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Homes using ICF and steel framing

QuestionYour book, Build Smarter with Alternative Materials, is great. I've gotten lots of ideas for doing exactly what the title of your book promises. Thanks a lot.

I am in the process of having a custom home designed that we will contract for construction in the foothills east of Sacramento, California, and your book has convinced me to step away from some materials that I have used in the past on two other custom residences. In particular, I plan to use ICFs for the exterior walls.

I understand that with ICFs there will be less noise coming into the home from outside, but will more noise be created on the interior of the home because we are using these materials? If so, what can we do to efficiently and economically lessen the noise?

Thank you for your input. Again, thank you for opening my eyes to some very interesting alternatives.

AnswerBecause I'm not a total expert on the subject, I recommend that you obtain references from potential contractors and check out their work. Don't be afraid to ask questions of their reference customers—you may get answers to other questions that may occur to you later on. Reference customers will also be able to address your noise concerns since they live with the products.

If you are truly considering building a home with an ICF (insulating concrete form) system, I wouldn't worry about exterior or interior sound—my understanding is that these systems provide excellent noise reduction (muffling sound without distortion). I spoke with a few ICF manufacturers, and they said that, depending on wall thickness, the system has a superior Sound Transmission Rating of 48-50. Typical outside noise simply cannot penetrate the structure to any significant degree. Add double-paned windows and ample floor and ceiling insulation and you'll find that outside noise is virtually eliminated, which means you'll also have less interior noise. Of course, this will depend on the type of doors and windows and the amount of insulation used in the ceilings and floors.

However, it's also possible that you could experience internal noise from interior walls constructed from steel studs. Consider using sound-control insulation batts in the cavities before installing the wallboard. The insulation will absorb sound and keep the noise level under control. Homasote is one product that could be used to create a sound barrier.

If this doesn't soundproof the walls enough, then consider installing Auralex SheetBlok Sound Barrier, a thin (1/8")—but very dense—black vinyl material that is quite effective in stopping sound transmission. Its installation is simple but the end results are very effective when combined with the insulation. Each 4' x 30' roll costs about $339 and covers 120 square feet. It is easily cut with a utility knife or scissors and can even be doubled up to increase its effectiveness.

Auralex SheetBlok is not considered a finish wall product so you'll want to sandwich it between two wall surface products. For example, you could glue it to the existing wall and place a layer of 1/2" drywall over it.

Since the required adhesive only holds SheetBlok in place long enough to put a second wall covering over it, I recommend that you purchase Auralex SheetBlok Plus which has a pressure-sensitive adhesive back—just peel and stick. This eliminates the mess associated with applying the adhesive. You can learn more about these products and how to purchase them by clicking on the product name(s) within this paragraph.

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Question answered by Leon A. Frechette.

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