I work in IT. I have no construction experience but I don't mind getting my hands dirty and figuring out how to do something. My wife and I decided to build our first, and most likely last house. We decided to build an energy effecient ICF home and it was one heck of a ride.

I had a blog that roughly documents the process at http://icftfsystemshome.blogspot.com/ I would love to help anyone who is considering building or living in and enrgy effecient home.

EDIT: I am signing off for now. I will bring this up again when we have another winter under our belts. Thanks for all the questions.

Comments: 131 • Responses: 42  • Date: 

MrDL10412 karma

How does concrete impact future renovation/ fixing plans?

With normal 2x4 construction you can just knock out some drywall if you need to fix any wiring or run cable for a new outlet. What's the process like for concrete?

Are the walls just framed and filled with concrete? I'm guessing for insulation purposes, you would just need to do the exterior walls that way.

onesojourner8 karma

The wiring is all ran in the foam so you could pull down some drywall for a repair.

onesojourner4 karma

The concrete does complicate things. Adding a new window or door would be a massive project but If you just wanted to add a new outlet or something on the outside it would not be to bad.

The walls exterior walls are "framed" with plastic spreaders and 5 inches of styrofoam. The middle is filled with concrete.

rossislegend10 karma

Sounds really neat - what initially inspired you to begin such a project?

onesojourner15 karma

We lived in a 1100 sqft house. We heated with gas and kept our thermometer set at 60 degrees, our utility bill could top $200 a month in the winter. In the summer it was around 80 degrees and we would push $170 amonth. We decided it was time for a change.

Lisrus5 karma

What is the new utility bill compared to the old one?

onesojourner1 karma

The old house we conditioned about 600 sq feet. The new house we condition about 3200 sq feet. The average utility bill for both was about $120 a month. Also note that we had the same small woodstove in both houses. We burn about 1-2 cords a year. For the hvac system we went with a 13s unit. Going with a more efficient unit, or geo would have had a significant impact on the utility bill of the new house, had we not decided to heat with wood.

Random_dg1 karma

Why do you need to keep it set at a specific temperature? Why not just heat when you want to, cool when you want to? I've seen other redditors write something like this and still no explanation.

Keeping it at a constant temperature sure sounds to me expensive, but the first method of countering that, that I can think of, is to turn it off when I'm not at home or when it doesn't bother me.

Jinassi-1 karma

Because you use less energy if you have a constant temperatur, rather than heating/cooling in intervals.

You can try it with your hot water tank if you have one suitable. You surely have it set to constant temperature and you surely don't turn if off everyday after usage, because you do not need it.

It's going full blast to reach needed temperature, every time you turn it on. When it's on constant temperature, it only needs short bursts to keep it on the level.

onesojourner3 karma

That is actually not true. It is cheaper to let the temperature drop and then warm it back up. I know this from my old house.

broenix9 karma


onesojourner12 karma

We started by buying some land. Then I borrowed a copy of chief architect and learned how to use it. I worked on the design for about 3 months. I tried to maximize solar gain and many other things while designing. Yes it is legal. Why would it not be?

OathOfFeanor7 karma

Could you please elaborate on the steps you needed to MAKE it legal?

Obviously you were dealing with a home inspector, etc. You didn't just start pouring concrete one day without building permits, etc. Right? Someone had to approve your plans...they can't let inexperienced architects design buildings without review...things would be falling down all over the place. How did you make sure you comply with all kinds of building codes?

It's not so much that we think it would be illegal, just that there would be some legal hoops to jump through.

lafeeverte175 karma

Depending on the state, if his home is located on rural property, then no, no he would probably not need any type of home/code inspection.

In many areas, building inspection requirements are a local issue necessitated by a city government that uses their permit "fees" as a source of revenue.

If his location does require code inspections, many cities allow homeowners to apply for permits, submit blueprints, and obtain inspections just like licensed contractors.

sanityreigns1 karma

Depending on the state, if his home is located on rural property, then no, no he would probably not need any type of home/code inspection

I find this difficult to believe. Can you provide any evidence of that? I have land in rural areas, and on none of it could I build whatever the hell I want.

onesojourner1 karma

There are several counties with in an hour drive of me that have no building restrictions. You can build what ever you want however you want. The county will asses it and collect taxes. Banks may never give you a loan for it, but you can build it if you have the cash.

boombooms2 karma

Exactly. Lots of things would almost have to be contracted out - HVAC, electrical, plumbing. Sure you can do those things yourself, but to get it inspected and passed is another thing. Theory and practice are two very different things.

onesojourner8 karma

For example: I found an electrician that would keep us on the right track. I paid him $25 an hour. He drew up a plan. We did all the labor and he came and checked up on us when I would call. I paid him about $500.

onesojourner2 karma

It really depends on where you live. We are outside the city limits so we only had to deal with the county building department. I took my plans to an architect and had him tweak them and sign off on them. That would be the place to start. Then I took the plans to the building department for approval. The codes are all on the county website.

OathOfFeanor2 karma

Ah OK, thanks!

Just bought a home last year so I am somewhat committed for a while. But especially with the advent of 3D concrete printing it's looking more and more like I might get the opportunity in the future to fulfill the dream of designing my own home. In 5 or 10 years, who knows where I'll be?

I already have floorplans from when I was 10 or so. I know I still want the arena with a football field-sized trampoline, but the family cat has passed away so he probably doesn't need his own bedroom anymore. Maybe time to revise the plans a bit.

onesojourner1 karma

I say keep it as is. That sounds like a blast.

papabusche9 karma

Did you choose concrete because it's cheaper? Rather, is it cheaper?

onesojourner16 karma

Concrete is definitely not cheaper than 2x4 construction. If you do it yourself it is not a whole lot more than stick framing though.

dirtymoney9 karma


How much did it cost total?

Do you live in a place where it can be done legally? Did it have to be approved/inspected by some local authority?

onesojourner2 karma

There were about 10 separate inspections through out the building process.

russiangn5 karma

Cost? Sq ft?

onesojourner0 karma

Proabaly about $65. That includes the unfinished, but it isframed, wired and rough plumbed. It does not count the garage, witch is a large 3 car.

russiangn1 karma

$65,000? Not bad. Sq ft?

onesojourner1 karma

No, $65 per square foot.

TunieDreadful6 karma

Did building this house change the way you look at other houses?

onesojourner17 karma

It absolutely did. Most houses that are built by general contractors (spec houses) are laughable. I can’t imagine committing to something like that for 30 years. They are complete junk.

fitterr10 karma

Go on...

excusemefucker7 karma

There are 3 houses being built near me right now. They all are framed, plywood on and they are running ducts, wiring and pipes.

We've walked through the houses several times. These people are measure once, cut it and call it good. There are gaps all over with the framing and plywood. They've moved one wall twice in a house because they had it it the wrong spot. That's just a couple mistakes we are seeing. Generally, spec houses are knocked out as quick as possible for as cheap as possible.

OathOfFeanor3 karma

Couldn't have explained it any better. So that everyone can visualize this, here are just 2 photos out of of dozens I took while my home was under construction:


If it didn't take me so long to find my photo folder I would put up a Buzz Lightyear meme to go with these. "Nails, Nails everywhere...."

redditredditx31 karma

So, how do you go about getting a house built properly?

onesojourner1 karma

If you aren't going to do it yourself, ask your potential general contractor "What do you do that makes your house better built than some other guy's house?". Do that with several other people. You will start to see who is proud of what they do and build and who is just there to make a buck.

PeterMetz5 karma

Congratulations on completing the building of your new home!

If there is one thing you could do over or do differently, what would it be?

P.S. How many total yards of concrete did you end up using in your home?

onesojourner1 karma

I wish I would have put in taller garage doors.

I would have to look back at receipts. I will try to remember and look tomorrow.

AtomicHM4 karma

That's really impressive! If its not to personal, how much did this project cost overall?

onesojourner9 karma

Roughly 200k.

Notjustnow4 karma

How long did it take you? Any problems with getting city permits or passing inspections? What would you do differently if you were to do it again?

onesojourner4 karma

From the time I started digging it took us 11 months to get our occupancy permit.

I would have paid some one to paint the trim instead of doing it myself.

kckroosian4 karma

One Question I did not see is this. Does the extra weight of the concrete require piers under the house to prevent settling? Where I live an extra heavy house would start to settle (unevenly of course) before it was finished.

Just curious, thanks

onesojourner1 karma

Our soil is extremely rocky and as you can see it is red clay under the top soil. It is very stable. We also have an extra wide foundation. I believe it is about 18 inches wide.

harrygreg193 karma

Did you ever hit any rough patches while building?

onesojourner4 karma

There were many. It was a very stressful experience.

PythonEnergy2 karma

Is the rough patches all in your blog?

onesojourner1 karma

For the most part yes.

samo013 karma

How rewarding was it once your vision was finally realized, and you were living in it? And are there any things about the project that you would do differently now that you've spent a year living there?

onesojourner4 karma

It was pretty awesome to go from digging a hole in the ground to having an awesome place to live. The design had years and years of brain time involved, a year in and I would change very little.

shinerai3 karma

Do you have any photos of the house? I'd like to see what it looks like and can't seem to find any when quickly clicking around your blog.

FoodBornChillness3 karma

Did you pay outright for $200K of materials, or did you take out loans, if so how did you get any form of new construction loan for residential housing?

onesojourner2 karma

Yes. We did a construction loan and then rolled it into a traditional loan once it was completed.

Mobotto1 karma

Did you get your house appraised? How much is it worth now? Here in my province in Canada, that house would be worth a lot.

onesojourner1 karma

There are no ICF houses on the market in our area so there are no campareables. The bank just used traditional stick framed houses to compare to. At that rate we have 50k in equity.

Mrs_Milkman3 karma

Does the concrete impede cell service and or wifi?

How about sound in general? Both traveling within the house and coming in from outside.

onesojourner1 karma

The concrete and the metal roof do hurt service. It seems to be about 1 bar on most phones.

Sounds from outside are very muffled. The windows are the weakest link. It is one of the quietest houses I have ever been in. Noise in the house is about the same as any other.

Anablue2 karma

Do you have the air flow recirculating in from outside on a constant ?

onesojourner3 karma

I did put in an HRV to keep things fresh.

MuffinMopper1 karma

How much building experience did you have prior to the construction?

onesojourner1 karma

Almost none. I put a laundry room in a big open room in our old house with plenty of help from family and friends.

MuffinMopper1 karma

So you just learned all the carpentry, plumbing, wiring, back-hoeing, ect. from books?

onesojourner1 karma

Mostly from reading online and then just doing it. I actually did not operate the backhoe often. I had a family member do that. I spent most of my time on the track loader and I did get pretty proficient at it.

StapMyVitals1 karma

How much construction experience did you have before you started, and how did you research anything you were new to?

onesojourner1 karma

I did most of my research online.

LifeinParalysis1 karma

So you just decided to build a house one day? It's always been a dream of mine, but honestly the amount of technical knowledge required makes it seem impossible. I also read several places where you had help from family but that's not an option for me. Were there any communities that you were a part of during your building experience that helped you understand the process better?

onesojourner1 karma

I did indeed have lots of help from family and friends. It can still be done with less help but it will either cost you more time or more money paying for more people to help. Sub contractors are a great source of information. Once the ball is rolling it gets easy to find people. Once you hire some one to do something it is pretty easy to pick their brain for information and other recommendations for other sub contractors. I leaned heavily on craigslist.

darga891 karma

Did you need 20+% down to build it? (and get the mortgage)

onesojourner1 karma

We had about 30% saved for the construction cost. Once the house was appraised by the bank we had plenty of equity.

Jynovas1 karma

What company did you buy your blocks from? I sell ICF and was curious who you used?

Edit: I see you used TF Foaming Systems. I guess the real question was what made you use them being a vertical system as opposed to a horizontal system? Was it the fact that they are a cheaper option than most ICF companies, such as Fox or BuildBlock?

onesojourner1 karma

I found prices varied greatly from company to company. I did find that I could get traditional ICF blacks from several companies that were comparable in price to TF systems.

The verticle systems have a lot of things that I think are real advantages, like cutting the blocks, no floating issues. This video is also awesome:


ahisma1 karma

Now that you finished, what advice would you give someone who is going to build their own home?

Nice job, congrats btw!

onesojourner2 karma

Do your homework. Reinforce your marriage, this is going to be hard on it. Save absolutely as much money as possible. The more you have saved the less stressful it will be. Selling the other house and Renting is what I would do next time. It is stressful to have 2 house payments and have to get the other sold.

foxfire_user1 karma

Hi, Are only the exterior walls made of ICF while the interior walls are made with 2x4s?

onesojourner1 karma

Correct. The exterior wall of the main house are all ICF and the interior and garage all 2x4 construction.

_Thrillhouse_1 karma

Can you please point me to some pics so I can visualize this house?

geezer631 karma


AceyJuan2 karma

I hope he bought non-VOC foam. Otherwise it would take a month to air that out with everything wide open.

onesojourner1 karma

The house was open for several months during the building process.

onesojourner1 karma

The foam is all low voc foam. I can't remember the study but supposedly ICF concrete walls produce about 1/10th the VOC of a removable form concrete wall does. I think that is mainly from the release oil that they use.

noodlemandan1 karma

How long had you been planning to build the house? Also is there anything you would change about it? Lastly, would you consider building/renovating houses to sell on for profit it is something you could afford?

onesojourner2 karma

We had been planning/saving for several years. I am not sure that I would want to do it for a living.

noodlemandan-3 karma

Can make decent money from it.

onesojourner1 karma

According to the bank we have about 50-100k in equity.

Arrowtica1 karma

My dad has been looking to buy a house and was interested in this for a while. Any words of wisdom about the building process and/or what challenges did this type of project present?

onesojourner1 karma

ICF is still a niche market so prices can very widely. The labor bid alone varied by about 50k. That is when we decided to do it ourselves.