Design Easy, Build Easy, and Easy Living

Architectural Design of Insulating Concrete Formwork

Discover why the architectural design of Polarwall ICF is as simple as any build system available.


Simple Designing

We always strive to keep things simple.

This simplicity begins with the fact that Polarwall is without the strict modularity of other build systems. This means that you, as the designer, do not have to remember or even consider any modular system dimensions.  Because of this lack of modularity, we can form the structure to create any shape, and angle or any curve that you, as the architect,  can imagine.  You have complete design freedom to create as you wish to meet your clients’ needs and the site requirements.   

Take from this that there is no steep learning curve here. 

Exact design is Built

Polarwall can be built on any type of foundation. It can accept any floor system type. Any roof construction or any mix of cladding can be incorporated into your design.   

Windows and openings can be any height, any width and any shape. So, if you have an overpowering need for a round, oval, lozenge, or any imaginable shaped window then it can be done. Obviously the hard part is getting such a window made. 

If you design the floor to ceiling height to be an exact 2573mm then that is what it will be built to. Of you need a curved wall to have an internal radius of 7271mm then that is what it will be cut to in our factory.  The radius will be exact when assembled on site.  If you decide that the curve in the wall should be an undulation then we make it to follow your design. 

The wide range of insulation options allows you to specify all the way down to a U-value of 0.03. This is one third of the PassivHaus standard for Arctic conditions! But  be warned that such a wall will be 800mm thick!.

Design Choices

There is a wide choice of concrete core widths available in Polarwall. This allows changes to be made to either reduce external noise, build retaining walls in basements, or maybe to increase the core to allow extra large openings to be formed. Alternatively we can vary the insulation thickness to allow different claddings to align between floors. 

Polarwall is the only ICF system to be recommended for basement construction by the structural waterproofing experts at John Newton Waterproofing.  There are solid reasons for this.

You can also rest assured that the simplicity of the design is carried forward into the Construction. 
In the end your client will thank you for choosing Polarwall for their structural fabric.   

Your first step should be to download the standard details to get a full idea of the Polarwall system.  Your second step should be to call us and arrange for an online run-through of the system. We will show you how other elements are tied in so you can design an incredible structure of strength, warmth and style. 

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Technical Information
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16 Solid Reasons Why Polarwall Should Be Your Default ICF System


1. Not An Insulated Block

Polarwall is made of planks of Insulation Board and WE ARE NOT A BLOCK !  This means that we do not have the male/ female connectors and the benefit of this is that a designer does not have to design around any system modules. 

Your design gets built exactly as you intend it to be and you don’t have to calculate the exact dimensions to tie in with a systems set modules ! 

2. The Plank Advantage 

We are not tied to using mouldable expanded polystyrene (EPS) and in fact we do not recommend this as a material at all.  We prefer to use XPS (Extruded Polystyrene) which has superior mechanical strength, much better moisture resistance and an improved thermal performance.  Obviously it is a more expensive material but the structural fabric is not the place to be cutting corners financially. 

Theoretically we can use any rigid board insulation in the Polarwall system but the two we recommend are XPS and Cellular Glass (see advantage below in Worlds Only Fireproof ICF) 

3. Curves, Curves, Curves 

For all you designers that loves some shapely curves, Polarwall is a dream come true. We simply assemble our rails and boards vertically and create a smooth faceted curve.  Also, we can use our in-house software and our CNC cutters to create any curve you can imagine – and made exactly to the radius you choose.  Or if you want to go freehand we can do that too. Now, if you really want to push that design envelope you could do what this designer did and go for vertical curves – think pregnant woman !  (on that last design feature we would just like to remind you that just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should do it!) 

4. Total Thermal Envelope 

If you are designing to Net Zero standards then you need to talk to us.   Our Psi values for thermal bridging at junctions are the are the lowest on the market and we have variations on our details to ensure that any interfacing component is not causing heat loss.  Adding an insulated raft foundation and you have the Perfect Thermal Envelope. 

Check out our details and request our independently audited Psi value calculations to see some of the unique solutions we have for ensuring the Net Zero Design. 

5. Smallest Section Tie 

Polarwall has the smallest section of any plastic tie on the market. This makes it easier for the builder to achieve perfect concrete compaction without voids in the wall.  Of course there are some very slender steel ties on the market and they get perfect compaction too but the price is the thermal performance bridging deficit (approx 30%) that accompanies using steel ties through the wall. 

6. Any U-Value can be met 

This is another advantage of using planks of insulation. We can get to whatever thermal performance you need simply by using the right type of insulation at the correct width.  

Most of our walls are between ur top performing specification is  

Check out our details and request our independently audited Psi value calculations to see some of the unique solutions we have for ensuring the Net Zero Design. 

7. Concrete Core Sizes 

 We have a wide range of core sizes available from 4″ to 12″ in 2″ increments. For above ground structures we advise the 6 inch core. The 8″ core is ideal for swimming pools and for shared dividing walls between residences in apartments, and though this size can be used in basements we would advise using the 10 inch or 12 inch.  The wider size allows for better concrete compaction when there are 2 layers of reinforcement.  

Ties can be joined together to make a very thick concrete core or an extra wide corbel detail. 

8. Any Floor Type, Any Roof 

Being a plank system means that we can easily build with any type of floor – timber joist , pre-cast concrete,  cast in-situ. or cassettes.  

Our timber joist system is like no other as the wall plate becomes an integral part of the formwork,  

Similarly, we don’t know of any other ICF that can incorporate a shutter box to tie in those in-situ concrete floors so neatly, 

9. Wire Mesh Reinforcement 

Structural Engineers love the fact that Polarwall can be built around a welded wire mesh reinforcement design.  This gives them peace of mind about how the reinforcement is being placed in the wall.  This is a great feature for simple basement construction and provides huge potential savings on steel tying labour costs ! 

10. The Continuous Rail 

Polarwall planks are joined together with ladders of H-rail. Savvy contractors get that the nature of this ladder assembly acts like the horizontal whaler in traditional formwork which ensures the straightest of walls – both before and after the concrete pour.  

Later, it also provides predictable firm fixing points for the occupants to attach things to the wall. 

11. Panelised Construction 

For larger projects the panelised Polarwall build method has huge advantages.  Whole walls can be preformed and lifted into position ready for the concrete pour.  In a multi storey apartment block the contractors can be a floor or more in advance of the assembly leading to huge time savings on the project. 

This can all be done with simple jigs on site 

12. Worlds First Fireproof ICF 

Our Polystyrene boards all have a fire retardant.  However, a fire retardant is NOT fireproof and even the highest dosed polystyrenes (like most foamed insulants) will melt away in high temperatures. 

There are only two A1 rated fireproof insulants – mineral wool and cellular glass.  Mineral wool has no rigidity and accepts moisture so is completely useless in concrete formwork.   

Cellular glass (or foamed glass) is the perfect solution and Polarwall are about to build the first totally fire proof apartment block in Glasgow, Scotland, using this material to the outer face.  

We have incorporated cellular glass insulation to create the firebreaks between floors and occasionally in window soffit areas to stop spread of flames from inside to outside, but this new structure will be a World first in construction safety. 

Obviously this is not a cheap solution.   

13. Core Width Changing 

Imagine a walkout basement built on a slope that is fully retaining on the rear wall partially retaining on the side walls and not retaining on the front wall.  The ideal engineering design might need a 300mm core on the rear, 250mm on the sides and 200mm (or 150mm) on the walk out wall. This isn’t an issue and there are no special components needed.  we just change the core width as we come round the corner.  And we can change the insulation thickness at the same time to if that is required.  In fact, the sloping side walls might also be stepped with core changes. 

14. Any Claddings 

Polarwall can accept any type of cladding or finish. Where two different cladding types meet we don’t need to consider battens to make adjustments we can simply alter the thickness of the external insulation to suit. 

Some designers have used this Polarwall feature to create band courses within the formwork. In extreme cases, such as the Art Deco style homes shown here, the Polarwall insulation has been used to create the corbel detailing and those elaborate eyebrows around the circular windows.  

15. A Composite Material? 

The XPS insulation we use has a special surface finish designed to bond to concrete.  When the concrete cures the permanent bond between the concrete and the insulation is huge. 

At right is a photo showing a typical core sample taken form our walls.  Here you can see this 4 inch core of concrete is being held by the bond between the materials.  This simple sample always generates lots of interest at Trade Shows and demonstrates what happens inside the wall as the concrete cures. 

16. And Training 

We work collaboratively with architects, engineers, and builders to create the best structure that is  possible.  To that end, we are always available to discuss methods, details and related products.  To help you understand the possibilities of our products we offer free online training to anyone who asks.  This online training is not a new thing for us and we have been offering this service for over 20 years.  

We have never charged for training.  We always attend a builder’s first concrete pour and treat this as the most important element of our training.