by Ian Giesler
Ian Giesler, of ICF Builders, has been involved with ICF's for many years. He has experience with nearly every aspect of the ICF business from manufacturing, design, engineering, sales and marketing to construction.
I just finished watching a group of skydivers jumping out of an airplane with the intent of landing on a small strip of plastic on a field. Although a larger percentage missed, a surprisingly many successfully landed on the strip. I mentioned to the person next to me that it must not be that tough since many of them made it, to which he responded, "Don't kid yourself, they have been practicing this for years." The same thing holds for ICFs and bracing systems. I can recall the days when we took pride in making all of our own braces and took even more pride that we didn't need very many braces on some jobs. What we didn't take pride was in the fact that not all of our projects turned out as straight, plumb and square as we thought they should have.
Anyone that has been involved in the ICF business knows that as little as five years ago, the single most concern of nearly everyone investigating ICFs was whether or not it would withstand the rigors of fluid concrete, meaning "will it blow out?" Today, I think that has changed. The single most concern of people investigating ICFs is whether or not they can find someone that has experience in delivering plumb, square, level walls. If the last concern took as many as five years to overcome, how long will it take to overcome plumb, square and level? Theoretically, it shouldn't take long since nearly every manufacturer of ICFs recommends a wall alignment bracing system. However, the issue is getting people to invest in such equipment.
Here's an idea. What if distributors and dealers in geographical areas pitched in to purchase a wall alignment bracing system and "rented" it back to build walls? It's my guess that wall alignment bracing systems would no doubt be in the rental yards with waiting lists to rent it. In the meantime, how can a fragmented industry insist on selling only to customers that either have purchased a system or have a written "promise" to rent or pay someone that has the correct equipment to build the project on the jobsite? The answer is most likely, "you can't." But let's keep this in mind. How many times have we heard the following get repeated when a job goes bad, "Yep, I saw that job. Those walls were the waviest walls I had ever seen. I even waved back in disgust as I got back in the truck and told the client to find another builder. I wouldn't venture into ICFs with a ten foot pole." Now, what would they say about the very same project if it were to have had plumb, square, level walls?
A wall alignment bracing system is as much a standard tool for building with ICFs as a paintbrush is to a painter. If you think that you can build perfect walls without bracing systems, you're only kidding yourself. ICF walls may look plumb, square and level without bracing, but typically they aren't. In fact, many walls need even more than a wall alignment bracing system just to get them close to a tolerable level. Unfortunately, some installers still insist on using other methods, no doubt at a cost to the builder or owner of the projects and the industry. How can the industry back a campaign to insist on hiring or renting a wall alignment system with a professional installer/tech rep to visit the site to ensure correct application of the system?
Straight, plumb and square walls make successful jobs easier to attain. The cost of a typical factory made bracing system may cost as little as $75 to a high of $200 per set. If the set is to be flexible for various heights then the addition of accessories will lower the cost per brace. However, the installer then must inventory different parts for different wall heights, which ultimately leads to a greater dollar investment. Can the ICF industry do more to promote the right tools and equipment for the installation of the forms? Perhaps the focus should be which wall alignment bracing system am I going to buy rather than which form am I going to buy. For the newcomer to ICFs, many lessons don't have to be learned if the bracing system is purchased before the first form. Ask yourself this very important question: Where will I get access to a wall alignment system?