17 South: Charleston Multi-family Residential Development Built With ICF

March/April 2018 print issue of Concrete Homes + Low-Rise Construction Magazine.

By Vanessa Salvia

EYC Companies—a privately owned real estate development company based in Charleston, South Carolina—was recently recognized by the ICF industry for excellence in design and construction of a multi-family community. Ellis Coleman, president of EYC Companies, has specialized in the creation and redevelopment of residential and mixed-use communities around the southeastern U.S. since the mid-1990s.

EYC Companies developed the project from the ground up as a model of energy efficiency and strength, utilizing the benefits of ICFs to build its “next generation” multi-family project with its general contractor affiliate Front Street Construction Services.

“We strive to develop three projects a year,” explains Coleman. “It takes about 18 to 24 months to design, plan and permit a multi-family community here.”

17 South Apartments, consisting of 220 units in seven buildings, is located on Highway 17, a major artery in Charleston. The project’s high-profile nature helped it earn the 2018 ICF Builder Award for Best in Class – Development. The seven residential buildings comprise nearly 250,000 square feet. With all exterior walls and interior shear walls built using ICFs, that translates to 116,871 square feet of ICF walls. Approximately 22,000 Amvic ICF blocks were used on this project.

Some innovations were incorporated to keep costs down and expedite the concrete pour. Commercial recessed windows and doors, required by the Charleston Design Review Board, require special attention when using ICFs. To facilitate this a vinyl pocket was utilized in the ICF openings to allow for 8-inch recesses and waterproofing in one step. Wood was used to frame the parapets using vertical trusses with built-in notches.

Charleston is a fast-growing city. Boeing opened an assembly plant for the 787 Dreamliner here in 2011 and has continued to expand. Many other global manufacturers have followed suit, resulting in an employment boom and dynamic rental housing market. Coleman has lived in Charleston since 2009, so looking to his own city for a big development like this just made sense.

Prior to the development of 17 South, EYC Companies had little experience with ICFs. Coleman built an ICF home a few years ago. “We live right on the coast,” he explains. “We have hurricanes in this part of the world so you have to design for 135 mile per hour winds. We also have an earthquake component here. Looking around at what kind of structures we could build as an alternative to wood frame, I came across ICFs and decided to try it for my house.”

As Coleman went through that process, he realized that ICF allowed for a structure that he felt would work in an apartment project. “And the benefits of it would be enormous,” he says. “With ICF you accomplish several things. Automatically the building is much stronger than wood. You don’t have to do anything special to it to meet wind and seismic code requirements. We had found ourselves spending up to $2000 per unit tying down a wood building so it wouldn’t blow away and you don’t have to do that with ICF.”

17 South is located in a type-3 commercial zone that requires a fire rated exterior wall assembly. “When I looked at some of the other alternatives for type 3 construction like expensive fire-treated wood walls or CMU, ICF seemed the best option for us,” he explains. “Now that you have a really efficient envelope, it opens the door to other opportunities for savings. For instance, we could replace our typical ducted HVAC system with much more efficient variable speed 19 seer rated equipment.”

The project was also designed with R38 open cell spray foam insulation applied from the top of the ICF exterior wall across the underside of the roof sheathing, effectively completing the envelope. They also chose a central gas water heater. “Those components together are saving about 40 percent of the energy costs compared to our typical wood-frame buildings and it’s mostly passive so once the building is in place you enjoy the benefits of that for a very long time,” Coleman says.

The exteriors are brick and stucco and ICF lends itself to those finishes very well. The stucco is a three-part system that is directly applied to the ICF.

For the most part, ICF has not crossed over into traditional multi-family developments. “You see it in the hotel industry, student housing and single family developments in a big way in the southeast since Katrina,” says Coleman, “but you don’t see ICF in multi-family construction here yet.”

Cost wise, they ended up spending about $3,500 to 4,000 more per unit than they normally would on wood frame.

“You can not take a building that you’ve designed in wood or CMU (concrete masonry units) and convert it to an ICF building and expect a good result,” Coleman says. “You have to design from the very beginning knowing that you are building with a Styrofoam form that stacks in certain dimensions really easily. The design of the building is very much a part of being able to build at that price point and maintain good control of all the details.”

A key is recognizing that something is not practical early in the process, as well as planning ahead. “We have a cement wall and we spent an enormous amount of time calculating where all the penetrations should go for the subcontractors,” says Coleman. “You have to think that out ahead of time because if you don’t, your subcontractors are going to end up spending a lot of time boring through walls.”

Coleman started researching various block systems as he began planning their development. “We just started a conversation with Amvic’s director of commercial development, Paul Camozzi, and we liked that they have a 6-inch web which is a strong form,” explains Coleman. “Others have it too, but Amvic was very helpful and supportive of someone wanting to do a multi-family building and they connected us to a lot of sources. They’ve been a real partner for us through this learning process.”

Utilities are included in the rent at 17 South. “That’s something we wouldn’t be able to do if we weren’t enjoying a very energy efficient building,” Coleman says. “Our customers benefit from the energy savings to heat and cool the building and water. In addition, residents experience the comfortable living environment in an ICF building. Humidity is stable and there are no hot spots that you normally experience in a wood frame building in Charleston.”

Coleman points out that the ICF Builder Award cast a spotlight on the building’s construction, but what wasn’t discussed as much was the result for the resident. “The real person you’re out to impress and the one that determines whether you’re successful or not is your customer,” says Coleman. “Our customers enjoy living in an energy efficient building that’s quiet and comfortable and they don’t have to leave if the wind blows 100 mph. It’s a next-level living experience for a renter in today’s market.”

Project Statistics
Charleston, South Carolina
Type: Multi-family Residential
Size: 248,994 square feet
Cost: $32.8 million
Total Construction: 2 years
ICF System: Amvic
ICF Installation Time: 14 months
Owner: EYC Companies
General Contractor: Front Street Construction Services
ICF Installer: Sowell Builder Services
Architect: Cline Design Associates

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