Fire Station Resilience: Building with Insulated Concrete Forms

Industry News

The Las Vegas fire department is opting for a greener approach by building LEED certified fire stations. Their construction material of choice? Insulated concrete forms (ICFs). The ICF stations will reduce energy consumption by an incredible 45% to 50%. Resistant to floods, high wind speeds and fire, ICF construction provides unprecedented protection for building occupants.

The greatest natural threat to lives and property in the US is wildfires. Each year wildfires kill more people than all the other natural disasters combined; an average of 3,700 fatalities annually. ICFs help to protect building occupants and property by offering exceptional resistance to fire with ratings of 3 to 4 hours. A spokesperson for the Portland Cement Association: “Of all construction materials, concrete is one of the most resistant to heat and fire. Experience shows that concrete structures are more likely to remain standing through fire than are structures of other materials. Unlike wood, concrete does not burn. Unlike steel, it does not soften and bend.”

Owner of Rentsch Construction in Reno, Bill Rentsch, had a close call with a wildfire recently. Bill and his wife Cindy were in their home when a wildfire swept through their neighborhood. Dry conditions and winds of 40 miles an hour spurred the flames on quickly. “The flames got within 20 feet of the house, and the heat of the fire was so intense it broke one window.” said Daniel Rentsch who designed the home for his parents. “But… it didn’t suffer even smoke damage.” Their home and all their belongings made it through the ordeal unscathed. Fifteen of their neighbor’s homes were completely gutted.

Amvic concrete formsReminiscent of large Lego pieces, ICFs are hollow building blocks that are made from expanded polystyrene (EPS) and stacked to form a wall. They are reinforced with metal rebar rods and the hollow centers are filled with concrete. ICF construction reduces the lengthy five-step building process to one easy step. This means fire stations will be completed in a fraction of the time it would take to construct them utilizing traditional building methods.

Once complete the ICFs form a monolithic structure with an extraordinary list of benefits. The thermal mass created by the insulated concrete walls provides the structure with an R-value of 24. In fact, energy savings of up to 50% are not uncommon.

Indoor air quality is improved as there is no off-gassing of volatile organic compounds such as those found in traditional construction materials. Impervious to mould or insects that plague wood-frame homes, concrete is also naturally waterproof and fire resistant which negates the need for chemicals to achieve the same effects.

Concrete is more fire-resistant than other construction materials and gives occupants more than enough time to safely exit the building. ICF constructed buildings have a high wind resistance and are extremely robust which gives them a greater resistance to tornadoes, earthquakes and floods. ICF walls are twice as strong as other concrete wall construction methods and four times as strong as wood-frame houses.

Construction with ICFs is slightly more expensive than traditional methods, but the ROI is attractive. So reliable are ICF buildings that insurance companies offer a 10 to 15% reduction on insurance premiums. Coupled with reduced utility expenses and extended longevity, the ICF building is a very worthwhile investment for the Las Vegas municipality.

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