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Building to Begin Spring '09 - ICF shell

dvdhawk - I'm starting a new thread with details on the proposed ICF building project. Here's the background information our moderators like.

Location: Western PA -USA
If you looked at a satellite photo of my location you would see all the forests and farmland, and you might think that outside -> inside noise wouldn’t be much of a problem in such a rural setting. Not true. We just have different problems than the suburbs and cities. We’re in the middle of a small cluster of homes along one of PA’s primary 2-lane roadways and we’re just 1/2 mile from Interstate-80. We’ve got great neighbors and we all try to be respectful and not make too much racket, early or late. I personally don’t need much volume to be happy and I’m much more likely to pick up an acoustic guitar or play an unplugged electric. But due to some unresolved karmic debt from a past life, my son plays drums. Thankfully he’s not a basher, but still, a 16 yr. old drummer playing the kind of music 16 yr. olds and his friends would play. (on the loud side) I own no less than 3 decibel meters, and have never measured the dBs inside or out when he's playing. I’d have to guess 95-100 dB inside would be the maximum inside level.

Project Description:
Multi-Function 55’ x 32’ Multi-Level Building attached to existing home.

Goals of the entire building project:
To make the most sound-proof and energy-efficient building possible on a reasonable budget.
2-car Garage with Workspace and Storage.
Recording and Production Space for my solo projects, band projects, and my 16-yr. old son’s band(s)
Production Space for occasional outside recording projects, and A/V post-production.
Control Room that can double as client-friendly Video Screening Room
Rehearsal Space for me and my son’s bands ( they practice a lot more than us old guys )
Workspace, Office Space, & Storage for the A/V Contractor business.

Project Status: Making final decisions about design, construction scheduled to begin with footer work in the spring, basement walls immediately after, - March if we’re lucky. It’s not too late to make changes!

Known Construction Challenges:
Attaching to existing house at correct heights.
Sloping lot - 30ft. drop over 300ft. length of lot.
Excessive ground-water needs adequate drainage.
Driveway needs reworked.
The patience of my wife of 25 years, who does not like change.

Noise Issues: Typical neighborhood noises - not complaining, just listing all the things that could wreck a recording.

Road noise - cars, trucks, Harleys, punks with car stereos I can literally hear coming a half mile+ away.
Moderate truck traffic with potential for much more if they make I-80 a toll road through PA. (which state lawmakers are trying to do)
The big trucks are a problem here. They're either coasting and Jake-Braking down one grade, or going like hell to get up the other side.
Neighbor’s idling big rig - sometimes rumbles for hours at a time, especially in cold weather.
Snow plows - an earthshaking rumble as they scrape the ice and snow off the roads in the winter.
Barking bird dog(s) in their pen - sometimes hours on end - year round.
Hunting related gunfire - sporadic and seasonal.
Lawn mowers - Neighborhood lawn mower brigade runs for hours - spring through fall.
Motorcycles (on and off-road) - loads of Harley traffic and the occasional ATV or dirtbike on the property behind us.
Helicopters - the good folks at Stat MediVac fly over regularly, between 2 local hospitals and interstate accidents.
Jets - that’s right... Jets. A couple times a month - F18s, A10s, C130s, etc. ripping through here full-throttle at tree top level. We apparently live at a navigation point for training flights and they hit a spot 1/4 mile East of here and bank hard North just outside my window. That leaves us in the loud wash, but it doesn’t happen enough to be a huge problem. And heaven help me, I love watching them go by, when I can look fast enough.

Vocation: I run my business out of our medium-size 2-story farmhouse style home.

Sound/Video Contractor - specializing in churches & schools. (95% of my business)
Professional Sound System Installation ( mixers, power amps, speakers, mics, racks, the works )
Video Projection Systems - ( screens, projectors, presentation software )
Theatrical Lighting - conventional lighting consoles & dimmers, plus new LED technologies

A/V production - ProTools & FinalCut Pro (5% of my business)
Special Interest / Corporate Video Production
Radio Commercial Production
Remote Recording - Live Concerts etc.

Still making music 2-3 times a month in a 3-pc rock / blues band
Golfing, fishing, motorcycling ( not enough free time do to any of these lately )

I have several great books including Rod's, and I've been doing my homework, reading everything on the Auralex & GreenGlue sites, at John Sayers' forum, and recently joined up here at to name a few resources.

Drawings and Pics to follow because, 'That’s all I need in life, a little place for my stuff.' - George Carlin


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dvdhawk Sun, 12/28/2008 - 21:03

Charts & Graphs

Here's what we have to start with, and what we're planning.

As I mentioned in the background info, the slope of the lot is an issue. Here's a drawing that gives you some idea what we're dealing with.

(shown with addition)

A wider view of the basement level showing room-within-a-room control room, stairwell/airlock, and large record room with a couple small isolation booths. I would have to rely on video visual communication to and from the control room. The outer shell and two interior walls that form the stairwell airlock will also be ICF to help support concrete deck of ground-floor garage level. The max. basement height will be 12ft., so that hopefully after we do all the necessary interior ceiling work we should still net around 11ft of usable height. (Not including angled cloud over control room)

Using the RealTraps Room Mode Calculator, I believe if I can net 11ft. ceiling height, I think 25.63 x 17.6 x 11 would be an optimum rectangular room ratio for a largish control room. Starting from there, building the symetrical angled walls treated for absorption, diffusion, bass traps. that would fit neatly in the ICF envelope - leaving some airspace.

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dvdhawk Sun, 12/28/2008 - 22:15

Getting the plans approved and permitting were a bit of an ordeal, but everything is squared away and the preliminary earthmoving started back in August.

We had a big old maple tree that had to go. We hated to see it go, but it was really old and half-dead already.

It's amazing how fast a guy who knows how to run an excavator can knock down a 65ft. maple tree that's over 4ft. wide at the trunk. (something like 3 minutes) -maybe I'll YouTube the video.....

A few days later, just one load of firewood left

They've skimmed off all the topsoil and dug down to the new, lower level and put in a thick base layer of stone for what will eventually be parking behind the building.

The excavation guy said he hasn't seen a spring like this in years. So, another unpleasant and costly surprise.

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dvdhawk Mon, 12/29/2008 - 20:34

Since we started dreaming about this project I've been saying half-jokingly, " I hope when we dig a hole it doesn't fill up with water." Knowing how 'squishy' the lower part of the lot is, even during a dry spell. As usual the joke's on me.

We had a geologist test a soil sample to determine a footer size earlier in the spring of '08. After we found the water problem we had to have the geologist stop out again. His analysis of the soil stayed the same, and the footer size remained the same - JUMBO.

But, just incase we run into an artesian-well situation below the building we had to add numerous drain pipes below the basement slab(s), which all run to daylight further down the hill. For other drainage, we also had to add a 3ft. concrete "catch basin" with 100ft. of 12-inch drain pipe to the front of the house, so that water from the front of the garage area and driveway has a place to drain away from the building. We also put a 4-inch inlet in the catch basin to drain some of the rain gutters on the front of the house down the hill too.

And after we discovered this spring we had to have the water tested, turns out it's very acidic "consistent with mine water run-off" from old surface mining activity according to the local lab. So the DEP might have to clean it up right? - NOPE - the DEP guy stopped out and since it's not an immediate threat to anybody's health or safety I'm on my own. He did comment, however, that there are people who would 'kill' to have that much 'water-flow'. Lucky me... The official DEP response was essentially - [we understand it will add to your construction costs... tough luck ... do whatever you want with the water, we don't care. It probably is mine-water, but you would be at the very bottom of our list of things to spend money on.] OK, can't say I was surprised.

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dvdhawk Mon, 12/29/2008 - 21:20


I can do a lot of the work myself, and I have an inside track on a lot of the materials. So we shouldn't hit that high. But if I had to hire out everything, with the numbers I have now, I think I could still keep it under 2. Let's hope. There's a lot of grunt-work that I can do with an army of reasonably intelligent friends. Providing plenty of good food, but sorry... no beer until we're done for the day.

EPS is a petroleum based product and with oil dropping dramatically since my last quote on the shell, I'm told that number will come down. With a project like this, any drop in oil, steel, concrete, or drywall will make a huge difference to my bottom line and they've all been working their way down. We'll see where we're at with the new total in a couple months.

I wouldn't want to tackle a project of this size without an experienced eye watching every step of the way. So I am working closely with an ICF specialist, because there aren't a lot of contractors around here familiar with ICF construction yet. And you need someone who knows what they're doing and has all the equipment and materials for bracing prior to pouring the walls. Especially when it's time to pour the LiteDeck garage floor. That would be really scary without an expert.


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dvdhawk Mon, 12/29/2008 - 21:32

This is what I have in mind for the 1st Floor and 2nd Floor

Alternate Live Room on left and much needed garage space on right
Wood deck wraps around.

Half 2nd story extends from front of building (right) to back of stairwell shown

Please don't bust my hump if all the dimensions don't add up perfectly, from one revision to the next. The general idea is the same, while everything gets pushed and pulled.

Space Tue, 12/30/2008 - 19:18


That is a huge project to expect friends to help you complete. Maybe I'm just thinking of my friends?

It is good that you are thinking far enough ahead to enlist the ICF people, you are going to need it. What about electrical, hvac, roofing, sheetrocking, plumbing? Can you guys pull your permits and do that?

I'll enjoy the view while you do it, but it's a really big job with a lot of detail...

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dvdhawk Wed, 12/31/2008 - 01:54


The ICF guy is going to do the footer (using Form-a-Drain) to make sure it's as perfectly level and plumb as possible and has the vertical rebar exactly where he wants it. There will be little margin for error in the construction or waterproofing of the basement walls. And I will let the expert do most, if not all, of the basement walls with his crew, including the waterproofing of the below-grade walls. We may turn the volunteers loose as needed for laborers. The shell will have to be poured in 4-stages, so there will be plenty to do in a short period of time between levels. I will need to have all of the wall penetrations planned and conduit in-place in all the right places.

My son and I will be the primary grunts from start to finish. He plays the drums and is taking drafting and CAD in school and is as anxious to get started as I am.

I've had dozens of skilled and semi-skilled people volunteer to help, but you know talk is cheap... we'll see how many can show up on the days we need them. A couple of those guys have done all phases of construction and concrete work. And one guy who has built a new home a year or two ago almost single-handed, including an ICF basement and his house is incredible - he's a well-rounded craftsman and a heck of a nice guy.

I've had a plumbing and heating guy lined up - that is something I would not attempt myself. We're doing radiant in-floor heat in the basement and you want an expert doing pipes that will be encased in cement.

I know a lot of contractors through my line of work, and some of them are very interested in learning about ICF construction.

I've got one of those professional contractors lined up to do all of the roof, most of the exterior finish, and the attachment to the house when the time comes. And I'll have him standing by for whatever interior I can't do myself. I would be comfortable drywalling the walls, but not the ceiling. The guy who built a new home that I mentioned earlier, put in a really high vaulted ceiling in his living room by himself. I've offered to pay to have him and a couple others to work with me to speed things along.

I can do 98% of the high-voltage wiring and 100% of the low-voltage myself. I've got a genius electrician to guide me as needed with the high-voltage and to make sure my wiring plan is workable and up to code.

In PA the plans have to be approved in advance, to get the building permits. We have all the permits to get started, and we will be subject to regular inspections throughout the construction process. They don't care who does the work, as long as everything complies with their standards along the way.

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dvdhawk Sat, 01/03/2009 - 01:04

Status: Feeling kinda good... I was following the trail of a link from a different thread on RO and just found a model of a high-end studio control room design, that looks something like what I've got planned. Theirs is 1000% sexier, ( I wish I had their budget) but It's reassuring to know it's a workable design, now all we gotta do is NOT screw it up!

... so many details ... I'm afraid I'm going to forget something. I guess that's another motiviation to post pictures of the progress once we start slingin' mud. I've been impressed by some of the potential problems you all have caught in the photos that saved some of the other DIY builders a lot of grief. Hopefully if I wander off-course someone here will catch me before the problem is encased in cement ( a la Jimmy Hoffa. )

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dvdhawk Mon, 01/12/2009 - 23:58

I'm thinking about skewing the walls in the vocal booths to make them non-parallel. And I'd like to lower the ceiling here to about 96". Then give them a pretty thorough Auralex foam treatment or similar.

What percentage of the walls would you treat with foam?
Would you recommend making this one room rather than two?

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dvdhawk Mon, 03/02/2009 - 00:06

We're getting pretty close to go-time with the foundation and shell and I'd appreciate input from any of the builder types that would care to throw in your 2 cents. Good info on ICF construction is pretty much non-existent when it comes to the kind of multi-leaf walls everyone recommends for maximum isolation.

Topic #1

When I'm building Room A within Room B, do I need to take the modal frequencies of the outer Room B into consideration since some frequencies still pass through the inner wall in varying degrees?

If the inner walls are constructed to the highest standard can you disregard the properties of the outer envelope? In which case, I assume if everything is done correctly the level of sound that would reflect back inward from the outer envelope would be too quiet to worry about?

Topic #2

I've seen you recommend additional mass added to the inside face of the outer walls of some room-in-room designs. Would you line the ICF interior of Room B with a single layer of drywall, double layer of drywall with GG, create a stagger stud wall between the outer wall and the inner wall, or some combination of those things?

Since the foam layer of an ICF wall can't vibrate freely and is considered part of the solid wall structure, would an air layer be beneficial? Which directs back to my original question a few months ago as to whether or not resilient channel would improve the wall's performance- in addition to building

Code won't allow exposed foam on the interior. Does this mean am I required to apply a layer of drywall (or other comparable fire-rated material) before I add a wall structure or air layer?

Control Room

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MadMax Mon, 03/02/2009 - 08:14

I'm on the run right now... slappin' up gypsum and all... so I need to check back later...

but, from what I'm initially seeing is a triple leave design.

I'd use a single 2x4 stud wall spaced out from the ICF by 1"... Open stud bay to the ICF. Fill with R-13, cover as you desire from that point on.

camsr Mon, 03/02/2009 - 21:39

The staggered leaf design is not necessary if the wall is not load bearing. Use the single wall like Madmax suggests, it is a simple and effective membrane to absorb the sound. You should double up drywall on it, and since you seem to have a nice budget, use greenglue. As per madmax's studio build I would think some of the backer rod would improve isolation for the drywall seems. Of course you might have enough isolation with the ICF itself. I would test after the ICF construction to verify how much more isolation will be needed.

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dvdhawk Tue, 03/03/2009 - 00:36

Max & camsr,

Gentlemen as always, thanks for your suggestions.

The interior drywall / GreenGlue / drywall layer was the only part I was pretty sure of. I just had no idea if one of these wall structures would be enough. Is this one of those cases where more than 1" of airspace would pay dividends? I was going to have about 10" around the CR on 3 sides and about 26" on one end. I was thinking I would be running my ductwork in those spaces, and carving out a spot in the 26" areas to isolate the noisy equipment.

Camsr, I had considered putting in some of Rod's "super doors" and testing prior to building the room within. I wasn't sure how practical it would be to frame in the beast of a door without knowing exactly where the finished door would end up - relative to the rough opening into the CR. But, I guess if I have both control room doors open out those positions should be literally set in concrete by that point. The exterior door isn't going to move. And if I swing the other CR door into the stairwell/airlock area, that isn't going to move either.

So, something like this rather than the previous version posted.

Even though Max thought his last batch of photos were pretty boring, the ones detailing the backer rod installation and custom tool were extremely useful.

Again, thanks for all your help - I really do appreciate it.

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MadMax Tue, 03/03/2009 - 04:57

I appreciate the kudos on the backer rod installation... :oops: I'm blushing, but glad someone found it useful!

A couple of quick thoughts...

I really like the idea of using the extra space in the wall cavities for your ductwork.

I'll toss out an idea that you are free to tell me to shove up my tail... :)

Rather than trying to shove ALL of your gear in the 26" space and then having to come up with a complicated way to get cooling to it, I might consider running 2.5"-3" PVC under the floor and running them from the CR to the small iso in the hall... and using that room for some of the gear... primarily if that gear is going to be things like 2" tape.

Otherwise, you will want to come up with some way to either push cool air across the gear, or you will need to pull air up through the gear racks, via a return... if that can be done according to your local mechanical code.

Actually, I'd run large PVC, under the slabs, to each of your rooms, then carry the electrical high and overhead as Rod suggested I do. Granted I've not pulled any of my low voltage lines yet, so I can't comment on how easy, or how hard it is to pull... but I can tell you that it will be far better in the long run to keep that large separation between power and low voltage.

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dvdhawk Tue, 03/03/2009 - 10:23

Thanks Max,

I was going to go into more detail on this last night, but I was running out of gas around 4am. And if there's anybody who won't be offering up any sympathy for 18-20 hour days I have a feeling it might be you.

In the diagram the light blue area represents that 10" of air. With the exception of the few places where the walls angle in toward the doorways, there should be very little structure that cuts into that 10" cushion of air. I was hoping to get the ductwork / air silencers to work in that space. Some high, some low, to circulate in fresh-air and conditioned-air. Hot water in-floor heat, so no ducting necesary for that.

I didn't think cooling the equipment room would be all that complicated, since I would be distributing the cooled air for the CR so close. I was more worried about dust and humidity. The measurement of 26" I referred to, is the narrow light blue walkway area connecting the two light blue triangular areas which would be significantly larger. (actual dimensions escape me at the moment) The noisy equipment would go in one of these triangular spaces. The other triangle I thought might be needed for an air distribution system of some size. I was thinking mini-split for the AC or a central air set-up similar to yours with the compressor doing it's job and making noise outside. Then making the exterior wall penetrations for the AC through the wall into one of those triangular areas. I was thinking either way that should keep the compressor and the air-handling fans of the AC sufficiently isolated from the inner area of the control room, and with a decently effective plenum we should be able to get a large volume of air at a low velocity.

I have every intention of running my high-voltage high and low-voltage lines below the slab unless something drastically changes. Although the pipes for the radiant in-floor heat will cause some challenges with the LV conduit, I believe it can be done. But I'm thinking rather than running a continuous run of conduit(s) from the CR to the tracking room, that I might prevent some leakage by running conduit from the control room to somewhere in the air-lock/stairwell or iso-room. Then going to the tracking room from there, getting there in 2 steps. It's not a straight pull, but SOP for my line of work.

And I can't tell you how disappointed I am that Lunatique's studio in China beat me to the punch on using RGB LED lighting to give the place some color. I've been working with LED lighting a lot lately and not only do they look really cool - they use very little electricity - they give off almost no heat - and they don't seem to cause enough RFI, EMI (or any other kind of I) to annoy a stratocaster at point-blank range. One of these days when I don't have anything else to do - I'll throw a scope on the AC to compare pollution from conventional dimmers to DMX controlled LEDs. I have a feeling the LEDs will be zero or close to it. Speaking of electrical pollution fighting equipment - I've got a Furman IT-20 I plan to use in the control room for 20-amps of "balanced AC" for the really sensitive stuff. And a Furman AR-Pro 30-amp voltage regulator/ line conditioner I'm thinking will do me more good in the tracking room. - since you never know what the band might drag in.

Things would really have to go gangbusters for me to go up to 2" tape. My current mediums are 32 tracks of ADAT and a 16-ch in/out 24-tracks at mix PT LE system, which is rock solid but will be first thing I plan to replace when my wallet stops hemorrhaging from the build. (Again, I don't expect any sympathy there either - I know you know all about spending money with both hands as you're chugging toward the finish line.)

That's all I got for now. Work to do - Over and out.

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dvdhawk Tue, 03/03/2009 - 13:03


Laughing at the cash flow reality? or my recording medium? or some other boneheaded thing I may have convinced myself will work?

*edit* it was some other boneheaded thing I said - oops!

not the first time I've felt like a jackass - thanks for the correction.