The problem:

The Insulated Concrete Form (ICF) block system has been around for more than 40 years without any significant design improvements. The concrete formwork provides insulation for commercial buildings and homes but can be labor-intensive and sometimes results in a substandard product that later requires maintenance.

The innovation:

Andrew Hobbs, president of Hobbs Building Systems LLC, developed an Insulated Concrete Form that uses 40 percent less concrete, while also being stronger and more energy-efficient. “I saw that by optimizing the use of materials we could be more efficient,” he said. In addition to saving clients money on their power bills, his wall system uses recycled materials and lasts longer.

How they did it:

Andrew Hobbs quickly saw the shortcomings of traditional ICF products.

“This is a labor-intensive product,” said Hobbs, president and founder of Hobbs Building Systems. “And often it’s substandard or not very high quality.”

So he set out to build a greener, more efficient wall system.

“I thought I could build a better mouse trap,” he said.

After two years of research and development, along with some help from Iowa Sate University’s civil engineering department, Hobbs created a product that uses 40 percent less concrete – only using it where it is structurally necessary – and more foam insulation than regular ICF blocks. It also can be installed in half the time of a normal ICF, he said.

“ICFs have been around for about 40 years but have not had a significant impact on the market share,” he said. “Our challenge has been to distinguish ourselves from other block ICFs.”

Hobbs touts that his ICFs save customers more money than other products on the market, adding that the sustainable wall system is also among the greenest. Hobbs said that almost 50 percent of the contents used are made of recycled material.

Hobbs went on to point out that local and state governments will soon be updating building codes, pushing for more energy-efficient structures. “The bar is being raised as energy efficiency is becoming more commonplace,” he said.

But it hasn’t always been smooth sailing for the innovative entrepreneur.

“Because our system is radically different,” he said, “it’s been a challenge to get out there and really educate people.”

What’s your key to being innovative?

“It’s a challenge to think outside the box, but I used common sense. By taking a further look at the market, I saw the shortcomings and realized I could do it in a better way. It really comes down to knowing the marketplace, knowing what customers are asking for and then actually listening to our customers.”

– Andrew Hobbs, president, Hobbs Building Systems