St. Louis ICF Home a Hit

For the first time ever, the St. Louis HomeArama 2000, which took place from June 9-25, featured a home built using Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF).

By Meghan Stromberg, Senior Editor | July 10, 2000


With an average of 4000 visitors a day on the weekends, HIW’s energy-efficient home was a popular stop at the St. Louis HomeArama, winning it three awards including the People’s Choice.


For the first time ever, the St. Louis HomeArama 2000, which took place from June 9-25, featured a home built using Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF). The building material, although used commonly for its strength in areas plagued by hurricanes -- and increasingly in areas with extreme cold or tornadoes -- is relatively new to the St. Louis market.

Gary W. Schwartz, president and CEO of HIW Inc., and builder of the unique St. Louis HomeArama home, says he chose ICF in this case because of its superior insulating properties.

"I've been following ICF construction for about 10 years now, and three years ago we did out first project using it," says Schwartz. "This was our sixth home [built with ICF], and we’ve heard nothing but praise because it is so quiet and energy efficient."

In addition, says Schwartz, ICF is a good "green" choice not only because it insulates well, but because it cuts down drastically on wood consumption.

The reason why ICF is so efficient is simple: the foam forms used when pouring the concrete remain in place after the concrete cures, providing the complete insulation system for the house. With ICF, there is insulating foam on both the exterior and interior of the wall.

Typical insulation values with ICF are from R-17 to R-26, as compared to R-13 to R-19 for most wood-framed walls. In the HIW house, however, R values in excess of 50 were achieved.

Due to the insulating properties of the ICF used on all six sides of the home -- walls, floor and roof -- HIW’s home is one of the most energy-efficient homes to be built in the Midwest, according to Nordyne, the manufacturer of the heating and cooling elements used in the home. "Due to its energy efficient construction, Nordyne simply needed to supply a set of three Tappan air handlers with integral heating elements; a home of this size typically requires two to three times as much equipment to provide comfortable heat," says Doug Land, director of marketing at Nordyne.

A key feature of the heating and cooling system of the home is the air-to-air exchanger, which exhausts inside air and brings in fresh air from the outside using a pipe system that allows the exiting warm air to heat the outside air as it comes in.

This transfer of heat is 75% more efficient than allowing unheated air to enter. Plus, since ICF makes for such a tight home, the exchanger is essential for healthy indoor air, another main concern of green builders.

The local utility company, Ameren UE, is monitoring the separate cooling, lighting and major appliance meters of the home via its Data Metering Service (DMS) to keep an eye on its energy savings. Although the most recent cooling readings are not indicative of normal performance -- the home’s air conditioning had been running full bore for the three-week show, at a cost of about $8 a day -- builder Schwartz projects normal costs will be less than half that.

In addition to its use of ICF, the HIW home is built with other green principles in mind. The walk-out atrium ranch features stamped concrete floors on the lower level and cherry wood veneer and ceramic floors on the main level, thereby reducing the danger of sickness from molds and other toxins associated with carpet.

The only rooms with carpet are the bedrooms. In one bedroom, aimed at accessibility -- as is most of the house (with four-foot wide hallways, three-foot wide doors and an elevator shaft posing as a closet until needed) -- the carpet is a low-pile, commercial-grade carpet. A good choice, since about 300 visitors to the HomeArama were in wheelchairs, says Schwartz.

Considering the success of the HomeArama ICF home, Schwartz plans to build more like it. And St. Louis can expect to see a lot more of these homes, says Jim Curry of Breckenridge Material Company, the distributor of the Blue Maxx ICF system used in the house.

"St. Louis is one of the slowest markets I know for change, and Missouri is a pretty conservative state, but I did eight homes last year and expect to double that this year."

Now that the show is over, the HIW home is for sale and will likely go quickly, considering all its features. The company received two awards from the Greater St. Louis Home Builders Association, and the visitors to the home cast their ballots in favor of HIW’s home for the People’s Choice Award.