Air Quality in ICF Structures

Controlling Indoor Air Quality

BuildBlock Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs) are used in all types of residential and commercial structures. BuildBlock walls provide unparalleled energy efficiency, safety, durability, comfort, and air quality.

The Importance of Good Air Quality

Indoor air quality is often something that people don’t think about until it goes bad. Maintaining a healthy environment is essential in any indoor space and ICFs provide a wall system that greatly assists in this effort.

Healthy air interior. Photo provided by Charis Homes

BuildBlock ICF walls provide a tight exterior building envelope. Walls that are “tight” (meaning they have low air infiltration) is the first step in controlling the indoor air environment. Due to the dense foam insulation that makes up ICFs and a solid airtight concrete wall, BuildBlock buildings have high R-values and low air infiltration rates. The solid concrete core provides superior thermal mass, meaning a lot of energy is required to change its temperature and eliminates the potential of outside air leakage. Compare that to a traditional wood framed home with loose cellulose or fiberglass insulation. Despite best practices and skilled labor, a wood home will almost always have voids in the wall especially around doors, windows, plumbing, and electrical outlets.

 A structure built with ICF walls and a wood roof will have reduced air infiltration of 75%. The healthiest, most energy efficient building is built “tight” with mechanical ventilation to ensure indoor air quality and moisture control. ICFs in conjunction with a good ventilation system will keep humidity levels in a healthy range and provide filtered, unpolluted air for everyone occupying the space.

Health Concerns- The EPA lists indoor air quality as one of the greatest threats to people’s health. Good indoor air quality is especially important for people with asthma and other allergies. ICF structures lower the interior humidity and unfiltered air in buildings and can help reduce the symptoms of asthma. We’ve seen BuildBlock homes that have significantly reduced or eliminated asthma breathing treatments for the individuals who previously needed them regularly (see this award-winning home from Charis Homes).

Dust mites– Most people who have allergies are sensitive to dust mites. Dust mites occupy duct systems as well as carpet, upholstery, bedding, etc. So simply cleaning out ventilation doesn’t eradicate the problem. Dust mites require a great amount of humidity to survive, so an ICF structure that can easily hold the humidity at 50% or lower goes a long way in reducing or eliminating the presence of dust mites.

Mold– Mold creates a very dangerous and unhealthy living environment. Both mold spores and the toxins they release can be harmful to people. Plus, if untreated, mold can cause costly structural damage. The materials used in ICFs do not mold or mildew. Like dust mites, mold requires higher humidity levels to survive, so building with mold proof materials and controlling humidity can eliminate mold growth.

Creating Quality Indoor Air

Heat and Air Utilities

As stated above, humidity control is a critical factor for healthy indoor air quality. The healthiest indoor environment is 40% to 50% humidity with temperatures ranging from 68º to 70º F. These levels are easy to accomplish with an ICF structure and you will save money every month because the ventilation units don’t have to work as long or as hard. The most cost-effective way of controlling indoor air quality is with a mechanical ventilation system which comes in these three types:

  • Exhaust Ventilation System – Stale air is drawn to a quiet vent and exhausted outdoors.
  • Balanced Ventilation System – Exhausts stale air out and brings fresh air in from the outside. These systems are called air-to-air heat exchangers or heat recovery ventilators.
  • Supply Ventilation System – Pressurizes the building, forcing the stale air out and controlling the humidity all within one system.  It allows for treating the fresh air before introducing it to the indoor air.  The treatment removes pollen, dust and mold spores from the outdoor air.

When discussing the benefits of ICFs we tend to focus on items like strength and energy efficiency. But air quality is an ever-present issue that ICFs offer a real tangible solution to. With ICF walls and a quality ventilation system, you can breathe easy knowing that contaminants from outside are staying where they belong. Click here to learn more about the benefits of building with ICFs.