Concrete is a stellar building material. It performs well against storms, termites, fire and the sands of time. But add insulation to it and concrete's list of benefits grows even longer. In both the residential and commercial markets, these concrete contractors have found success touting the energy efficiencies and other benefits that insulated concrete offers customers looking for green building features.
There are several insulation systems that work with removable concrete forms, including those with insulation on the exterior of a wall, the interior of a wall, with concrete sandwiched between two panels of insulation or with a panel of insulation sandwiched between two wythes of concrete. Tim Ryan of Insulated Concrete Structures in Greenville, Texas, is the inventor of Thermal Wall Technology, an insulation system for aluminum forms that utilizes trusses to hold a polystyrene panel in place while concrete is poured on either side of the insulation. Plumbers and electricians do their installations inside the walls before the pour. Western Forms distributes the product, but it's compatible with any flat-tie aluminum forming system.
Thermal Wall Technology came about because Ryan, a building and concrete contractor by trade, was looking for an economical way to build entry-level concrete houses and compete with wood frame home builders. "Our whole idea was to integrate the plumbing, the electrical - all the trades - and make it as simple as possible for everyone on the job. That's what we've been able to accomplish," Ryan says.
Ryan performs about 60 percent residential and 40 percent commercial work using Thermal Wall. He's been building with the system for two years, and he's been busy. His company, which performs work mostly in the Dallas area, has contracted $1.5 million worth of work in the last 90 days, and he says he has that much or more he's currently looking at taking on. "Nobody seems to understand that when they offer someone a concrete house for the same price as wood, you open up a whole new market," he says.
Ryan tells concrete wall contractors they can go to a builder with this wall system and can offer them a unique product they in turn can offer a home buyer for the same price as wood. "A builder can tell a client, 'I can do a concrete house and be cost competitive with a stick built house and give you a home with less maintenance, 25 percent less on insurance, and 25 percent less on energy.' Who do you think has the best shot at that job? That's the marketing angle we all need to be using," Ryan explains.
Troy Emerson, president of W.E. Pour Walls out of Buffalo, Minn., has found a lot of success for his foundation business after adding insulated options. He offers the Thermomass system by Composite Technologies Corp., an extruded polystyrene insulation panel sandwiched between two wythes of concrete. The system is compatible with cast-in-place concrete, tilt-up and precast walls.
Emerson started using this insulation system mainly because it integrated well with his aluminum forms without thermal bridging. "I saw how ICF was growing and how other systems out there were competing with the poured wall, and I figured if I didn't get into something now my company wouldn't be around in the future," Emerson explains. "Thermomass has allowed my company to be out in the forefront, allowed me to be different than my competition. It has given me a huge edge."
In 2005, the first year Emerson offered Thermomass walls, 5 percent of the walls he built were insulated. The second year that number jumped to 15 percent, and this year he predicts he'll perform 60,000 to 80,000 sq. ft. of insulated walls, or about 25 percent of his foundation business. Next year he hopes half his foundations will be insulated.