What if you could build a safe room or other addition that snaps together like Legos and has built-in soundproofing and insulation? Many remodelers are doing just that with insulated concrete forms (ICFs). The forms consist of either expanded polystyrene (EPS), extruded polystyrene (XPS), polyurethane, or cement-foam composite panels reinforced with steel and concrete.

ICFs are gaining ground in the remodeling industry because of the quality and energy efficiency of the structures they produce. “What I like is the structural integrity, the strength of the product. That's its biggest advantage over conventional framing,” says Jon McConathy, of The Complete Home in Fort Worth, Texas. He uses ICFs mainly for safe rooms. McConathy says that clients who want safe rooms don't mind paying the extra 10% to 20% for ICFs over traditional building materials. “Typically I've found I don't have to convince clients; they come to me because that's what they want.”

“It's a very efficient and economical system for remodelers,” says Randy McGuffee, vice president of FutureStone, a distributor of Nudura-brand ICFs. “It's a complete wall system, so you can attach the ceiling or floor right to the system; there's no additional framing needed. The forms have hardened polypropylene studs. Once you're done, you don't need additional batting or insulation for soundproofing or strength.” Nudura says that its ICFs have up to nine times more axial load resistance than a typical wood-framed wall for enhanced protection during tornadoes and hurricanes.

The Insulating Concrete Form Association Web site, www.forms.org, has information on ICF installation, building codes, and standards and practices, as well as a bookstore and a newsletter.