To look at the Wall family home on Griffin Road in Columbus, you would never know it was made out of styrofoam.
Of course, there”s much more to it than that, but styrofoam is what makes the home special.
Frank Wall, owner of Modern Pool and Spa in Columbus along with his wife, Diane, came across the concept of Insulated Concrete Forms construction in the early 1990s at a trade show while looking for new ways to build swimming pools.
He was so impressed with the benefits of ICF construction (increased structural strength, enhanced insulation), Wall skipped building a pool with it and used it to build his house.
But it”s not as though you could tear chunks out of Wall”s home and use them for shipping fragile packages. The styrofoam is underneath a plaster exterior, but the strength lies inside the blocks.
The ICF blocks fit over vertical steel posts as well as horizontal beams that wrap the perimeter of the house. Then concrete is poured into the remaining gaps.
The result is a home that can withstand 160 mph winds as well as boasts an R-32 insulation rating. Typical homes are rated around R-18.
Increased insulation means the temperature is easier to control, thus lowering electric bills. But Wall admits installing windows all across the back of the house wasn”t the most cost-effective measure.
“If we didn”t have all that glass it wouldn”t cost anything to heat and cool (the house),” he said.
Still, he”s ahead of the curve. Plus, he says the house is very quiet and the interior walls are virtually maintenance free. All Wall has to worry about are projects like renovating his kitchen or pouring a new driveway.
Then there”s the strength.
When the notorious straight-line wind storm of 2001 blew through, Wall lost 48 trees in his yard and the house took two hits.
One pine tree hit the house directly and some limbs came through the roof, but the wall held. Another tree bounced off the exterior, denting the styrofoam but causing no structural damage.
“I like the idea of the strength of the home,” says Wall. “It”s almost like a storm shelter in itself.”
The storm shelter concept is reinforced by the home”s basement being built using the same ICF construction and sits in the side of a hill. But no aesthetic value was lost to functionality as the hillside home boasts a sprawling view of Pennnington Lake.
When Wall began construction on the home in 1993, he says his intention wasn”t to build an eco-friendly home, but rather an energy-efficient one.
“We weren”t aware of going green at that time,” he said.
On top of the other benefits, the home is also fire resistant, which means added safety and lower insurance rates. Still, with so many advantages, Wall says ICF construction has been slow to catch on in the South.
He knows of a few other homes built with similar construction and a couple contractors who deal in ICF, but his home remains unique in the area. But that”s also part of its appeal.
“I”m always looking for something different,” said Wall.
Jason Browne was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.