What is an ICF foundation?

An ICF foundation has become immensely popular in Vancouver as the best application for high-performance homes.

But what is it? What makes it different from other foundations?

Today, we are laying out all the basics of an ICF foundation, from what it is made of to the history of it, to its current applications.

ICF foundation 101: The basics

What is an ICF foundation?

An ICF – or insulating concrete form – foundation is a series of interlocking foam bricks that are reinforced with rebar and filled with concrete. Think of these bricks almost as the grown-up version of Lego pieces. They are generally made of polystyrene or polyurethane foam.

While ICF bricks are most often used in foundations, they have also been utilized in flooring, roofing and construction of walls. In each case, the bricks are laid, locking into one another and then they are filled with concrete to keep them strong.

There are a number of companies that create ICF bricks. Two of our favourites, however, are Vancouver ICF and Quad-Lock. We love the passion that the Vancouver ICF and Quad-Lock teams bring – and how that passion is translated into the quality ICF product they create.  

The history of ICF foundations

Developing in post-World War II Europe, ICF bricks were intended to provide a strong, inexpensive way to rebuild the many structures that had been damaged in the fighting and bombings. Initially, the bricks were created with wood and cement. In the 1960s, however, polystyrene started to be used in place of wood. The first patent on these new foam foams was given to Canadian contractor Werner Gregori. Of course, we feel some extra pride when we use a modern ICF foundation as it reflects Canadian ingenuity.  

ICF construction lagged until the end of the 1970s when consumer awareness of it increased. Since that time, it has become more and more popular, especially on the West Coast.

ICF foundations’ applications

Today, an ICF foundation is the top choice for certain commercial and residential builds. On the residential front, it is used in high performance and eco-friendly homes. An ICF foundation is generally the ideal choice for passive and NetZero houses.

An ICF foundation is also utilized more recently in low-rise commercial buildings. It helps these buildings meet current energy efficiency and natural disaster requirements, especially in geographies where seismic activity is a concern, as is the case in Vancouver.

An ICF foundation 102: What makes it better

The benefits of an ICF foundation

While the history of ICF foundations is interesting, we know that what our customers really care about is what makes it better than traditional foundation applications.

Energy efficiency

The biggest reason for using this type of foundation is energy efficiency. The interlocking aspect of ICF bricks means that they transfer little or no heat, raising the R-value of any building they are installed into. Not only does this make your house more comfortable, but it also lowers your heating costs. On top of that, it increases your home’s resale value.


The next major benefit of ICF construction is strength. ICF bricks are much stronger than basic wood or concrete. In addition, the materials in modern ICF bricks do not rot, resolving a significant issue for many buildings. With rot being eliminated, the air quality in your building will be better.


The fact that there are no gaps in an ICF foundation means it is almost impossible for vermin to get through it. This prevents infestations in your home.


ICF bricks also have excellent sound absorption. This does not matter as much with an ICF foundation but is something to keep in mind if you are also interested in ICF walls.


ICF bricks can be created with recycled materials, adding further appeal for eco-friendly builds.


Finally, ICF bricks protect against fire. If there is a fire in your home, however, what happens to the foam in the bricks? Would it not release toxic chemicals? This is a subject that has been well-researched as it was a concern for many homeowners. Scholars have demonstrated that the material in ICF bricks is no more toxic when it heats up than standard softwood.

The downsides of ICF foundations

ICF foundations may have many pros, but no product is free of cons.

Though ICF bricks come pretty close. The one big downside of ICF foundation is that it may not be appropriate for all builds or types of soil. That is why it is important to have a contractor examine your build site before you commit to an ICF foundation.

The cost of an ICF foundation

With all the benefits an ICF foundation offers, many people assume it has to be wildly expensive. Compared to traditional concrete foundations, however, it is often more affordable. We find that on average, an ICF foundation costs 30% less than a traditional concrete foundation.

It is always best to consult with a professional to confirm that this will be the case in your build and that an ICF foundation is right for your project.

Installing an ICF foundation

ICF bricks are unique building materials. It should not be used in a DIY capacity unless you are a home builder by trade.

In addition, before hiring a contractor, you should make sure that they have experience laying an ICF foundation. If they tell you that they do not but not to worry, they can sort it out, run!

Luckily, there are a number of contractors with ICF build experience in the Greater Vancouver area, including Modern Valley.

If you are ready to discuss whether an ICF foundation is right for you, get in touch with us. We are happy to weigh in on your project, your build site, and the appropriateness of an ICF foundation.  

Header image credit: Vancouver ICF

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