Article No: 94

2006-05-02 07:32:24
CFA Tech Talk Forms
By: Ed Sauter


Editor's note: As part of our partnership with the Concrete Foundations Association (CFA), the following article is the fourth in a yearlong series on the basics of concrete foundation construction.

Time is of the essence in residential construction. Homeowners are often pressured by the sale of their existing home, expiring leases or a growing family — all scenarios that directly affect the desired completion date. However, what most owners do not realize is that the selection of the proper forming system for their concrete poured wall basement can make a huge difference in terms of the project schedule.

Although wood has been the standard forming method throughout modern residential construction history, removable aluminum forms are gaining popularity because of the efficiency, decreased labor and speed that the process affords. Further, concrete foundation homeowners may benefit from the architectural versatility aluminum forms provide.

Learning about aluminum

Although a solution for commercial foundations for quite sometime, removable aluminum forms have been characterized as a new technology that requires significant training for contractors. However, many are debunking the myth that introducing aluminum forms is a daunting task.

According to Phil Fearnow, vice president of sales and marketing at Durand Forms, a crew is able to capitalize on the labor-saving benefits after constructing only two or three foundations.

"Aluminum forms require less hardware and labor than wood forms, which decreases the amount of time spent on each foundation," Fearnow said.

Further, Dean Walters, technical representative at Durand, explains that an experienced crew can set the forms in five hours, pour the concrete in 90 minutes, return the next morning and spend two hours stripping the forms. This enables contractors to increase their project volume.

Many contractors concur that aluminum is the ideal solution as the product is becoming commonplace for residential construction projects around the country.

"In recent years, we have seen an increase in calls regarding aluminum forms," Jim Baty, CFA technical director, said. "Contractors are learning more about how they can benefit from the forms and are interested in making the switch from the traditional wood forms."

In addition to embracing the aluminum forming technology for its speed, Fearnow said a growing number of contractors enjoy the architectural variety the forms allow.

"Aluminum forms are very versatile and can be used for radius walls," he said. "They also can provide a variety of different looks, including brick, for homes that have a foundation wall that is above the grade."

One contractor's dilemma

Although aluminum forms are gaining popularity and offer additional value, transitioning from wood forms does take a significant dollar and time commitment — a challenge for some contractors, to include Walt Wright of Rite Way Foundations. As a member of the concrete foundation industry for more than 20 years, Wright has seen many changes within the industry, including a tremendous boom in residential construction in the outskirts of his St. Louis, Mo. region. Wright said this increased development has resulted in larger construction firms coming to the area. And, though Wright has used wood forms his entire career and stands by their performance, he quickly recognized the necessity of learning more about aluminum forms to ensure he could stay ahead of his competition.

"When the larger contractors came to our area, many of them used aluminum forms," Wright said. "They were securing the subdivision work largely because they were using aluminum forms which allowed them to meet developer's standards that every basement look the same. In comparison to the foundations that utilized aluminum forms, ours (constructed with wood forms) looked a little different."

This prompted Wright to begin investigating aluminum forms for his company. However, one of the first items that caught Wright's attention is the cost difference between aluminum and wood forms.

"A comprehensive set of aluminum forms and accessories are quite an investment," Wright said. "They can cost nearly $100,000 in comparison to the $8,000 I currently pay for my wood forms."

However, he said, despite the vast cost differential, aluminum forms can produce savings in labor costs. Further, Wright added, the versatility and finish afforded by aluminum forms is superior to wood and the forms can be reused for approximately 1,500 to 2,000 foundations, as compared to about 150 uses out of wood forms.
"Although the aluminum forms have a higher initial cost," Wright said, "they are a long-term solution and with proper care, ensure a high trade-in value. My crews will be able to set and pour a form in six hours, as opposed to the eight to 10 hours that it takes with a wood form. I expect this change to dramatically lower my labor cost and allow my crews to do more jobs."

Yet, despite the praise, Wright is still undecided about this high-dollar purchase because his previous experience is so positive. He is seeking the counsel of industry associations, such as the CFA and other contractors who have used aluminum forms before he makes his final decision. Further, he is exploring a variety of financing options that currently exist to help contractors assume the expense of aluminum forms.

Innovative pursuits

Yet another twist on the forming industry comes from innovator B.E.P. Forming Systems president and founder, Greg Peacock - developer of the Big Panel system of products and accessories created to challenge conventional concrete construction methods. As a concrete contractor, Peacock integrates interesting first-hand experience and insight into his technologies.

Nominated for Hanley-Wood's Most Innovative Products contest at World of Concrete in 2003, the state-of-the-art, all-aluminum concrete wall forming system features an exclusive (full-rotation) pivot technology. Because of its unique ability to pivot 180-degrees, the Big Panel Rotator System transcends the costly limitations inherent in traditional concrete forming systems. Further, it increases efficiency for contractors by reducing labor and equipment costs, improving the methods for pouring concrete, and enhancing productivity.

Because the system integrates so seamlessly with a contractor's existing equipment, they are able to extend the value and adaptability of their investment. The completely crane-set system is easily set into place with a residential crane. As concrete foundation professionals continue to pursue methods to increase efficiencies and reduce costs, innovations such as the B.E.P. Big Panel System will continue to revolutionize the industry during the next few years.

Baty said the CFA sees tremendous opportunity with the B.E.P. Big Panel System and encourages all in the residential construction industry to challenge the norm and strive for innovative and better ways to construct concrete foundations and homes.

"As contractors continue to pursue methods to increase their market share and diversify their offerings, the forming industry will be challenged to respond with innovative solutions," Baty said. "The importance of selecting the proper forms should not be overlooked. By choosing the method that works best for your team, you can reduce your costs and increase the number of foundations your team can pour." CH

Ed Sauter is executive director of the CFA. Established in 1974 for the purpose of improving the quality and acceptance of cast-in-place concrete foundations, CFA has a variety of resources on this topic. For more information, see or call 319-895-6940.