New Canaan castle built from Styrofoam
A blend of medieval architecture and modern construction design. That's one way to describe a "Scottish castle" that's under construction in New Canaan.
The house, which has several Scottish castle features, is being made with insulated concrete forms, or ICF, Styrofoam blocks that are filled with concrete and, according to many architects, one of the most energy efficient construction techniques today.
Leigh Overland, of Danbury-based Leigh Overland Architect, said the building is his biggest such project to date, which shows that the material is becoming increasingly popular in the U.S.
"It's a perfect balance of old and new," he said.
Overland, who was featured on ABC's Extreme Home Makeover in 2007, said ICF creates cost effective and durable buildings.
ICF is made out of 2.5-inch Styrofoam blocks with teeth on the top and slits on the bottom, he explained.
The panels stack on top of each other, similar to Legos, and concrete is poured down the middle of the 8- to 10-inch cavity. This insulation -- the same material used to build coolers -- completely seals out the elements, according to Overland.
He added that ICF buildings can outlast severe weather and costs about the same as wood framing.
The castle, which is in the Silvermine area of town, is owned by a young couple who is moving in later this summer.
The couple asked not to be named, but they said they selected the ICF technology for its strength, thermal properties and thickness.
One of the keys to capturing the proper feel of a castle is mass, they said, which will be acquired with the 12-inch ICF walls.
"We both have always had a love for all things medieval, and the Scottish countryside in particular. In fact, we were married in a Scottish castle," they said in an email.
Scottish features in the castle include crow-stepped gables, a corbelled stair turret and the "great room."
The ICF material, Overland said, has been around for many decades and it's mostly used in Europe and Canada.
"In this country, it's been around, but it kind of never took off because we're used to building with materials that we know and we're comfortable with," Overland said. "We don't really make any changes until something new happens, when there's a crisis, like with oil forcing us to have more efficient cars.
"Anybody building a home these days should be really thinking about the efficiency because the American attitude is so different than the European attitude," he said. "We have this disposable mentality, we get a new cellphone every year or two, we get a new car every couple years. We shouldn't be doing that."
Styrofoam "seals out the elements and it makes the buildings much more comfortable year-round, according to the architect.
"The wonderful thing about this material is that it's incredibly efficient. It doesn't deteriorate," he said. "If you think of it, it withstands weather patterns because it's basically a concrete wall, an extremely strong product."
Overland said ICF costs "just about the same (to build) as wood framing."
"You're looking at less than half of the utility bills," he said.
According to a report by the U.S. Department of Housing and Development, ICF wall construction can provide a 20 to 25 percent savings in annual heating and cooling costs.
Another advantage is the lack of joints, which prevents mold and moisture.
"The ICF has no joints and everything is insulated, including the basement," Overland said. "You're breathing the air that you bring in."
When it comes to downsides, Ryan could not name one.
"I have been in the business for 15 years and I haven't really seen it," he said.
Ryan added that more and more contractors are adhering to the technique every year, which he said "is actually easier," since "electricians are cutting through foams instead of drilling through wood studs."
"It's going to catch on very quickly in this country as architects learn how to use it," Overland said.
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