New Life In An Old Idea

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The building block has been around for a while. It arrived sometime after the thatched lean-to and hut, and long ago offered us a new, economical, and more protective way of building, especially as our early towns and cities formed.

Given ArchaNatura’s mission to promote progressive building and design, it might be a surprise that our first post would involve the seemingly lowly and decidedly retro building block.

After all, as a building material, blocks may be low-cost, but they are heavy, a pain to transport, and offer poor thermal characteristics. Blocks can shake apart in earthquakes and storms without added reinforcement. And in any case, they are labor intensive and fairly inflexible when complex building forms are desired. In a word, blocks have been done.

Rethinking The Block

If these ideas describe the way you think about building blocks, it’s time to reconsider your outlook. A new type of block has been in development and increased use in the last few years, and recently gained the ultimate badge of respectability – availability through both of the two largest big-box building supply chains in the United States.

Marketed as Apex Block, this new building technology raises the bar for modern building materials and methods. Or rather, we should say that it lowers the bar, since this important new technology promises to allow building designs that are less expensive, more accessible, and more sustainable – all key criteria in ArchaNatura’s Natural Design Challenge.

Apex Blocks are made from an expanded polystyrene-cement blend (EPSCB), and were originally developed in Eastern Europe. The blocks are technically Insulating Concrete Forms (ICFs), since the block cavities are filled with re-bar and grout, but are unlike traditional and more complex ICFs in several respects.

Here are some of the advantages of the new EPSCB approach, as highlighted on Apex’s website:

  1. Moderate material cost – less than comparable wood frame construction
  2. Low labor costs – skilled workers are not needed to construct walls (other than for footing and grouting placement)
  3. Rapid & easy assembly – the wall system is fast and flexible, allows many roof options & floor plans, and is easy to finish
  4. High insulating value – walls provide R-35 thermal resistance & allow minimal air infiltration
  5. Fireproof – the blocks will not burn under typical fire exposures
  6. Wind resistant – readily engineered to withstand 400 KPH winds
  7. Earthquake resistant – readily engineered to withstand an 8.5 tumbler
  8. Mold, vermin & sound resistant – due to the polystyrene content
  9. Recyclable – the blocks use recycled materials and are in turn recyclable

Given all of these advances, we would encourage you to review this important new and even bar-setting building technology at Apex Block. We would also invite your comments on similar or alternative building materials.

As we begin our post stream, which will include regular assessments of current design and building approaches, the new benchmark offered via the Apex Block system is sure to inform and shape our content and commentary.

Tell others about ArchaNatura…encourage progressive building & design!

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