Residential life cycle assessment modeling: Comparative case study of insulating concrete forms and traditional building materials

Neethi Rajagopalan, Melissa M. Bilec, Amy E. Landis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Scopus citations


Innovative, sustainable construction products are emerging in response to market demands. One potential product, insulating concrete forms (ICFs), offers possible advantages in energy and environmental performance when compared with traditional construction materials. Even though ICFs are in part derived from a petroleum-based product, the benefits in the use phase outweigh the impacts of the raw material extraction and manufacturing phase. This paper quantitatively measures ICFs' performance through a comparative life cycle assessment of wall sections comprised of ICF and traditional wood-frame. The life cycle stages included raw materials extraction and manufacturing, construction, use and end of life for a 2,450 square foot house in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Results showed that even though building products such as ICFs are energy intensive to produce and thus have higher environmental impacts in the raw materials extraction and manufacturing phase, the use phase dominated in the life cycle. For the use phase, the home constructed of ICFs consumed 20 percent less energy when compared to a traditional wood-frame structure. The results of the impact assessment show that ICFs have higher impacts over wood homes in most impact categories. The high impacts arise from the raw materials extraction and manufacturing phase of ICFs. But there are a number of embedded unit processes such as disposal of solid waste and transport of natural gas that contribute to this high impact and identifying the top unit process and substance contributors to the impact category is not intuitive. Selecting different unit processes or impact assessment methods will yield dissimilar results and the tradeoffs associated with every building product should be considered after studying the entire life cycle in detail.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)95-106
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Green Building
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Building products
  • Environmental impacts
  • Insulating concrete forms
  • Life cycle assessment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Civil and Structural Engineering
  • Architecture
  • Building and Construction
  • Environmental Science(all)
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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