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Case Studies  > East Parkside Using ICFs to Rebuild Homes and Make Their Community Strong
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The urban neighborhood of East Parkside on Philadelphia’s west side is home to several local attractions, parks, museums, and more than 1,600 residential and commercial sites. It’s a community ripe for revival. At the same time, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter is on a mission to turn his city into “America’s Greenest.”


Beginning in the fall of 2008, Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia and BASF Corporation partnered with the East Parkside Community Revitalization Corporation (EPCRC) on a restoration project to transform the blighted, historic neighborhood into a revitalized and sustainable community.


The center of the restoration project is seven, tri-level residential buildings featuring insulating concrete forms (ICFs) from ARXX Corporation for the exterior walls and firewalls between units. The project team chose ICFs for their superior energy efficiency, durability, and safety. ICFs are also helping the East Parkside community meet its goal to adhere to the sustainability triple bottom line: economic, environmental, and social responsibility.


ICFs offer superior durability at a lower life-cycle cost than other common wall systems, making them an economically responsible choice.


As an environmentally sound solution, ICFs provide excellent energy performance due to their thermal mass, resistance to vapor transmission, and high insulation values. The concrete component of the system has very low embodied energy, can contain recycled content, and is a regionally supplied material.


Because they will use less energy than traditional homes, the affordability of the homes will be sustained.


This project “ensures its homeowners can afford to operate their homes even as energy prices skyrocket,” according to Mark Alan Hughes, an advisor to Mayor Nutter and the city’s first director of sustainability. “Putting needy families in houses they cannot afford to heat because they’re not insulated just shifts costs off the construction budget and onto the family’s operating budget.”



The January 2009 utility bills for one of the families in their new three-story home totaled a lean $50. Other green features of the homes include daylighting, a south-facing thermal wall, Energy Star® rated appliances and dual-flush toilets, leading to a 65 percent reduction in total utility costs for the homeowners.


Looking at the social component of the triple bottom line, ICFs deliver superior fire safety and sound insulation, which is especially beneficial in high- and medium-density neighborhoods.  A labor force made up of community residents can stack ICF blocks.  Because of the ease of assembly, the members of the community are able to help build their neighbor’s homes.


“It’s so great to be able to bring our commitment to community rebuilding together with a community that is, in its own way, revitalizing itself under a new model,” said Jon Musselman, director of project planning, Habitat for Humanity Philadelphia. “We’re very proud to use technology that really helps advance affordability to a new level and guaranteeing homeowners enjoy long-term, durable, highly energy efficient homes and in a community that’s really headed in a positive direction.”


Another benefit of using ICFs on a project like the East Parkside renovation is that they can readily meet site-specific challenges. ICFs are light and can be carried by hand to staging areas then lifted into place without the use of heavy equipment. 


Once the blocks are up, the concrete can be delivered to the forms by centrally located boom pumps, and mixer trucks delivering the concrete can access the pump directly from the street.  


“It has been our mission to transform a once neglected and underserved community into a model of sustainable, green development that brings long term benefits to the residents and city as a whole,” remarked Robert Cousar, executive director of the East Parkside Community Revitalization Corporation. “Our hope is that East Parkside will be the first in many projects across Philadelphia, helping to realize our vision of making it ‘America’s Greenest City.”


The first phase of homes in the East Parkside restoration achieved a Silver certification under the LEED for Homes rating by the U.S. Green Building Council. BASF’s ARXX Polysteel ICFs were used at East Parkside—a product that enjoys a highly regarded third-party Silver certification from McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry (MBDC) under the Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) Evaluation Protocol.


As Philadelphia’s first LEED-certified affordable housing project, the restoration was featured on the Discovery’s Planet Green channel during the program “Renovation Nation” in the spring of 2009.