Matt McCoy, president of South River Construction in Austin, Texas, has built his company around performing ICF construction. McCoy and his crew of 25 employees commonly work with more than a dozen of the industry's leading ICF brands, learning about the forms' advantages and disadvantages as they strive to create a successful building system with each project.
In 2000, McCoy was on track to join his father in the lumberyard business, but he found himself working on a jobsite with ICFs. McCoy liked the experience and went into business for himself doing mostly general contracting work on ICF projects. McCoy realized he was making more money on jobs where he worked as the subcontractor installing ICFs and about a year and a half ago reorganized his company to focus on subcontracting work as ICF installers.
Annually, South River Construction takes on a larger number of residential projects, but performs more square footage in block installation on commercial jobs. Business has doubled for McCoy each year since he started his company, and he says that while the residential market for ICFs is growing quite a bit, the commercial market is exploding.
"People are starting to realize that there is more to a building than construction cost,"
McCoy explains. "It's like buying a car - people don't just look at the price but also consider fuel economy and how often it's going to need repair. People want buildings that will have low operational costs and high efficiency. To them, building with ICFs is becoming more and more attractive."
It's all about the concrete
"What sets us apart from our competitors is that they don't know much about concrete," McCoy says. "We put our employees through ACI and PCA training. We are concrete experts who just happen to use concrete forms."
McCoy explains that within the concrete industry, ICFs don't currently have a great reputation because a lot of installers got into the industry without knowing about basic concrete principles and some of the block manufacturers' training used to be contrary to sound concrete principles. But all that is changing. "The good news is now manufacturers' training is getting better, and the number of qualified installers is on the rise - and they're producing some outstanding walls," he says.
McCoy emphasizes the importance of education and quality control measures in ICF construction because the finished product can be difficult to inspect. "If you don't follow good concrete placing practices, then the odds of having a mistake grow exponentially and the odds of locating a mistake are pretty slim," he says.
First off, McCoy suggests using a block from a manufacturer that has completed all testing and code approval for that block. Secondly, you need to treat the concrete as you would on any other project; that means in regard to safety, rebar placement and consolidation. "One of the frustrations that I hear sometimes is block companies say you don't have to consolidate concrete in their forms. But you have to consolidate the concrete because the concrete doesn't know what kind of container it's in," McCoy stresses. "I don't think the needs of a specific block outweigh the needs of what the concrete needs."
McCoy is also a strong believer in education as a path to better building. As employees move up the ladder at South River Construction, they rack up a growing list of completed training courses. In order to be a foreman for McCoy, an employee must become certified with two ICF block manufacturers, complete ACI courses on rebar placement and concrete consolidation and an OSHA course on scaffolding training, and complete McCoy's personal carpentry test. Another battery of educational and safety courses is required to become a superintendent.
McCoy says all this emphasis on concrete education sets his company apart from many of his competitors. "We wanted to be a part of improving the quality of concrete in construction and improve the focus on the concrete and less on the block. We see a lot of installers who might know a lot about the foam block, but they don't know much about the concrete itself," he says.