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Reduce Costs and Build Greener with Innovative Building Systems & Products
By Pam Hunter

Architects, contractors and other building professionals increasingly are using some innovative products that offer benefits that range from increased energy efficiency to lower costs. Many of the products—even though some have been on the market for years—have become more prominent as a result of a heightened interest in sustainability and green building techniques. 

Concrete Form Masonry Units (CFMUs) by Pentstar Corporation offer the benefits of multi-layer masonry walls in one unit. Each CFMU unit sandwiches insulation material between its two faces and includes a cavity that is filled with reinforcement and ready mix concrete.Concrete Form Masonry Units (CFMUs), developed by Minneapolis-based Pentstar Corporation in the late 1990s, offer the benefits of multi-layer masonry walls in one unit. While typical multi-layer masonry walls consist of structural block wall, a vapor barrier, insulation and a veneer member, CFMUs consolidate all of these elements into one compact unit that is installed in one application. “It is a new building product that is not just a traditional block—it’s a complete building system in one unit,” says John Spakousky, president and founder of Pentstar® Corporation and the inventor of the CFMU. 

CFMUs are used primarily in the institutional and commercial markets, where durability and high thermal performance are desirable. CFMUs have an R-value equivalency of R-20 to R-26 and is a four-hour rated firewall.CFMUs provide a finished wall for both the interior and exterior of the assembly in a variety of masonry options that include clay brick, granite, marble, glazed ceramic tile, or standard concrete masonry finishes such as split face, ground face or glazed block. Each CFMU unit sandwiches insulation material between its two faces and includes a cavity that is filled with reinforcement and ready mix concrete. The result is a watertight system that has the strength of cast-in-place concrete, an R-value equivalency of R-20 to R-26 and is a four-hour rated firewall.

Spakousky says CFMUs are both water-resistant and energy efficient. “Concrete acts as a vapor barrier within the wall, and there is no conductive path for heat or cold or moisture to work its way through the wall to where it could cause condensation, either on the wall or within the wall,” he explains. 

CFMUs are used primarily in the institutional and commercial markets, where durability and high thermal performance are highly desirable. Spakousky adds that CFMUs are useful on projects where sustainability is a key objective. “If I can eliminate all the extra steps associated with a typical building that has a steel framework and masonry infill and vapor barriers and applied insulation, interior and exterior finishes, etc.—and use only one product, one trade and one process construct the entire envelope of a building – there is an obvious, dramatic and direct savings on the environment,” he says. 

Dave Moore, a principal and owner of Architects Alaska in Anchorage and Wasilla, Alaska, used CFMUs for the first time on the exterior skin of a middle school project in South Central Alaska. Architects Alaska collaborated on the project with Kenai, Alaska-based architectural firm Klauder & Company. “One of the things that was attractive to us about it was that once the wall is done... you’re done with both the interior and exterior finish of the exterior building envelope. You save quite a bit of time for the contractor that way,” he says. 

Insulating Concrete Forms
Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs) have been used in North America for approximately 40 years, but they are gaining popularity because of their high R-values, durability and general energy efficiency. 

ICFs encapsulate reinforced concrete with lightweight polystyrene foam and can be used in various structural configurations, including standard walls and grids. 

Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs) encapsulate reinforced concrete with lightweight polystyrene foam and can be used in various structural configurations, including standard walls and grids.Although ICFs have traditionally been used on residential projects, architects and builders increasingly are using them for commercial applications, says Patrick Murphy, president of American PolySteel®, Albuquerque, N.M., which manufacturers ICFs. “One of the things ICFs have offered in the commercial market over the past five years or so is the recognition that high performance envelopes can be achieved less expensively with ICFs than most of the other alternatives,” Murphy says.

Like CFMUs, ICFs are becoming increasingly attractive to the green building market. “Expanded polystyrene as an insulation material is extraordinarily durable,” Murphy says. “It doesn’t absorb moisture like other types of insulation do, so that the insulation that you install when you build the building performs at the same level for hundreds if not thousands of years, because it’s all enclosed and encapsulated.” 

Interestingly, Murphy says, traditionally green building advocates have tended to disregard ICFs as a sustainable material because cement requires a certain amount of energy to produce. However, “the reality is that when you look at life-cycle costs, about 95 percent of the energy requirements for a building are from operations, heating, and cooling, while only about 5 percent are from the initial construction, including the embodied energy in the building materials themselves.” 

Jim Nicolow, an architect with the Atlanta office of Lord, Aeck & Sargent, used ICFs on the Eco Office project for the Southface Energy Institute in Atlanta. The project is a 10,000-square-foot addition to the Southface headquarters building. When completed later this year, the environmental non-profit will use the Eco Office as a showcase of commercial green building products and techniques.

ICFs offer “great” thermal performance Nicolow says. “The system provides a very sound, uninterrupted thermal envelope as well as a tight envelope that controls air infiltration, combining structure, insulation, and air-barrier in a single system.” 

Pre-Panelized System 
The Infinity System includes pre-panelized walls giving a faster installation time. The quicker installation time results in the building getting dried in faster making the overall construction schedule shorter.Architects and construction professionals with an eye on costs are increasingly considering the Infinity Structural System, manufactured by Infinity Structures, Inc., in Alpharetta, Ga., for mid-rise apartment buildings, condos, hotels, senior living facilities, lofts, and student housing. The Infinity System consists of the Epicore® MSR composite floor system supported by pre-panelized load-bearing metal stud walls. The system is geared specifically for mid-rise projects between four and eight stories, particularly in urban settings where the price of land is expensive. Because the Infinity System’s metal studs are non-combustible and several gages are available to handle the structural loads, more floors can be stacked on top of each other in the same footprint allowing more units than the developer could build using a wood frame, explains Infinity’s president, Jeff Hundley, P.E. 

Cutler Associates used the Infinity Building System at the Virginia Wesleyan College Student Apartments & Townhouses in Norfolk, Virginia. The Infinity System consists of the Epicore® MSR composite floor system supported by pre-panelized load-bearing metal stud walls.Moreover, because the Infinity System includes pre-panelized walls, the system is quicker to install than the traditional approach using a masonry, steel, or formed concrete structure with field built walls, according to Hundley. “When you install the load-bearing metal stud wall panels and pour your concrete on the Epicore MSR Composite Floor Deck, you end up with most of your walls already in place, so your building gets dried in faster, and your overall construction schedule is shorter than if you were to go with a traditional concrete or steel frame, where you have to field build your walls after the structure is up.” This also helps the contractor reduce his cost for general conditions, which reduces the overall cost to the owner, Hundley says.

Tom Dube, a senior project manager with Cutler Associates, a Worcester, Mass.-based architectural firm, says Cutler used the Infinity Building System on a student housing project at Virginia Wesleyan College in Norfolk, Va., largely because of cost and schedule considerations. “The nice thing is that you’re not only building the structure, but you’re also building the walls—both interior and exterior—at the same time and in most cases it’s a little better in cost and schedule than structural steel.” 

Whatever system a designer uses, one key to energy efficiency rests in creating a tighter building envelope, notes Lord, Aeck & Sargent’s Nicolow. “From a green design standpoint, the approach we take is really reducing the [energy demands], so the better you can make the envelope of the building and the better the thermal performance of the building, the less energy it’s going to require to condition the interior, regardless of what system you use.”


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