So. California Construction Pros
Find New Opportunities in ICF, Sustainable Building
By Denise C. Gonzales



Today’s headlines greet my husband and me in the morning over coffee: unemployment levels have hit more than 11% in California, meaning that tens of thousands of white and blue collar workers throughout the state are embarking on — or continuing — an arduous search for employment in troubling economic times.

Flash forward two hours, and we are on the job site of our firm’s latest construction project: a stunning, private home perched high on the bluffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
We at Conduit Development are grateful for this project, especially when so many of our peers are seeking work. But most importantly, we are thankful to be building for the future by employing a mix of blue and white collar workers who have joined the green workforce to create this fully-sustainable, ICF insulating concrete form
) showcase home.

The project didn’t come to us by accident. In fact, traditional wood-frame plans for the home were all but complete when our firm entered the picture. After extensive research, the owners realized they had a unique opportunity to create not just a house, but a fully-sustainable dream home that would withstand the test of time and realize thousands of dollars in long-term savings.

Conduit educated the owners on the many benefits of ICF, and the original architectural plans were soon altered to accommodate ICF technology, without adding a dime onto construction costs. Made of energy-saving expanded polystyrene (EPS), these igloo-like blocks are stacked like Legos, then filled with concrete to create stable, durable and sustainable walls and foundations.

By using ICF instead of wood, the home will require 30-50% less energy to heat and cool, feature superior sound insulation, and be wind, insect, fire and rodent resistant.

Collectively, these benefits will help create a safe, quiet and comfortable living environment for years — four times longer than traditional construction, according to industry experts.

ICF isn’t a new building material, but it is now catching on at a pace that is faster than the industry’s ability, and sometimes willingness, to catch up to the learning curve. From architects and engineers to city inspectors and laborers, today’s construction professionals have often been resistant to embrace ICF, simply because it’s new.

This gives those of us in sustainable building a unique opportunity to share our insight, knowledge, and experience to help create a bigger green pie for our entire industry through cohesive, targeted education.

In 2005, long before the housing bubble burst, when today’s unprecedented economic challenges were still unthinkable, a white-collar girl put away her heels and suits, to join forces with a blue-collar boy who had grown up in the Southern California residential and commercial construction industry.

Not only did this boy and girl unite in business, but in life as well. And we were determined to make this intersection of personal and professional work in a way that would help make the world a better place. Conduit Development  was born, and my husband and I jumped feet first into the exciting, growing world of sustainable building. For us, blue plus white equaled green.

By 2005, the sustainable building market was known and gaining momentum — especially for add-ons like energy efficient appliances, double-paned windows and even, on a smaller level, solar power. But it took skyrocketing gas prices and Earth-forward political leadership to help propel sustainable building on the fast track to success.

Policies and programs designed to improve environmental quality at the state and national levels are now being passed at a breakneck rate. (In fact, President Obama has promised to spend $150 billion over 10 years to create 5 million new green-collar jobs.)
To encourage these positive steps forward, significant rebates and discounts are being offered to green-minded consumers. And an increasing number of home and business owners feel inspired to “do the right thing” by channeling their resources to products and services that will help minimize their ecological footprint.

Plus, there are compelling safety benefits to consider for homes at every price point, as well as public and commercial buildings. ICF offers significant fire protection, a crucial attribute given the wildfires that ravage So. California with frequent intensity.
In recent firewall tests, the ICF walls withstood continuous exposure to intense flames and temperatures up to 2,000 degrees for as long as four hours without structural damage. Given that  the wood frame walls would collapse in an hour or less under the same conditions, ICF represents the lessons learned and opportunities to grow through smarter, safer building choices for houses of all sizes and pricepoints.

Schools are jumping on the ICF bandwagon as well, citing such benefits as quicker build times, proven strength, cost-saving energy efficiency and unparalleled protection against natural elements, including mold and insects as well as tornadoes and wildfires.
Today, in keeping with this growing movement, green-collar jobs are on the rise. Industry experts expect U.S. jobs in renew-able and energy-efficient industries to grow to as many as 40 million by 2030. Generally speaking, a green collar job is defined as a position working to reduce waste and pollution while benefiting the environment, and also pays decent wages and offers upward mobility. Which helps explain why so many workers are trading in their existing skills and knowledge base to go green.

For some green-collar workers, the choice is a matter of ideals. They’ve had a wake-up call, and want to use their professional and personal time in alignment with their convictions to protect our environment. For others, it is a matter of practicality.
The old ways aren’t working, and it only makes sense that the population at large is looking at eco-friendly alternatives in their homes and places of work. If this is where the jobs will be in the future, then it only makes sense that now is the time to learn new skills and be prepared.

Conduit is proud to be a productive — and hopefully profitable — part of this green machine. We consult, advise and implement sustainable building practices in-to all of our jobs, and are working to share our green knowledge base to help prepare today’s workers for a greener tomorrow.

We believe that for those who want to succeed, the opportunity for accessible, affordable and informative training for green positions is a must. To help accomplish this, Conduit is offering low-cost, day-long workshops on ICF installation and construction. These seminars are open to everyone in the industry.

Architects, for example, learn how to alter traditional wood frame plans to accommodate ICF technology. Engineers get a better understanding of ICF structural requirements and benefits. And construction professionals hungry to be back on a job site learn valuable skills that will assist them in landing solid positions in sustainable building.

While Conduit may not be the biggest builder in the marketplace, we know one thing: our convictions are enormous. And our recent work on this landmark ICF home further reinforces the fact that new opportunities do exist — even in challenging economic times — when you stand by your convictions. Like everyone else, we have no idea what the future holds.

But for now, we are looking ahead to our next ICF project, as well as expanding our distributorship of sustainable building products to complement ICF and other green building technologies. As we continue to train ourselves, our crew and our peers to help build a greener, more vibrant future, we look forward to even more job security and greater work satisfaction.

Conduit Development is a fully integrated, full-service residential and commercial construction firm specializing in green sustainable building practices. Under the leadership of Simon Gonzales, Jr., president, and Denise Gonzales, CEO, they approach every project with an Earth-first attitude, saving clients thousands of dollars over time by making buildings more efficient and sustainable from the beginning.

This landmark project is estimated to be complete by October of this year. To tour the construction site, attend a workshop and learn more about sustainable building practices implemented by Conduit, including ICF construction, please visit: or call (562) 430-3727.

Return to the September/October Index page