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More School Districts Eye ICF Construction

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Originally Posted On: More School Districts Eye ICF Construction | Specify Concrete


ICF schools deliver a unique combination of structural strength and construction efficiency. Exterior ICF walls deliver code-compliant drainage planes and air sealing. They save copious amounts of energy via continuous insulation, thermal mass and no thermal bridging. ICFs are also fire resistant and mold resistant. As if all that is not enough, ICFs minimize sound transmission as well.

The success of ICF schools is well-known. Some of Pennsylvania’s ICF schools date to more than a decade ago. In 2003, Clearview Elementary School in Hanover, PA, became the state’s very first ICF school. It achieved LEED Gold certification. Today, there are hundreds of ICF schools nationwide, with about a hundred of them in Texas alone. Kentucky was another early adopter. In fact, Crestwood Elementary School in Crestwood, KY, was an award winner. It was first runner-up in the ICF Builder 2009 Heavy Commercial category.


A variety of trends favor ICF school construction today. Safety concerns are as high as ever. Codes are more stringent. An era of lower interest rates makes it easier to finance upscale ICF construction.


Sustainability is now more than a consideration; it is an expectation.. All the stakeholders have a vested interest in environmentally sound construction. Everyone benefits, from students to taxpayers, and from educators to school board members.


Once the school year is underway, districts can ill-afford storm damage. It risks the welfare of students and staff. Repairs and reconstruction impact the education of young minds. ICF construction is an insurance policy of sorts. It protects against forces that might otherwise shut down schools. Depending on the region, extreme winds, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes are all concerns.

The immediate safety of all students and staff is always the highest priority. Continued operations is also vitally important. ICF construction is a long-term investment in peace-of-mind for all stakeholders. Many kinds of natural disasters assault schools. Tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes are all examples. ICF walls combine with fire-resistant doors, windows and vents to deliver a high degree of passive fire protection.

Insurers recognize the safety, strength and durability of ICF construction. Accordingly, school districts may save on insurance premiums. With long lasting ICF construction, such savings accrue for decades.

The need for super-strong school construction is more evident in an era of weather extremes. In 2013, a tornado in Moore, OK, collapsed a school wall, resulting in fatalities. In January 2020, an 80 mph microburst injured three at an elementary school in North Carolina. FEMA’s “Making Schools Safe From High Winds” is a comprehensive 150-page report on the topic.


When it comes to ICF construction, a number of Kentucky public school districts were “early adopters.” Collectively, the top five ICF schools in the state save an estimated $1.37 million in annual energy costs.

Seventeen years after it opened, Hanover’s Clearview Elementary still delivers annual energy savings of about $18,000.


ICF walls typically enjoy STC ratings of 50 and higher. School architects are more free to place classrooms adjacent to louder parts of the school, like gyms and cafeterias. Classrooms, music rooms and school theaters all benefit from reduced sound transmission. At the same time, exterior ICF walls reduce distractions posed by arriving school buses, and busy playgrounds.


The earliest ICF schools are approaching 20 years of age. As a result, there’s more data suggesting reduced maintenance costs. Industry analysts often calculate the longevity of ICF schools at a century or more. Longevity makes ICF construction more cost effective. These costs include everything from initial materials acquisition to end-of-life recycling.


ICF school construction is catching on across the country. Here are two examples. One is in Kentucky, the other is in Oregon.


Jennings Creek Elementary is the recipient of a 2020 ICF Builder Award. The school was first runner-up in the heavy commercial category. It is one of more than a dozen ICF schools in Kentucky’s Warren County School District. Construction of the $18 million project took 68 weeks. Crews completed installation of 52,800 sq-ft of insulated formwork in 85 days.

The average energy use intensity of a school in the climate four zone is 73. At Jennings Creek, energy use intensity is just 15.5. This means annual energy costs are less than one-fourth that of a comparable non-ICF school. Thanks to the addition of a 327 Kw solar array, the school is a net zero energy (NZE) structure. In fact, the solar array generates energy rebates of $30,000 per year.


A bus barn once stood on the site of today’s Music & Science Building at Hood River Middle School. The project features R-25 ICF walls rising as high as 26 feet. The roof boasts an R-38 rating, and the insulation under the radiant slab at R-15.

Sophisticated use of both passive and active heating and cooling systems led to net-zero certification. For example, horizontal tubing 10 feet under the soccer field pre-warms or pre-cools water going to two heat pumps. These systems provide both radiant heating and cooling.

LEARN MORE is a website of the Pennsylvania Aggregates and Concrete Association (PACA). For more information on the advantages of ICF school construction, please contact us today!

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