Larry Graves’ answer to energy efficiency looks a lot like Legos.
In fact, his company, Gravsco Inc., has built more than 40 structures, including eight schools, from an innovative construction method called Insulated Concrete Forms.
Gravesco buildings include recently-built Hearn Elementary and Choateville Christian Church.
Established in 2004, Gravesco exclusively offers ICF, and President Graves says it saves up to 50 percent on utility costs.
In heavily occupied buildings like schools and hospitals, it makes a huge difference, he said.
“The money saved could be used for new books, teachers’ salaries, updating computers, where it’s needed rather than on heating and cooling.”
ICF consists of four-inch Styrofoam blocks reinforced by a rebar grid into which concrete is poured. The foam provides insulation while the concrete offers strength and durability.
Graves said that while the initial investment can cost up to 8 percent more than traditional building methods, “I made my money back in savings within the first two years.”
In 2003, Graves and his wife constructed their own home from ICF. It took them six months, and they’re already reaping the benefits, he said.
“Our electric bill is from loads and loads of laundry, the PlayStation and our lights - not from heating and cooling,” he said.
The outside walls of his home - the original ICF “test project,” as he calls it - exhibit virtually no thermal penetration.
“Regardless of how hot or cold it is outside, the temperature of the structure stays the same,” he said.
He uses a familiar analogy to explain the concept.
“Think of a hot cup of coffee,” he says.
The foam cup, even though the liquid is piping hot, protects your hands from the heat. Imagine that kind of protection - only 10 times more insulated - for your home, he said.
An added benefit of ICF is that construction goes a lot faster, Vice President Tom Barnes said.
It’s strong too, he said.
“It will hold up against tornadoes and hurricanes which, in turn, can help protect kids in school.”
Chris Colette, an ICF homeowner in the Pea Ridge area, says “There’s nothing that’ll harm it. It’s like a bomb shelter.”
Jay Seltsam, one of 12 Gravesco employees, says his company encourages Kentucky to take the lead in sustainability initiatives.
“ICF is the missing link for what’s required to make energy-efficient buildings work,” he said.
“In combination with solar, wind and geothermal technology, ICF can be completely self-sustainable.”
Gravesco is working on becoming Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certified in the near future, he said.
LEED certification will allow the company to set a “greener” example for the local community and the state as a whole.
Graves, Barnes and Seltsam - all former Western Hills High School students - say they never imagined the direction their company has taken.
“We all grew up around construction and hated concrete,” Barnes said. “It’s the hardest to work with.
“But we had the freedom to learn something new. We were young enough to give it a try and old enough to execute it successfully.”
They’re just hoping the rest of the community will follow their lead.