Using insulated concrete forms (ICFs) for a retaining wall creates a more economical, flexible, durable, and attractive option over the use of concrete masonry units (CMUs) and structural insulated panels (SIPs). ICFs, like Fox Blocks, quickly create a free-standing concrete retaining wall that also works well for patio walls, fences, and more. 

What are Retaining Walls?

Builders install retaining walls to correct the natural slope of the grounds and hold back earth, leaving a level space to build a patio, garden, and enjoy more of the property. Other uses of retaining walls include embankments along the side of roads and rivers, walls for septic tanks, pools, and more. Regardless of its use, a retaining wall must provide strength, weather resistance, and endurance.

Builders can choose from several materials for constructing retaining walls, including CMUs, SIPs, and ICFs.

Concrete Masonry Units (CMUs)

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The construction industry makes extensive use of CMUs, including in the building of retaining walls. Manufacturers make CMUs from Portland cement, and aggregates like quartz, stone, and water. The hollow or solid blocks come in an assortment of shapes, with two or three cores or voids. CMU’s produce durable and fire-resistant retaining walls. However, builders find the process of building a CMU wall time-consuming and complicated. Also, CMUs create unattractive and rough walls that may need a facing, like stucco.

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)

The use of form core SIPs for home construction in the United States began in the 1950s. Over the years, the product developed, and today builders can use engineered SIPs to construct walls, ceilings, floors, and even retaining walls. 

Structural insulated panels come in 4- and 8-inch thick rigid foam panels, sandwiched between two rigid sheathing products. Most manufacturers use 7/16 inch thick oriented strand boards (OSB) for the sheathing product to produce SIPs. 

SIPs create straight walls, and the factory assembly of SIPs provides quick retaining wall construction, which reduces labor costs and construction waste. However, the use of OSB in SIPs creates durability problems. Also, SIP does not allow for as much design flexibility as other products.

Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs) 

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In the 1980s and 1990s, American companies began manufacturing ICF panels. They promoted the product as a fast, cost-effective, and solid building material that used mostly unskilled labor. Today, builders use ICFs for residential and commercial construction, including the building of retaining walls. 

The composition of ICFs, like Fox Blocks, includes concrete sandwiched between two layers of insulated foam. ICF construction creates disaster-resistant and durable retaining walls. Also, ICF offers design flexibility and quick and easy installation.

The Advantages of ICFs Retaining Walls

1. Builders find that using ICF for retaining walls increases productivity. 

Contractors can build an ICF retaining wall faster and easier than a CMU retaining wall. For example, traditional CMU retaining walls involve the time-consuming process of stacking blocks. ICF retaining walls take typically half the time to complete compared to CMU retaining walls. Furthermore, workers can easily handle ICF’s lightweight modular panels, and the process does not require heavy equipment for delivery, lifting, or cutting.

2. Workers can easily and quickly learn to install ICF.

Due to current labor shortages in construction, an increasing number of residential concrete construction crews must depend on workers that are not familiar with retaining wall construction techniques. Fortunately, an ICF building team can quickly and easily teach laborers to work with ICF. Training an employee to work with ICF takes less than a day, and often they become fully trained after one project.

3. ICFs flexibility allows for retaining walls with creative designs.  

ICF allows contractors to economically build retaining walls with angles, curves, or even a staircase with a minimum of difficulty compared to SIPs. SIPs do not provide design flexibility because the shape of the retaining wall must coordinate with the panel’s dimension, without non-90-degree angles, jogs, or bump-outs. For SIP construction, a non-panel friendly design can escalate waste and cost and diminish the performance of the wall.

4. ICF produces retaining walls with longevity and durability.

The integrity and strength of an ICF retaining wall make it disaster-resistant. Also, mold-resistant ICF creates durable retaining walls with longer life spans and lower maintenance than walls built by other methods like SIP.

Unfortunately, when the plywood and OSB facing of a SIP gets wet, the walls may mold, degrade, and rot, which will diminish the durability of the walls. 

5. ICF retaining walls create a flat finished wall.

ICF produces a flat, solid concrete wall finish that provides a constant thickness of concrete thought the wall, unlike the rough outer nature of CMUs.

Why ICF Retaining Wall is a good idea?

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Builders wanting to quickly and easily construct a durable retaining wall, with design flexibility, should consider ICF for their next project. ICF retaining walls provide a more attractive finish and install faster and easier than CMU. ICF’s also allows for more design flexibility and wall durability than SIPs. Overall, ICFs for a retaining wall provides the best option over CMU and SIP construction.

Editorial Contributors
Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield

Matt Greenfield is an experienced writer specializing in home improvement topics. He has a passion for educating and empowering homeowners to make informed decisions about their properties. Matt's writing focuses on a range of topics, including windows, flooring, HVAC, and construction materials. With a background in construction and home renovation, Matt is well-versed in the latest trends and techniques in the industry. His articles offer practical advice and expert insights that help readers tackle their home improvement projects with confidence. Whether you're a DIY enthusiast or a seasoned professional, Matt's writing is sure to provide valuable guidance and inspiration.

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