Bill the builder

According to The Three Little Pigs children’s fable, the big bad wolf “huffed and he puffed ’til he blew the house down”.

He destroyed the house made of straw and the house made of wood, but the house made of bricks was the one which remained standing.

Well, enter Bill Cherry who is a pioneer of Insulated Concrete Form (ICF), a building material and technique creating a revolution in construction in Cayman.

And there is little chance that buildings made from ICF will be blown down by a big bad wolf – or, more importantly in Cayman – a hurricane.

Bill not only helped introduce ICF to Cayman but was part of the team that built the first ICF homes in the United States back in 1991.

Of cheerful disposition and delighted to be living in Cayman where he can wear flip-flops year-round, Bill was more or less born into a life on construction sites in the US.

Both his father and step-father were in the building business and from the age of 14 until 20, Bill worked as his father’s helper, learning the trade first-hand.

Afterwards he became self-employed as a building contractor and an entrepreneur, for the past 20 years focusing his career on building ICF concrete homes and commercial buildings.

“In 1991, we were still building homes the same as all of our competitors – using lumber – and if anyone has ever been up in the northwest US, they know it rains a lot, which makes it very hard to work with the wood,” he says. “Given the environmental conditions of the area, and looking for ways to differentiate ourselves from our competitors, we began to research more innovative, sustainable and efficient building methods.”

Bill chanced upon a magazine in which there was an advertisement for foam form buildings at a time when he and his team were using concrete for the foundation of wooden houses.

“I said ‘why stop at the foundation plate line when we could take the concrete to the roof plate?’, and that’s how it started,” he recalls.

“We ordered a complete load of the foam form and brought this to our engineer and off we went building concrete homes and never looked back.”
To date, Bill has worked on more than 340 concrete projects using ICF and has travelled through the US and Canada training contractors how to do it.

“One of the highlights of my career was from 1995-1997 when I was selected to work with the National Association of Home Builders, and the Portland Cement Association, to build ‘trade homes’ each year for their conventions,” he says.  “Builders from around the world would come to view these homes to become familiar with the latest in ICF technologies and building methods.”

As ICF didn’t become mainstream until the mid-1990s, Bill even had to help educate the engineers and the local building control units about the building codes.

Moving to Cayman

Bill first arrived in Grand Cayman by cruise ship in 1992, immediately falling in love with the island.

“As we pulled out to sea that night I told my wife that one day I would like to come back and call Cayman my home,” he says.

And by a twist of fate it wasn’t long before a Cayman connection was to arise in the very field in which Bill was leading the ICF technology.

He was attending a trade show called World of Concrete, in 1998, when he met none other than Mr. Frank Flowers from the Cayman Islands.

“Mr. Flowers was shopping to build a factory,” he says. “To make a very long story short, I sold Mr. Flowers the ICF form moulding technology called Formtech and that’s how it began for me in Cayman.”

The pair met up again at the trade show in 2006 when Frank revealed that he was struggling with ICF sales and the lack of knowledge about the installation process.

It was decided that Bill should move to Cayman to educate and share his knowledge of ICF with the local contractors.

“I came to the conclusion that there is a very large market for concrete homes using ICF, due to the high cost of energy,” says Bill. “ICF is extremely energy efficient and, in the Caribbean, insulation is a must to keep the warm air out and the cool air in.”

Since moving to Cayman and working with local developers and contractors, Bill has witnessed a surge in the number of new-builds with ICF.

“If you drive around Cayman you will see ICF construction projects in just about all communities and in some cases the complete community,” he says.

In 2009, Bill moved over to NCB Group, where he is currently the construction manager.

Developments by NCB in Cayman which incorporate the use of ICF include Lakeside, Willow House and Health City Cayman Islands, known locally as the Shetty hospital.

In August 2013, NCB also broke ground on Cypress Pointe North in Crystal Harbour. This innovative residential community is built completely with ICF and, when combined with solar and geothermal technologies, will be one of the most energy-efficient communities in the Caribbean. 
Another innovation Bill has brought to the fore is the introduction of Hambro concrete flooring systems.

These consist of a steel girder and roller bar system that is covered with mesh and plywood. Concrete is poured on top of the mesh/plywood to create a floor above the girders. The system complements ICF construction particularly well in multi-family dwellings.

While island living has brought some big changes to Bill’s life, he points out that working here is not so different from the US, as contractors in Cayman adhere to the same international building codes and regulations.

“After almost seven years in Cayman, I have found it to be a great privilege to train and educate local contractors on the use of ICF and look forward to many more years to come,” he says.