When a homeowner imagines his new house rising from the ground, he likely pictures walls made of wood, not lightweight, polystyrene foam blocks.
But the unconventional building blocks, called insulated concrete forms, are increasingly garnering interest from people looking for more environmentally friendly homes.
The hollow polystyrene blocks are used to mold concrete for walls and also act as insulation, said Steve Burke, whose Mesa construction company uses the material.
“It keeps the hot air on the outside and the cool air on the inside,” he said.
Burke and his partners formed Our Turn Construction about a year ago.
The company is currently using the pale green blocks to build a custom home in Mesa’s Las Sendas development.
Insulated concrete forms, or ICFs, can help cut a home’s energy use up to 40 percent, Burke said. The concrete-filled blocks, which are reinforced with steel rods, also shut out noise and prevent pollen and molds from seeping into the house, he said.
ICF technology, which has been around for decades, is just one type of product that’s been swept into the spotlight as “green” building has gained in popularity.
Phoenix architect John Pela began noticing an increased interest in green building products about five years ago.
Rising energy costs in today’s beleaguered economy have only spurred that demand in recent months.
“Everybody’s more energy-conscious now,” said Pela, who designs homes and commercial projects.
Pela’s firm is designing an automobile museum in Texas that is made of recycled cars and tires.
The architect also recently launched a Web site, www.earthbuildingproducts.com, designed as an educational tool for interested buyers.
People know they want to be energy efficient but haven’t done the research, he said. Pela added that insulated concrete forms have become a hot topic at home shows.
“We’re seeing a lot of people inquiring about it,” he said. “It certainly saves a lot of trees.”
Local general contractor Steve Lenzmeier said his home, which was built with ICFs, is the most comfortable he’s ever owned. Burke’s team is working on his new, roughly 6,600-square-foot home and 875-square-foot guest house, which will also have ICF. Lenzmeier said he’ll have other environmentally friendly features like water-saving plumbing fixtures.
“It will be the building standard in the future because of the need to save energy and save resources,” he said.
Still, the green building trend hasn’t quite caught on with the public.
Many production builders haven’t jumped on board, Burke said. His firm is seeking a builder that will allow them to construct a model home using insulated concrete forms.
Once there is something tangible people can put their hands on, the average homeowner can compare for themselves, Burke said.
“The biggest part of my job is to educate people,” he said.