. Although it’s  a typical school with classrooms, gym, cafeteria and such, many features are unique. Everything from the heating and cooling system to the lights work with sensors that automatically determine appropriate light and temperature levels and then make adjustments.

Most schools in the US operate at 73kBtus per square foot. The average Warren County Kentucky school uses 40.  In 2007, Warren County built Plano Elementary School to use 28. As it continued to work with its crack team of architects and engineers, it leveraged the lessons learned from Plano to design Richardsville to operate at 18 kBtus per sqft.  That’s less than 25% of the average school’s energy usage.

In 2008, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear launched “Intelligent Energy Choices for Kentucky’s Future, Kentucky’s Seven Point Strategy for Energy Independence.” Despite that Kentucky is the nation’s 3rd largest coal producer, the commonwealth's governing team introduced this far-sighted and ambitious program that's paying off in real dollars. 

It’s an oft repeated proverb that the cheapest energy is the energy you don’t use, but opponents of net zero insist it’s just a theory that won’t work in the real world. The Net Zero model that Richardsville Elementary’s design team pioneered has blown up that argument once and for all.

Imagine how net zero schools and government buildings will reduce the pressures on state and local budgets. Elimination of energy costs will free up funds for more teachers or other educational resources. Now that Richardsville’s proven the net zero model, we can feel comfortable repeating it for all new school construction. Our students and taxpayers deserve it.

For information on building your net zero design team, please call or email Bruce Anderson, PolycreteUSA 1-800-570-4313

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Sandy Resource Update: Design Assistance and Funding Sources

In our never-ending effort to keep you up to date on Sandy rebuilding developments, you should know that we just revised the Sandy Resources on We added a comprehensive list of licensed New Jersey Architects who are qualified to design your rebuilding project to stand up to Mother Nature with Polycrete ICFs.
We also want to let you know that Bank of America and Provident Bank are helping to make low interest loans available to small businesses hammered by Hurricane Sandy. 

They’ve made a combined $2.25 Million available to a number of Community Development Financial Institutions in New York and New Jersey. These 
CDFI loans are not huge, but they're designed to get your business back on its feet quickly. The loans are fast and affordable.  

According to a report from NJBiz,  Bank of America has made $2 million available to CDFIs at zero interest, and the CDFIs are loaning it out at 3% or so. Provident Bank Foundation is making $250,000 available to the CDFIs and is also making grants of up to $25,000 to organizations providing relief to small businesses.

Community Development Financial Institutions provide credit and financial services to underserved markets and populations. CDFIs are certified by the Community Development Financial Institutions Fund from the US Treasury Department. CDFIs are funded by the US Treasury, banks, private investors and non-profit organizations.

Here’s a list of CDFIs in this program and the contact information to get you started.

Organization (CDFI)
Accion USA
Phone: 866-245-0783

Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE)
Phone: 212-979-8988

Cooperative Business Assistance Corporation (CBAC)
Phone: 856-966-8181 

CDC of Long Island
Phone: 631-471-1215

New Jersey Community Capital

Enterprise Community Partners
Phone: 212-284-7121

Grow America Fund

Phone: 212-455-9800

Low Income Investment Fund
Phone: 212-509-5509

New York Business Development Corp
Phone 800-923-2504

Nonprofit Finance Fund
Phone: 212-868-6710
Phone: 973-642-2500

Renaissance EDC
Phone: 212-964-6022

Phone: 908-527-1166

Please call our experts with your questions -- Basic or technical. We know what you're dealing with, and we want to make it as easy for you as possible. If we don't have the answer, we'll find someone who does. 1-800-570-4313

Coming very soon is a list of AIA Architects in New York who are willing and able to design your Polycrete rebuild and general contractors across the region who can build with Polycrete Insulated Concrete Forms and give you a fair deal.

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