By: Rick Shinn, Sales Representative – Architectural Products
Having been born in Northeast Oklahoma and spending most of my life here, I am very familiar with the phrase “tornado alley”. It represents a narrow area extending northwardfrom Texas to South Dakota. The Alley represents the area of the country most prone to the development of tornadoes. Whether it’s El Nino, El Nina, global warming or Mother Nature going through a phase, it seems that the narrow alley has been expanded to an eight lane highway. The tornado coverage on TV that used to be centered in Oklahoma and Kansas seems more common in Alabama and Tennessee. I don’t know about you, but Dorothy telling Toto “……we’re not in Mississippi any more” just sounds odd. So, with more of the country being devastated by damage, injury and death from tornados, micro bursts and straight line winds, what can we, the commercial building owners and home owners, do about it? It doesn’t seem feasible to design and construct every building as a concrete storm shelter. Or does it?
Insulated Concrete Forms, or ICF, are stay-in-place concrete forms made from expanded polystyrene. Although a number of different styles and designs of ICF are available, they all perform in a similar fashion. The ICF are assembled to create a form which will be filled with concrete, creating a wall with approximately 2” of expanded polystyrene insulation on both sides. Reinforcing steel is put into place within the forms prior to the placement of concrete to give the concrete additional strength. Although many ICF applications are for basement walls which are below grade, ICF walls above grade can offer a layer of protection from flying debris during a tornado or other event. Testing conducted to compare the impact and penetration resistance of ICF walls to conventional stick frame walls show the ICF walls to be substantially more effective at stopping debris propelled at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour. Compared to normal stick frame construction, a structure with properly designed ICF walls, in conjunction with tornado resistant roof tie-downs and impact resistant window and doors, can not only provide a superior level of protection for the occupants, but can also be much more resistant to damage during a storm.
If the structural integrity of reinforced concrete walls constructed with ICF doesn’t peak your interest, consider the following additional benefits of ICF.
- Design flexibility for both commercial and residential projects
- More energy efficient, reducing heating and cooling cost
- Less air infiltration, resulting in a more comfortable environment
- More fire resistant than conventional wood framing
- Sound attenuation properties
Although advancements in forecasting violent weather events and improvements in communicating the warnings may contribute to the reduction of injuries and deaths, there is no way to prevent or reduce the severity of a tornado strike. But when considering the design of your next commercial building or residence, you can be better protected with Insulated Concrete Forms.