A Better Way to Build
ProFORMance Walls ushers in the future of ICF construction
When Hurricane Michael hit Mexico Beach, Florida, in October 2018, the Category 5 storm leveled entire neighborhoods. But many of the buildings that had been constructed using insulated concrete forms (ICF)—designed to withstand the more than 200 mile-per-hour winds—remain standing.
This is just one of the reasons why John Fowler, President of Coral Reef Contracting, Inc. and its newest division, ProFORMance Walls, believes so strongly in ICF. With his business located in Dunnellon, Florida, John sees firsthand the value of ICF in keeping residents and business owners safe in storm-prone areas.
ICF blocks consist of two layers of EPS foam, one interior and one exterior, held together by webs that create the “form” to hold the cast in place in concrete. The product has a laundry list of benefits, which John is happy to provide: “ICF has all the benefits you want in construction: strength, sustainability, energy efficiency and speed to build,” he says.
The list of benefits continues: Because a building constructed with ICF can withstand hurricane-force winds, and because it’s more fire resistant, it costs less to insure. Higher energy efficiency means lower electric bills, too.
A New Way of Building
John isn’t the only Fowler to sing the praises of ICF construction. His father, Wyland, first worked with it and then introduced John to it.
When John established Coral Reef Contracting in 1993, the business specialized in custom trim, framing and cabinetry for high-end houses.
While John was dedicated to woodwork, Wyland was a draftsman who owned a construction drawing business. John describes his father as someone who is “always looking for new and improved technology.” In 2001, Wyland’s search for the latest and greatest led him to a trade show where he first learned about ICF. Immediately, he was sold on the benefits and set out to construct his own home out of the material, asking his son to help with the work.
John was hesitant. He didn’t know the first thing about installing the insulated concrete forms. Wyland’s response was simple: “If you’re willing to do it, I’ll have someone train you.”
Wyland tapped an ICF installer to work on the home and teach John in the process. “I dove into it headfirst and studied for about a year,” John says.
He quickly discovered a knack for ICF, even developing his own innovative installation technique early on. While ICF installation would sometimes result in crooked walls, John changed that.
“We have an alignment system that makes our walls within 1/8 of an inch straight,” he explains. Within three years of being introduced to ICF, John had fully incorporated it into Coral Reef Contracting’s services and launched three crews dedicated to installing the material.
He laughs as he explains how his mother was his best salesperson. “When my dad had his drafting office, he would ask what type of construction they were looking for and bring up ICF. If they weren’t interested, my mother would come out of the kitchen, into the office and exclaim, ‘Did I hear you say you’re not going to use ICF? Well, there’s always someone out there who has to pay the electric company!”’
Often, the client would leave convinced that ICF was the best way to go.
Today, Coral Reef Contracting’s ProFORMance Walls division focuses solely on insulated concrete forms. John is not only a contractor, but he is a distributor and installer for Amvic, a company that manufactures insulated concrete forms, which John declares are the strongest on the market. Their product line includes an R30 form, specifically designed for commercial buildings.
ProFORMance Walls can either offer clients a complete installation package or sell them the material to install themselves. And if they don’t know how, John can teach them. In addition to having his own master installer’s license, he’s certified to train others on installing ICF.
If Something’s Worth Doing…
There’s a saying that John’s mother instilled in him as a child that has guided his approach to business: “If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” For John, that means giving it his all with every project and endeavor.
When a friend received a contract to build the firehouse for the Poarch Creek Indian Reservation in Atmore, Alabama, he called John, who packed up his alignment system and traveled to Alabama to perform the ICF installation. It proved to be a groundbreaking project: “It was the first project in the U.S. that used concrete over a Styrofoam decking system,” he says.
But for John, construction is more than just a job or a way to make a living—there’s a feeling of a higher purpose. It’s about making sure people are safe and protected in their homes and businesses and that everyone is taken care of.
An eye-opener was a tornado that ripped through the Midwest several years ago, demolishing a town’s fire station. Although John doesn’t remember the exact location, other details stick out in his mind: “The building caved in on top of the emergency vehicles, and they weren’t able to get the vehicles out to rescue people.”
And while this one incident has stuck with John, it’s not the only time this has happened: a quick Google search will populate multiple occurrences of fire stations and emergency buildings being destroyed by tornadoes.
These incidences have led to changes in the building codes in Florida, John explains. Today, any emergency operations center is required to be built to withstand 160-mile-per-hour winds or higher. That’s where ICF is being used; John himself did the work on the Marion County Emergency Operations Center.
“The emergency facilities need to be built stronger, so they can be there when people are in need.”
Another place where strength and safety are paramount is school buildings. A meaningful project for John was working on The Cornerstone School in Ocala, Florida. “The most satisfying part of that job was knowing those kids are in a safe place,” John says.
While safety is one major benefit with ICF, the other is cost. ICF can be more economical in the long run than other forms of construction, due to lower utility costs and greater durability. That’s one reason why it’s been used to construct affordable housing in communities across the country. John helped build community development corporation (CDC) housing in Largo, Florida.
“Any time someone builds with ICF, I know they are getting a safe, secure and economical home or business that will last them a lifetime,” John says.
For these reasons, John believes ICF is the future of the construction industry. “I started installing ICF 18 years ago with the hopes to convert builders and designers to build a safer, more energy-efficient structure,” he says. Throughout those years, he’s seen demand for this type of building increase, and his hope is that one day ICF will be the standard for low-rise construction.
“I would love to see every home and business being built this way. I’ve been in it for 18 years. That’s a long time for someone to stick with something, but it’s what I believe in.”