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PolycreteUSA Assists Army Corps of Engineers Set New Construction Standards

PolycreteUSA Executive V. P. Bryant Wheeler announced today that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has signaled broad approval of insulated concrete forms (ICF) construction by issuing a service‐wide Unified Facilities Guide Specification. This approves the system for general use on Army construction projects and sets product quality and installation standards. “We’ve been working with the Army and Navy for several years now to get this accomplished,” Wheeler said, “and we’re very happy to have reached this milestone.”

ICFs are hollow blocks made from expanded polystyrene (EPS) that are stacked up to form a wall. Reinforcing steel is placed into the hollow and it’s filled with concrete. The result is a sandwich-like wall where the EPS is the bread and the concrete is the meat. EPS serves as insulation and the concrete provides strength. ICF buildings are very strong, very energy efficient and very quiet.

Wheeler said that he began building houses with ICFs nearly thirty years ago because of the high insulation properties, but ICF technology has just recently advanced to the level demanded by military and large commercial construction development. “I became involved with Polycrete® about four years ago when the Big Block™ product was introduced. I always thought ICF would be a great way for the military to build, but the product quality was not up to snuff. Because of its size, strength and engineering design, Big Block™ solves that problem.”

Wheeler had served in the Marine Corps, so he contacted his former commanding officer Major General Michael Sullivan, who arranged a meeting with the Naval Engineering Facilities Command (NAVFAC). “I brought Serge Meilleur, the President of the Canadian company who developed the product down to meet with NAVFAC. We met with top NAVFAC engineers in Norfolk, and they said that they’d never seen an ICF as big or strong as Big Block™. They thought it would have a real impact on military construction and troop protection. That began a four year journey.”

All branches of the service as well as the Veterans Administration, Department of Labor and other agencies have constructed ICF buildings. But it has always been on an ad hoc, case by case basis. There have never been uniform product quality and installation standards. Those standards, called Unified Facilities Guide Specifications (UFGS) are used by all branches of the military and other government entities. Until ICF had its own UFGS specification, there would always be a question of main-stream acceptance.

“After about a year spent trying to get the Corps of Engineers and NAVFAC to design some ICF buildings,” Wheeler said, “we were told we needed to get the criteria room people to write a UFGS spec. We established some solid contacts in the Civil Works Structural Engineering Division of the Corps of Engineers, and they helped start the process.”

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) regularly solicits input from the construction community, so PolycreteUSA submitted a draft UFGS specification in 2009. By 2011, USACE returned its version to PolycreteUSA and at least one other national ICF manufacturer for comments.

“Polycrete® Big Block™ is significantly different from traditional ICFs,” says PolycreteUSA President, Bruce Anderson, “so we had to make sure the spec the Corps wrote permitted features like our horizontal fastening system. We also encouraged them to include minimum strength requirements since lower quality ICFs tend to break or become deformed when concrete is poured into them. In Government contracting, where jobs go to the lowest bidder, there’s a tendency to gravitate to the lowest priced materials and that can translate to low quality. We don’t mind competing, but we want to compete with other top quality products.”

“The form strength component in this spec is where Polycrete® stands apart,” said Wheeler. The rule requires installers to construct their formwork to comply with the American Concrete Institute’s standards. “If the strength of the ICF alone isn’t sufficient – and many of them aren’t -- the installers will have to shore them up. That means higher material and labor costs. Since Big Block™ withstands 1,600 lbs per sqft, we won’t ever have to worry about that. Polycrete® buildings go up very quickly and safely with lower labor costs.”

The last six months have been instrumental for the industry and Polycrete® in particular. In September 2011, the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) cited the benefits of ICFs for constructing energy efficient K-12 schools. At the same time, the federal government began specifying Polycrete® products for secure facilities like data centers, and this new UFGS spec for ICF construction heralds an expansion of the market for Polycrete® Big Block™.

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