Building with Polystyrene Forms and Concrete

Project: Building an Addition for an Elderly Parent, Episode 2, Part 1

The finished addition will look like the original traditional shingled home and be indistinguishable from the house, but the construction technologies and innovative products in use are anything but traditional. Bob talks with Ron Ardres from ReddiForm about their polystyrene blocks, or ICFs, that reduce steps and labor.  With contractor Todd LaBarge, Bob learns about Insul-Tarp and efficient concrete pours.  Jason McKinnon of Viega North America and Tim Cutler, of TJ’s Plumbing & Heating explain PEX tubing and radiant heat.  Jim Niehoff of the Portland Cement Association and builder Howard Brickman talk about the almost unheard of speed with which the addition is coming together and the anticipated energy-efficiency of the new building. By using concrete and foam construction for the footing, garage, first-floor slab, and walls, and also being used to set up for the upper levels of the addition, significant savings in time, energy, and cost are achieved.

Part 1: Building with Polystyrene Forms and Concrete
The area has been excavated and the slab and footing poured. The pour was done in one step. A number of innovative products were used to make the process faster and easier. Insul-Tarp, an innovative all-in-one vapor barrier and insulation product, was used underneath the floor slab. ReddiForm polystyrene blocks or ICFs, are being used for the walls.

Bob talks with Ron Ardres from ReddiForm about their modified ICF system that reduces steps, labor and money and, thus, speeds the construction. The blocks, lightweight but strong enough to support heavy weight and resist high compression, are simple in design. Their unique layout and flexibility reduces the waste factor to roughly two percent. Steel and glue help reinforce the structure.

In this home, the blocks will be stacked seven and a half feet high to create a basement and a two-car garage. Once the basement walls are complete, foam forms will be put in place horizontally over the structure to act as the first-floor slab.
Part 2: Building a First-Floor Slab and Walls with Concrete
Part 3: Pouring the Upper-Story Walls and Saving Energy with Concrete Construction
More and more homeowners are converting their houses into multi-generational homes for themselves, their children, and their aging parents. In Norwell, MA, Bob Vila meets a couple making room for a mother-in-law.

Also from Building an Addition for an Elderly Parent

  • Episode 1 - Reviewing Wetland Protection and Laying the Foundation


    <p>Bob introduces homeowner Howard Brickman, who is building a new addition for an aging parent that will nearly double the size of his colonial home in Norwell, MA. It showcases concrete building technology that is streamlined, efficient, and versatile.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>There were some delays in obtaining a building permit because the home is near a quaking bog that serves as a wildlife habitat and natural filtration system for the town. Steve Ivas, an environment consultant, leads a tour of neighboring Black Pond Bog.&nbsp; Formed by melting glacial remains, the pond is covered by a moss layer that has since formed a 20-foot thick fibrous mat.&nbsp; At the home site, a hay-bale buffer was created on the property to protect a connected wetland from erosion or runoff during the project.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>At every step, time and materials savings speed the construction and save countless hours of labor.&nbsp; A monolithic pour, or single pour that would normally take three, is used for the concrete slab and frost walls.&nbsp; ReddiForm's innovative plastic footing ICF forms are used to create and reinforce the structure.&nbsp; Insul-Tarp is used to create an insulated vapor barrier and reflect heat back into the living spaces.&nbsp; Fibers are blended into the concrete mix, eliminating the need for a traditional steel reinforced mesh.</p>
  • Episode 3 - Installing Garage Doors, Framing the Interior, and Upper-Floor Decking


    <p>Bob is on site where insulated, steel garage doors are being installed to replace the original, low-budget fiberboard doors. He walks through the new insulated concrete addition with the homeowner Howard Brickman, who explains how the layout of this in-law addition essentially doubles the size of the existing home. They talk about the concrete construction, how quickly it went up, and how insulated concrete form (ICF) construction allowed them to get a basement and slab, full upper story, walls, and first floor poured for nearly the same amount of concrete as a traditional basement wall-and-slab design.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>This building process purposely uses innovative techniques and improved building practices &ndash; like the stay-in-place forms for the footings, the under-slab insulation and vapor barrier, the engineered lumber for I-joists and rafters, and the innovative DryPly decking being used for the second floor. Not only do these these technologies reduced waste, but any waste generated is being sorted for reuse.</p>
  • Episode 4 - Metal Roofing, Solar Roof Panels, Siding, and Trim


    <p>As the house is being closed in, work can begin on the roof. Homeowner Howard Brickman decides to install a special underlayment that will allow the roof to breathe and clear any attic moisture that might build up. A peel-and-stick membrane is applied to keep out exterior moisture before the Galvalume standing-seam metal roof is installed using a steel and aluminum mix that prevents rust and deterioration at the cut edges.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The roof is finished with a set of photovoltaic panels that will absorb the sun&rsquo;s energy and send it to a basement inverter that will convert it into AC power and store it for the household's electricity. If more power is generated than needed, it will be sent back along the power grid to the power utility for a homeowner's rebate to offset future energy spending.</p> <p>&nbsp;</p> <p>The closing in of the house is completed with fiberglass-framed windows that feature low-e glass, a slim-profile sash, dual-operation sash that go up from the bottom or down from the top, and a tilt-in design for easy cleaning. The core humidity in the building materials is logged and the moisture is sucked out to dry the house before walls are installed and mold has a chance to take hold. Outside, preparations are underway to attach fiber cement siding and cellular PVC molding that will last without painting and can be profiled on site.</p>
  • Episode 5 - Finishing up with Cedar Porch, Fireplace, and Stone Veneer

Hi. I'm Bob Vila. Welcome to the show here in Norwell, Massachusetts where we're putting an addition on an existing Garrison colonial to create an in law suite.

And we're using all sorts of new technologies for concrete form work like insul-tarps and ready forms, fab Forms in I.C.F's.

Anyway all these things are meant to make the construction process go more quickly and the end results much more sturdy. Stick around, it's going fast.

Our project here in Norwell, Massachusetts involves putting an addition on an existing 24 year old house to create an in-law suite, another transition in life when we aging baby-boomers Welcome back our parents. In this case what we're doing is building a lower-level two car garage , and then above it, we'll have a spacious suite.

Now, the interesting thing that we want to show you is the construction technology that's being used. Last week, we excavated and we poured the slab and footing for the entire addition.

All monolithically, all one pour. A monolithic pour, including the footing and the slab means that everything is done in one step instead of two or three. So we've used a number of innovative products that make it easier to pour both the slab and the footings.

We've also used a different product that is called Insul-Tarp which is used instead of a moisture barrier. It provides both insulation and a moisture barrier underneath the floor slab when it's poured.

Now these white blocks that we were looking at are ReddiForm. Let's go down and learn all about them.

Ron Ardres is here from ReddiForm, and Ron, you are the man who invented this concept, right?


How did it ever occur to you that you could make forms out of, you know, not Dixie Cups? Well, I wish I could take the credit for it, but it was invented many years ago, the idea was invented.


I just improved upon it.

You modified it.

I've modified it.

Alright, listen closely what we have got here. I mean these are short sections that basically are just laid down over the slab.


They will all get filled up with concrete.


What makes the product unique, this product unique is that basically these two forms, the corner form and straight form does it all.

Because there's no copper bottom, no left or right, no up or down. So it goes together this way, it goes together this way, it goes together this way.

So therefore. It's a left corner?


And it's a right corner, all in one.

All right, so it makes real easy from the point of view of the installers.

Exactly a very simple and reduces waste, the waste factor in this is like 2 percent. What about the strength, I mean, don't you have to worry about the...?

No, stand on it. Please.

Yeah, okay.

You can actually bury this in the ground and back fill both sides before you fill it.

Okay. All right, let's go through the steps of what else they are actually doing. You do have to reinforce it, right?

Yes. Absolutely. The design is, and the design really came from pan floors on huge construction jobs.


A pan floor is, they take away some of the concrete that they don't need.

Yeah. Right.

All right? So we're taking away the concrete but adding steel for reinforcement.

And how are we tying it to the slab?

What we do is dowel in. In this case, because there's so many holes it's hard to place the steel in this slab.

In the slab and have it projecting through.

Right. Because, then you wind up cutting them off, you're not exact.


So it's just as easy to place the form down and drill through the cells to where you want the dowels.

Where you want the dowels.


Which are steel rebars.

Right. And you can epoxy them in in case of where you have uplift in Florida.


Or if not, you just put 'em down in the hole and that's just for sheer.

When you say uplift in Florida, you mean in hurricane situations where you have--

Yes, yes.

Pressure systems trying to lift up the roof.


Now what am I what am I looking at way down here. Is that an adhesive?

Yes, what we do here in this case, we just put it to the building line and glue it down.

That's it.

So you got the rebar and the glue.

Right, exactly.

Yeah, and then do you have to add additional rebar horizontally to the house?


Every few courses?

Yes. In this case, the the amount of steel is determined what you want from wind loading or back fill pressure. Okay?


Okay. In an above grade application we would put the piece of steel vertically every third cell, every second or third cell.

Now we can increase that, like in Florida you need a hundred forty mile an hour wind loads.


We just add a piece of steel every sell then, in that cupboard.


It just increases the wind pressure.

And here, one of the objectives obviously is speed of construction and Yes. And so what we're doing is we're continuing to build this up to 7 1/2 foot height.

In this case, yes.

In this case, we're in, this will be a basement and a two car garage. And then above that we're actually going to form up a slab system.

Yes, we're gonna actually take a foam, a piece of foam, that will span from here to there with the middle wall. It's actually going to span from this wall to the center wall, and then back to the other wall.

Now that particular span is like nineteen feet. We're gonna set that up out of foam, we're going to temporary support underneath of it and then we're going to put steel in it.

And then we're going to pour that slab as well as the wall in one continuous pour.

Fantastic. Okay, so Ron, we're standing on the actual concrete slab. Let's go through the steps. What happened first?

Okay, first we erected the side walls out of our foam block. Okay. Then, we span the entire floor with foam decking. It's ten inch deep decking with grooves in it.


And then we temporarily supported that with false work every six feet, to support it until the concrete sets.

But what about the steel?

Well, these grooves every two feet are for steel and you put steel in there with stirrups. Much like a parking garage. If you went into a parking garage you see these beams coming down.


And we're actually doing that, we're forming it right here, with foam.

Okay, and then the other element that's already included in there is the Pex tubing, right?

Yes. And that's put down on top of the foam after the steel is put in, after the steel rebar is put in. Then on top of that, on top of the Pex, there is a roll out mesh or mesh that goes down and then we pour it.

And of course the Pex tubing is what will provide the hot water for warming this whole environment.


And we learned all about Pex the other day.

What we got here is electronically cross linked polyethylene tubing. We got through a cross linking process which makes the tubing stronger, more resistant to high temperatures and higher pressures.

What we are going to do is take this Pex tubing and place it in the concrete slab.

Essentially, what we're going to do is create a low temperature radiator with the entire slab. We're going to have high temperature waters running through this coil.

As the water runs though the tubing, its going to dissipate heat into the slab, essentially creating that high temperature radiator. What that's gonna do is become the heat source for that entire area that we're trying to heat.

We're using the Pextron tubing. In a radiant heat application, we evenly space the tubing across the floor. It heats the mass. We're not heating any air in this application.

We load the BTU's in to the mass. Our boiler looks at outdoor temperature and it modulates based on weather conditions.

So, we actually send exactly what we need to heat the building, though the floor. And it moves up and down based on design conditions, what's going on outside.

Our, our heat loss analysis here, showed nine inch spacing for five circuits. We used the electronically cross linked Pextron tubing made by Vega.

This, this tubing has 10,000 volts of electricity sent through it and the manufacturing process and it causes the molecules to cross link. Once the molecule cross link, the tubing is virtually indestructible.

It also has an oxygen barrier sprayed on it, which protects the boiler and the heating system from getting any oxygen inside, which will cause a cast iron sectional boiler to deteriorate.

In our installation process for the tubing we use this plastic clip with prongs on it, and this foam staple gun right here, to just clip the tubing right to the foam.

And so once the pex is all in then you actually bring in the concrete. You're pouring the slab we're standing on and that lower wall all at once?

Yes, exactly. and it's supported by vertical bracing, such as this?

I was gonna say, you don't have to worry about it, blowing out.


So , you've got this kind of bracing in place which is obviously incorporating ...

A scaffold.

A scaffolding system.


It's all in one, ok.

It's all in one.

And what's unique about this type of form is that you can pull it one cell solid lift.


10, 12 feet in the air, one shot.

Okay, so now we're ready for the next level of concrete.

Exactly. And once this is poured, we'll start the second floor, and the gable side. Alright so Todd, just to recap what's already happened here, I mean you're the contractor, you've done this before for ten years right?

Yeah, absolutely.

So you've got a lot of experience with this.

It's like a very fast working process.

Yes, we did this. We had the first floor walls up and I think we were in here for two days and then we had another day for staging.

Yeah, so just two concrete pours have taken place. That got in your footing. I got in your garage slab, the first floor walls, and the slab that we're looking at down here, right?

Right, the structural floor.

Any idea how many yards of concrete has gone into these two pours?

We're pushing seventy.

Pushing seventy.

Seventy yards, yeah.

Okay. And of course the thing is built like a fortress. But now what we've got is all the form work in place for the upper level as well as for this gable end wall.


Which, you know, if you think think about it, that's really amazing that you can go up this high with a gable end like this.

And all of it is just, styroform forms. Let's review again how the forms are put together.

So the of course, there's a tooth system and they lock into each other.


And that, when they put the concrete on top of the web, that pinches the joint down together and makes it really tight. It makes it a more stable form.

And the rebar is already in place in most of these areas, right?

Right, we have no-tie rebar chairs, that we just drop the rebar right through the center of the circle ties.

OK, and I just noticed that he was just passing up some more rebar, so that means that as the pour is going along, you have to insert additional pieces?

We've got, anywhere were the rebar is short, we'll put some dowels in, to make a lap splice.

This is kind of neat because it's a clear story so this side of the gable is gonna be higher than this side of the gable.

And because of the solar, he's gonna have the windows coming in on that base of the wall there that's exposed.

So what we're doing is capping off the higher end of gable end.

Exactly. So the concrete won't flow out of there.

Exactly. So all we need to do is put a little bit of glue on there.

Al will probably put some nails in there that tack while that glue sets and then were good to go.

You 'll be able to pour up there without any kind of, oh yeah.

He's got some wire holding it, but it's actually the glue is going to hold it together,

Because the glue minimally expanding, the ties that he is putting in basically hold the foam in place until the glue sets up.

Until the glue sets up.

This glue is definitely some powerful stuff.

Yeah, and this is the backside of the gable end, which of course is higher. By about 3 and a half feet, then the front side in order to allow for our clear story. glazing, which is part of the solar plan here.


So you can see we can make the foam adapt to any shape that we need to.

OK. So, are we ready, ready to pour the concrete?

Yeah, I am.

And what you've got essentially is a big bumper truck behind us here, and where's the operator?

The operator's down here in on the deck.

There he is. So that man over there who's got the yellow box, the control box.

He tries to stay close to me, so we both know what we're doing during the pour.

And we're going to start at the back end. Right?


All right, lets get started.

All right.

Keep pumping. Good.

A little more.



Okay, so what we're watching them do up there is, kinda like, the final step after pouring the concrete into the form work. They've already included the threaded rod, and they've pre-drilled the top plate of the wall.

So, that basically, will be the transition. The wooden transition from concrete to the wooden roof system and this is all about speed, so it's going very, very well.

It's week two of our project here, and we're going to spend a minute chatting with Jim Neha from the Portland Cement Association, and of course, Howard Rickman, who is our homeowner here.

But Jim, what are some of the advantages of this kind of a project, of building with concrete to this extent?

Well, building with concrete or with the insulating concrete forms, it has a lot of advantages for the builder and the homeowner.

For the builder, it's an easy system to learn, it can really save them a lot of time during the construction process.

For the homeowner, you're getting a very energy efficient house. It's not unusual to get savings on your heating and cooling costs of 30-40% .

In this system that combines the insulation with the form work, you mean.

Correct, you've got a combination of concrete and foam. So again, the energy savings can be as high as 30%, 40%, possibly even greater on your heating and cooling.

It's obviously a great system with several inches of concrete in the wall for disaster areas, hurricane and tornado, in particular. you've got experience with that.


And Howard, how are you feeling about it? Do you think you've gone in the right direction?

Oh, definitely. It's a very efficient process. The crew here has only actually been on the site 7 work days.

That's amazing.

It's just absolutely phenomenal how efficient the process has been. Plus, it's eliminated the need for any exterior wall framing.


No insulation is going to be required.


It's really a phenomenal process that we have developed here. So right now, the shell of the house is complete except for the rafters on the roof.

Exactly. I mean, it's almost like it's a one step process, of course the end product is going to look like a traditional shingled house in New England, right?

Exactly, it'll actually have lap siding, but you wouldn't be able to tell it from the old part of the house or from one of the neighbors' houses.

Right, and you are obviously very interested in the energy conservation aspects of this, being able to operate it on a dime as opposed to a dollar. So, are you confident that that's gonna be a good a good direction?

We're pretty confident, we're pretty confident, uh, we've actually downsized.

We put radiant heat in the, in the concrete slabs and we actually downsized the radiant heat because of the tremendous energy conservation capability of this system, so we're anticipating that the addition is probably gonna cost us about 30% as much to heat as the whole rest of the house.

And your mother-in-law still wants to come live here, right?

So far.

Okay, good, Jim thanks thanks for coming on.

Thank you, Bob.

We're running short of time. Next week, we'll be installing some beautiful garage doors that actually they look like old carriage house doors.

We're using Plytanium plywood up on the deck. We'll show you how that works.

And we're doing some new water-proofing materials on the foundation. Until then, I'm Bob Vila.

Thanks for joining us.



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