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Shelter from the mold

By JORDAN FOX

 

Shawn Mitchell believes in concrete.


Drive through the Tree Tops subdivision of Germantown and you’ll see a unique 2,600 square foot ranch house built by Shawn Mitchell. Like other new houses in the area, it’s attractive, yet it significantly differs from the others. How and why? Mitchell, who runs Victory Homes, says it’s not your father’s conventional wood frame home. "It’s a house that’s framed by insulating concrete forms (ICFs)," he explains.

Although ICF construction is popular in the South, where termites are not uncommon, concrete houses are new to the Milwaukee area. "They cost two percent to five percent more than conventional houses, but paybacks in terms of energy savings are relatively fast," Mitchell maintains.

"ICFs comprise one of the fast growing sectors in the construction industry because they are environmentally friendly," he says. "They reduce the use of wood products; they’re energy efficient because of excellent insulation and reduce heating and cooling costs, typically by as much as 50 percent each month. They’re also sound suppressing."

These forms are modular blocks made of expanded polystyrene (EPS). The blocks, once erected, create the form onto which concrete is poured. After the concrete is cured, the forms stay in place and provide insulation for the house’s walls.

ECO-Block, the brand of ICFs that Mitchell prefers, does not contain formaldehyde, asbestos or fiberglass, he says. "The EPS used in ECO-Block is stable and inert and won’t break down over time. It’s hypoallergenic. So the quality of indoor air is improved. The ECO-Block also has high thermal mass - the solid concrete core surrounded by insulation, inside and out, acts like a buffer resisting temperature swings from day to night and back again."

With mold a significant issue today, Mitchell believes ICFs and their insulation properties offer another important advantage to local home buyers.

Mitchell, who has primarily been a stick-built (lumber) builder since he started his company in 1999, researched ICFs extensively and decided to be one of the first builders of concrete homes in the area.

In addition to the Germantown ICF home, he has built one in Menomonee Falls and another in Caledonia.

According to the Portland Cement Association, about 25 percent of the above grade, single family residential market in the USA will be composed of concrete homes by the end of 2003. The instability of energy prices, as well as the lack of electricity and natural gas supplies in most markets has impacted the growth of ICFs.

"As long as home owners seek refuge from $350 a month energy bills and rising insurance rates because of mold, ICFs will thrive," predicts Mitchell.