Concreting a Space for Learning

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“Our taxes will pay for the building today, but our kids will pay to heat and cool it down the road,” resident Chad Johnson told the Farmington Area Public Library board at an open meeting.

Plans to replace the current library, a 3,000-square-foot building dating back to 1906, were finally moving forward after taxpayers in the Central Illinois community approved a measure to fund the project. Johnson, the founder of Sustainable Building Solutions, felt the community should make another wise choice by taking advantage of the numerous benefits offered by insulated concrete forms (ICFs) for the library construction.

Proven to provide superior insulation and the resulted energy savings, ICFs cut energy costs by as much as 70 percent. The construction method also creates a resilient building envelope that can withstand hurricane and tornado impacts of up to 250 mph. Utilizing ICFs also results in a fire protection rating of up to four hours.

Johnson and his wife, Candy, had built an ICF home in Farmington years earlier. “Our utility bills post-ICF are a fraction of what we used to pay in our 1920’s-era home,” Johnson noted.

“The ICF system interlocks, like LEGOs, to create one monolithic wall with a thickness from 4 to 12 inches, all of which provides superior fire protection, sound resistance, temperature control and additional occupant comforts,” said Todd Blyth, International Marketing Manager for NUDURA, an industry leader in the supply of insulated concrete forms. “You get a far stronger building – and it comes with a warm and inviting atmosphere.”

Blyth continued, “The materials you choose can make a big difference to the overall efficiency of your home. The walls, windows, roofing, ventilation and indoor climate control assist in the goal to completely offset energy consumption.”

But will it work here?

Architect Mark Misselhorn, AIA of Apace Design in Peoria had seen ICF homes but was unsure if the construction was right for the new library.

“I needed to know more before I could agree it was good for a public building, where design and construction standards are very different from homebuilding,” he explained.

Cost was a key concern, as local taxpayers would not approve a budget increase. "Also, our plans called for a dramatic high-low roof line,” says Misselhorn. “I wanted to be sure that structurally, ICF would support all the features we had in mind." Misselhorn did a thorough study of operational considerations, costs and benefits before recommending ICF construction for the new building.

Sensing some doubt, Johnson invited energy and construction experts to meet with the decision-makers. “We were able to show facts and studies that made the potential savings real,” Johnson said. “When the board had all the facts, they were excited.”

The learning curve

Bishop Brothers of Peoria, Ill. signed on as general contractors and in September ground was broken on the library project. Though they’d never previously worked with ICF construction, Bishop’s crew was up for the challenge. “There was definitely a learning curve, but we like working with new methods,” said Justin Bishop, project superintendent on the project.

Sustainable Building Solutions worked with NUDURA to provide training for Bishop’s team. A leader in providing the most thorough and advanced installer training available in the ICF industry, NUDURA was able to provide on-site technical support through Sustainable Building Solutions which offered real world ICF installation experience by breaking down the process and different scenarios that arise in the field. “Support and training are key and something that NUDURA and our Authorized Distributors pride ourselves on” said Blyth

“The lightweight forms fit together easily," Johnson said, "but precision is key, just as it is with conventional framing. Carpenters can readily adapt their skills to this method.”

The concrete team from Prairie Material provided a 4,000-psi mix with uniform, 3/4-inch aggregate for the job, noted Peoria Area Manager, Dave Minor. “No accelerators were needed, thanks to the insulating properties of the NUDURA forms,” he says. “As the concrete generates heat from the hydration process, most is retained in the walls.”

Sustainability wins

Bishop’s crew will place the concrete slab and move forward with all other elements later this summer. Despite delays, the 9,000-square-foot facility may open as early as September.

Meanwhile, visitors to the existing library can learn all about ICF construction at a special hands-on exhibit. “There’s been a lot of interest in what we’re doing,” said Barbara Love, Farmington’s Library Director. “ICF is not well-known in our area yet and people want to know more about it.”

Along with presenting examples of the NUDURA products utilized in the construction, the exhibit explains some of the benefits of ICF construction, such as:

  • Reusable materials: The interlocking forms include a unique folding web design that is manufactured from 100 percent-recycled polymers and steel.
  • Lower consumption: Unlike wood framing, concrete reduces the need for trees, and since it is one of the most durable building materials, concrete structures can be expected to stand the test of time.
  • Less carbon: When combined with other energy-efficient construction methods, building with concrete significantly reduces the amount of fossil fuels needed for heating and cooling and thus reduces the carbon footprint of the structure.
  • Less waste: Building with insulated concrete forms is cleaner during the construction process, sending less waste to landfills. Leftover material from ICFs is 100 percent recyclable.
  • Better air quality: Laboratory tests confirm that, unlike wood walls, ICFs do not support mold growth or any of the health irritants that arise from airborne mold spores.

Love and the board have taken a special pride in the new building’s sustainable, ADA-compliant design. An added dividend ideal for construction of a library: the concrete walls will make interior spaces especially quiet.

“These are improvements we’ve needed for a very long time,” Love said. “The new library will serve the community well for many, many years to come.”