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Tiny Home Shell Packages - Panel Kits Pre-Assembled or DIY

Eco-Panels manufactures the most advanced structural insulated panels on the market today.  This week Eco-Panels is pleased to offer DIY kits of Tiny Home Shell packages using our advanced panel system - or you can simply purchase standard panels and DIY!  Stick framing makes for a very energy inefficient building envelope no matter how you insulate it due to all of the thermal briding.  Using our panels you too can create the most efficiently insulated Tiny Homes in the World!

 
Building a New Home? See This Study by US DOE Building Scientists

So you are thinking of building a new home?  There are of course many sources of information out there to help you, and we at Eco-Panels would like to be one of your "go-to" sources for what is known as "the building envelope" - that is, the outer shell of the structure, comprising wall systems, roof and floor  We can be used for all of these, but we also recognize that there are often practical limitations to where panels can be used most efficiently.  For most homes that we work on, wall systems offer the greatest return on investment we believe - that is because that is where the greatest heat loss occurs (contrary to popular belief it is NOT the roof - we all know that (generally) heat rises, but most building codes already require approx 3x the amount of insulation in the roof, so this is no longer "low hanging fruit" for home heat loss).

Building Scientists working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory for the US Dept of Energy performed some great tests on traditionally framed wall systems.  They noted that the "framing factor" for most homes was not as low as many builders or building scientists claimed, but actually around 27%.  The framing factor is the amount of surface area of the building envelope that consists of thermally bridging structural members like steel or wooden studs.  Steel studs are generally used more in commercial construction (though occasionally residential) and wooden studs most often in residential.  Both steel and wooden studs in the building envelope readily conduct heat energy (this is known as "thermal bridging" as the structural stud member "bridges" from the interior to the exterior of the wall system) and thereby can significantly impact the actual performance of your entire wall.  While that insulation may be rated as "R13" or "R15" by itself, once you put it into a framed wall assembly the actual effective R value of that wall can be reduced from about 30% to even 70% just due to the presence of the framing members.  So in reality you don't really get what you pay for when your builder is installing "R13" insulation - whether it is spray foam or fiberglass insulation.  Another factor that the study does not discuss is that with framing construction you can have significant air leakage just due to cracks and the inevitable joints, and this can once again significantly impact the performance of the wall.  One building scientist we like - Chris Mathis - notes that the average stick framed home has enough cracks around its building envelope to EQUAL a 3x5 window that is open all the time.  We've lost many clients whose builders convinced them that they could build a traditional stick-framed home just as energy efficient as our panels could, but this really defies the laws of physics, and we've heard from more than a few that they regretted in hindsight not going with our panels.

As you can see from other blog entries on studies we have done, our 4.5" thick R26 rated (at 52degF) wall out performs a traditional stick framed with spray foam insulated wall by over 130%, and our 6.5" thick R40 rated wall (at 52degF) out performs that same traditional stick framed wall by over 220%.

A link to this building study is HERE, and below are a couple of images from the study (and one inserted as our own).

 
If Your Product is So Great, Why Isn't Everyone Using It?

Question from a Prospective Client: (late Saturday evening, Sept 26, 2015) Hey guys.  I sent this to my friend I told you about in Southport area.  He talked to an electrical/plumber contractor who told him he wanted nothing to do with a SIP house.  What is up with that?”

Eco-Panels Response: (5:00am on a Sunday morning, Sept 27, 2015)

Good morning Ron,

I hope you don't mind but I may use my reply to you (would not mention your full name of course) on our website blog.  I’ve got a couple of hours this morning before the rest of my family gets up, and I need to do a new posting to our website!

Unfortunately the response your friend received from the contractor is not unique, and I think this foretells both good news and bad news.  Good news is, the economy must really be getting better if this contractor can be so selective at taking on new work, and the bad news is this would not be the first person who stood in the way of progress.  There are still populations in this country that insist on loading up the family and using a horse & buggy to go to the store, and they would quite simply never drive a car.  Not that there is anything inherently "wrong" with that, but I think most people have accepted automotive transportation and the efficiency it can offer our modern lives and "moved on".

And by the same token some people are still living in homes that were structurally framed the same way that they were almost 200 years ago.  Oh wait - that's like 99% of the population of the United States!  As crazy as it sounds, modern stick frame construction in the US dates back to the 1830s and has remained largely unchanged since that time (it’s darn hard to try and think of anything else that has remain largely unchanged since the 1830s).  It is true that other methods have tried to replace stick frame construction, but if we Americans aren't stubborn then I don't know who is.  One of our challenges that we (Eco-Panels) face every day comes from not just people that are resistant to change, but from people who have had prior experience with "SIP" construction and hated it – and quite frankly I can’t say as I blame them.  If you had a chance to read through our presentation you saw in the first few pages that we believe that more than 90% of the Structural Insulated Panel (SIP) business in the US is with EPS or polystyrene foam SIPs (like DOW Chemical Corporation's Styrofoam®).  And these can be quite challenging and difficult to assemble!  While some come with pre-formed chases, many do not, and if you want an electrical chase you will find yourself taking a very large RED HOT steel ball and dropping it "through" the foam at the top of the panel - it literally vaporizes the foam as it falls - and hoping that you catch it in your steel bucket or you've now got a red hot fire hazard rolling around your mostly wooden jobsite (seriously, this is how it's done - how's that for liability?).  Or in attaching two panels together you find yourself trying to insert lumber in between pieces of crumbly foam and sheathing and nailing it all together while trying to keep it closed up air tight - and who ever sees good straight lumber any more to use as splines?  And would you like window or door openings?  Take a chainsaw (or large "panel saw" (that sounds better, doesn't it?)) and just cut it out!  Of course you better make sure you cut in the right place with the right dimensions!  And then take your HOT KNIFE (it's a thing, look it up) and cut (vaporize) more of the foam out of the panels at the window and door openings so that you can then come back and insert 2x lumber in these places - don't forget to apply sealant at all openings before inserting the lumber - so that now your windows and doors have something to attach to.  Of course some EPS panel manufactures have special building crews to put up the panels themselves because deep down they know it is challenging and requires more than a little expertise (and patience) – heck, they even have a “SIP School” that you can attend.  And does the electrician want an electrical box in a special place?  He will need to cut it out, digging out the foam with little white beads flying everywhere and then attaching to the wood facing something that rarely seams really well secured.

Quite frankly I don't blame those contractors for wanting to reject “SIPs” outright – and this is why for years I rejected even referring to our product as “SIPs”.  Again, we're all creatures of habit, and if you had to deal with the above - why wouldn't you want to keep doing it the same way?  When we first started operating in western North Carolina we too had builders try to run away because they had tried the other kind of panels – but now that they have used us they understand that we are a superior product that helps to ensure a superior home.  We are "Eco-Panels" - and the "Eco" can stand for either "Economical" or "Ecological" - take your pick.

The fact is, with our pre-engineered and cam-locking panel system most of our wall structures (homes) go up before lunchtime.  This is two to four hours out of what is typically a six to 10 month build time!  Windows and doors are pre-framed at our factory and the closed cell adhesive foam is injected under very high pressure to bond and forever seal everything together (we are not simply gluing EPS foam to wooden “skins” as our competitors do – and so we can very easily offer a LIFETIME guarantee against delamination).  The panels are numbered and connected in their respective order, and the electrician has already looked at our panel plans and told us exactly where he wants his electrical boxes and wire chase - this is all pre-molded in our factory and is solid as a rock.  For an electrician (and I helped to pay my way through college working as an electrician's assistant) it is more like "pulling wire" on a commercial job - except easier because you don't have to run EMT.  But mind you, much of the electrical wiring in a home is done on the INTERIOR walls of a home - never to see a panel or inconvenience the electrician.  And by convention - and if you think about it, as a testament to stick frame construction being SO ENERGY INEFFICIENT - plumbing is almost never done inside of an exterior wall.  Look under your sink for example - if it is on an exterior wall the plumbing is probably coming up from the floor.  So plumbers do not really have a dog in this fight (apologies to the ASPCA).

The sad fact is there will always be resistance to change even if it is for the better - we are creatures of habit after all, right?  And we only 'know what we know', and as we discussed, over 90% of the panel market uses the EPS foam (BECAUSE IT IS CHEAP).  But there are builders and contractors out there willing to try something new in the hopes of finding a better way - you just have to look a little harder sometimes.  Will the builder send you the $100 or $200 each and every month that you would have saved in energy costs living in an Eco-Panels home if he insists on building it out of stick frame because it's easier FOR HIM?  Nope.  Even most spray foamed stick frame homes have the same wall R value as a stick and fiberglass home, so unless they actually move to a SIP method of building they will not begin to achieve the efficiency of an Eco-Panels home in either the assembly or the performance - and THAT is what you as the homeowner should insist on - the PERFORMANCE of the home for the next 30+ years after the builder leaves and is never heard from again.  Stick frame construction is actually the weakest and least energy efficient method of construction allowed by law (building code).

Please tell your friend to keep looking - start with a regional "green building" chapter as they often have builders and contractors that are willing to try newer and more alternative methods.  Or ask us and we will try to help you find someone who is willing to actually work for your benefit instead of their own convenience (and will not charge a king's ransom to do so).  This is YOUR home - not theirs - and it's a shame that we see contractors time and again talking homeowners (or the general contractor) out of our panel technology.  "I've been framing homes this way for 30 years, and I ain't never had any problems.  I frame the same way as my pappy and my grandpappy did!  You tell'n me my grandpappy was a fool?  Why my foundations don't have to be square - I just cut the lumber different than I was supposed to in order to make it fit - and when we get to the top of the house we just kind of cut it again just right to make it all fit - THAT is where the skill is!" (ok, that's actually a blend of comments from three or four different framers/builders I've heard over the years)

One of the most well known “green builders” in Asheville North Carolina turned us down because our panels were at a $3,500 to $4,000 premium to what he could build it for out of stick frame construction.  2x4s don’t cost much at all, and with a little labor it can look darn impressive – “look honey, the house is starting to take shape!”  And he sold this “green” home (it was certified!) for over $300,000.  So our premium – according to his own analysis – was just over 1% of the total home selling price.  The only one who took home any “green” from that deal was the builder – pocketing that $3,500.

If we don't hear it all the time - we sure as hell see it all the time.  Keep educating yourself – and encourage your friend to do the same.  Knowledge is power.  And we will do the best we can to continue to answer your questions so that hopefully the home that you build, is the home that you want, and it performs just how YOU want it to, not how your builder wants it to (unless of course he's willing to send you lots of money every month for as long as you own your home!).  We stand behind our product, and if you live within a half day’s drive (or so) of our factory, we will at no cost to you provide free job-site technical support with panel delivery, because it’s pretty easy, and we don’t have to be there long.

Best Regards,
Charles Leahy
Eco-Panels
Please "Like" us on facebook and stay informed about Eco-Panels - www.facebook.com/ecopanelsllc
 
Performance of Eco-Panels vs Stick Frame with Spray Foam Insulation

People always ask us how our panels will perform compared to traditional construction, and while we can of course site the comparative R values (our panels start at almost 3x as insulated compared to traditional methods) or we can site testimonials from clients about how their energy bills are 70% lower than they used to be, there is often legitimate confusion as to a final answer since all homes are different, have different appliances, different solar orientations, different patterns of power usage, different window configurations, etc., etc.  Or, people ask us, how much better will one thickness of an Eco-Panels panel compare to a different thickness of panel.  So how to answer?  This past winter/early spring we erected a series of small "structures" using both our panels - having different thicknesses - and also out of stick frame construction with (open cell) spray foam insulation, the latter being a much more common occurance in the green building industry, though still far less common than traditional stick frame insulation.  The stick and spray foam combination will generally outperform the stick and fiberglass combination almost every time, so we could have chosen a worse performing comparison, but those looking to build "cheap" generally aren't concerned about performance in the first place.

These small structures each contained a wireless temperature monitor and were set outside our factory, all arrayed to allow equal exposure to the sun as it rose and fell throughout the day.  In addition to a stick-framed structure having spray foam insulation, we made small structures using our 4.5", 6.5" and 8.25" thick panels.  There were no windows or doors in each of these structures, and by performing our experiment this way we could really focus on how the different wall systems performed compared to each other, without the confusion of different appliances, different window arrangements, etc.  Inside each structure - to simulate a heating appliance - we had a simple night light with a small light bulb that was always left on.  We also had a wireless thermometer outside of any structure and IN THE SHADE of our building (north side, and protected from the rain by a small cover that still allowed air circulation).  By setting up the experiment this way we could track over the period of a work week the temperatures inside our structures as compared to the outside air temp.

Perhaps our greatest regret was not erecting these small structures sooner, so as to see colder temperatures.  I don't think anyone would argue that at moderate temperatures insulation simply is not as important for temperature control (though can STILL have dramatic effects on structural strength, indoor home healthy environments and fire safety), and only during one week - and one night during that week, did we see temperatures fall well under 32 degrees F (0 degrees C).  During that 24 hour period, our 4.5" thick panel structure performed 2.3 times better than the stick-frame and spray foam structure, and our 6.5" thick panel structure performed 3.2 times better than the stick frame structure (so much for our always thinking that additional amounts of insulation had dimishing returns!).  Our 8+" panel structure so far out-performed the stick frame structure as to be "off the charts" ("What, did it get cold outside?  I didn't even notice"), but these panels do take 4x longer to process in our factory than the 4.5" thick panels, so we do not often encourage their sale except to arctic/alpine environments (they are presently in alpine New Zealand and arctic Alaska).  Anyway, without further adieu, here is a summary slide from one of our presentations:

 
Why Ground Source Heat Pumps are probably not a good idea for you

Everyone has a budget when building a house.  We still find ourselves “competing” with budgets for Ground Source Heat Pumps (or GSHP – otherwise known as “Geothermal”) – and have on more than one occasion lost business because someone was sold a $30,000 heat pump installation and they didn’t have enough money left over for our panels (which generally cost less than $20k installed for the average home).  And when you start to consider the VALUE associated with our product – a quieter more comfortable home, stronger and safer structure (with potentially lower insurance costs), tighter building envelope, faster dry-in, it is a much more difficult comparison to make and still choose GSHP, even when considering tax credits.

ANYWAY – enough talk - see this article from Green Building Advisor talking about Ground Source Heat Pumps.  It is interesting to note that in their efficiency calculations published by the manufacturers, they do not even have to consider the energy costs associated with the pumps or the fans!

http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com/blogs/dept/musings/are-affordable-ground-source-heat-pumps-horizon

The conclusion is – most of the time they do not make sense, for especially with stick frame construction, most of the savings will be "leaking" out of your building envelope.  Focus on the building envelope, and you can get much greater returns from passive (not mechanical that can break down) equipment that costs much less….

 
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