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Eco-Panels Takes Green Building In Asheville To A Whole New Level

Last month saw a quiet revolution in the high-end Sovereign Oaks community just outside Asheville, North Carolina. After spending years researching the best methods for home construction, the Client - a professional engineer - partnered with a WNC custom home builder and North Carolina based Eco-Panels. In just about three hours the pre-fabricated wall system of a garage apartment home (a pre-cursor to the future larger primary residence) was erected and the resulting home will be so energy efficient that a few solar panels on the roof will allow it to produce more energy than it consumes.

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While most previous homes in the development have been marketed as "green building" and they certainly have a very high level of beautiful finishes, they are almost in total made of stud frame construction, the weakest and least energy efficient method of construction allowed by law. In contrast the Eco-Panels wall system installed on this site - at 6.5" thick - will offer a final insulation "R" value exceeding R40 across the beautiful four seasons this home will enjoy.

"This home's wall system will perform at 200-300% higher levels than the wall systems in the homes sold by the other builders in this development" says Charles Leahy, president of Eco-Panels. "Think about it - where you have wooden studs in a home, you can not have insulation - and so you are sacrificing energy efficiency through what's called "thermal bridging", where your home's HVAC energy (and comfort) is lost through the wood framing of the walls or roof system.

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And when you have fewer studs to try and create a more energy efficient structure, the resulting structure will not be as strong as one reinforced with more studs. It's a "Catch-22" for any structure when pursuing both strength and insulation. In fact when comparing the strength of our panel system to a stud framed wall the difference really is off the charts. Fasteners will hold sheathing to a stud framed home at a rate of about 80-90 lbs per fastener (nail or screw), producing an average holding force of about 100 to almost 300 lbs per wall sqft - and this is a huge deal when high winds come around. By contrast our panel system with proprietary flame retardant foam core has a bonding strength exceeding 10,000 lbs per panel sqft! Coupled with our unique and patented single piece corner panels - proven to create a stronger and more energy efficient structure - these homes can stand up to the toughest that mother nature has in store for any home. In fact on the Island of Saint John in the US Virgin Islands during Hurricane Irma in 2017 a resort developer told us that in his development of 30 to 40 buildings, the ONLY structures to entirely survive the devastation still structurally sound and habitable were his "green" award-winning buildings made out of Eco-Panels. All the other buildings in the development were either partially or entirely destroyed by the massive storm." Wow - that's quite impressive!
Stud frame construction has been around for almost 200 yrs, and framing with 2x6 wooden studs to create a stronger and more energy efficient home has been around since the 1860s. But framing a house with wooden studs is a complex manufacturing process that requires skill and is fraught with opportunities for error - and for this reason we see portions Eco-Panels believes that in the future a well-informed client will work with their builder to select their panel system because it can help to create a stronger, safer and significantly more energy efficient home for about the same cost as a "green-built" stud framed home.

 
Thinking Of Building A New Home?

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Are you thinking of building a new home?  Or purchasing a newly built home?  Great!  We are here to help.  Probably 98% of our business is derived from clients that approach our company looking for a "better way" to build a home.  More and more clients building homes today have educated themselves through on-line research and speaking with informed individuals and they realize that stud frame construction - the weakest and least energy efficient method of construction allowed by law - will cost them MORE MONEY over time than if they had purchased a better solution to start with.  While most clients either bring a builder to the table or ask us for assistance in helping them find a builder - I'm guessing fully one third of our clients are owner-builders - and often darn smart owner-builders as well.  We provide all the assistance and advice we can - for free - with the hopes that you will purchase panels from our company.

So if you are looking for a new home - BEWARE purchasing a spec-built home.  You know those builders that always seem to have homes for sale through their website?  We have actually approached -or been approached by - a few of those builders - like in Asheville NC - and we quickly found out that they simply working for their investors to make a certain return on investment.  "If you can't see it" then odds are they have taken the less expensive way out.  We approached a very popular "green builder" in Asheville several times and finally got an opportunity to provide pricing for our product instead of them building it out of wooden studs and spray foam.  After review he said our cost was about $3,500 premium and he would just as soon put that money in his pocket.  Now forget about the fact that the home would have been about twice as energy efficient, MUCH stronger in structure, more comfortable and safer to live in (from fire and cleaner interior air).  They were selling the home for more than $300,000 - so we were only about a 1% premium for supplying a significantly superior home.  But as he had said - that was money in his pocket - he wasn't building spec homes for a future consumer - he was building them to make money for himself and his investors.  We get that.  So we advise clients to help them build their own home - where THEY are in charge.  Fortunately there are also still many great builders out there that are happy to assist you in building a home the way you want it - and that's the way it should be.

Speaking of Asheville - I recently drove around Asheville at night with a thermal imaging camera and took photos of homes built by some popular green builders - and I also took thermal photos of homes made from our panels on the very same nights - so you have a good comparison if it was the same temperature outside.  Take a look - the difference is quite remarkable.  This is evidence plain and simple that these homes are leaking energy at an amazing rate - energy that will cost you money for the entire life of the home - and money you would not have to be paying if you had paid a little more upfront for our panels.

 
Some Recent Videos from Eco-Panels

It has been a while since we have posted new articles to our blog and I am sorry for that - it's a busy time of year for us!  But in the meantime I thought you may find some of these videos interesting - and a few of them are new:

Korea Humanitarian Mission via U.S. State Department Humanitarian Export License:      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O8TGa_hMaFc

Habitat for Humanity Housing - Mitchell County, NC:               https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lw1JS5Cx7WQ&feature=youtu.be

Partnership video between Eco-Panels and the American Council on an Energy Efficient Economy - ACEEE:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c_IUR_ovZeM

Two Burn Test Videos:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Pcu7prfeKk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CpSgDa8MdkU

 
Eco-Panels in the Caribbean After Irma - UPDATE

Eco-Panels has long been active in the Caribbean, with multiple projects on the Island of St. John.  Our panels were recognized as superior and desired by the developer due to their strength, extreme energy efficiency and resistance to both high wind and seismic forces.  The standard method of construction in the Caribbean is concrete - yet as Haiti showed us, concrete does not fare well in a highly active seismic environment like the Caribbean (don't forget that most of the islands in the Caribbean are of volcanic origin).  And recently in new development discussions we were learning that the cost of concrete on the Island of St. John - before Hurricane Irma - was in the range of $900-$1,000 per cubic yard - it is presently about $125 per cubic yard near our factory in North Carolina.

Our hearts go out to those affected by Hurricane Irma in all of the Caribbean.  And we hope that we can assist in the reconstruction that will occur on many islands like Barbuda, Antigua, St. Thomas, St. John, St. Martin/St. Maarten as well as the British Virgin Islands like Tortola and Virgin Gorda.  There will be massive labor shortages during this reconstruction effort, and the cost of concrete due to the high demand will skyrocket.  Yet we have shown that we can build multi-story structures in the Caribbean that can survive these storms and we require almost no concrete and at the same time need only minimally skilled labor.  In fact many of our clients around the world act as an owner/builder and they build their own homes using our panels since traditionally the "stick-framing" of a home was just about the most complicated part of the process (stud frame construction is actually the weakest and least energy efficient method of construction allowed by US law (building code)).

The below top-most photo was found on-line in surveys of the damage on the Island of St. John immediately after Hurricane Irma.  We believe that that the buildings still standing in this photo that are not made from Eco-Panels are made from stone & morter or concrete block.  The photos below this image of devastation show more detail of the construction of these buildings years before Hurricane Irma struck (so gives you a good Before & After perspective).  UPDATE - we have been informed by the manager of the development on this side of the island that the buildings made from Eco-Panels were the ONLY buildings to survive without structural damage.  Every other building in the property - there were 30 or 40 of them - were either partially or entirely destroyed as a result of the winds from Hurricane Irma.

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HVAC Sizing for Eco-Panels Homes

If you really look at the philosophy behind building a super-energy efficient home, it's that the interior spaces are very much protected from outside conditions, and it only takes a small amount of energy to affect change to the interior environment.  "Heat it with a match-stick, cool it with an ice-cube" would be our mantra if we had one.  And what's better is that when you have a super insulated structure that can be affected by small amounts of energy, then you can realize savings that a stick framed home could only dream of.  We have homes set on concrete slabs and they are able to realize and leverage the passive cooling energy of that slab.  And we have tiny homes that use incandescent lightbulbs to provide 100% of the heat for a small home when it is below zero celsius outside.  We provided the roof and walls of a 15,000 square foot retail space that is cooled in the summer largely by its concrete slab (HVAC is still needed for dehumidifying) and in the winter the heat is provided by its retail lighting.

REMEMBER- the energy associated with the heating and cooling of your home represents the single largest expense of living in that home (outside of your mortgage), typically accounting for 40-60% of your total energy bill (water heating is usually about 20%, the rest is known as "plug load").  In fact, the heating and cooling of buildings is about the largest singe use of energy in the United States according to the USEIA.  By significantly reducing your energy consumption associated with the heating and cooling of your home, we can help you save real money over the life of your home - and this saved money goes straight to your pocket - not the energy company!

Most homes will have a more convential HVAC system for heating and cooling the home, and here is where you need to be careful.  DO NOT LET YOUR HVAC GUY USE A TRADITIONAL "RULE OF THUMB" that might mean he is going to size the HVAC based on 1 ton for every 600 or 700 square feet of home.  Now local building codes very often require a "Manual J" calculation which takes a more in-depth look at the construction, fenestration and orientation of your home for HVAC sizing, and even this more advanced method almost always gets it wrong with our panels.  Through experience, we have found that generally speaking a home of approx 4,500 sqft in size may need a 2.5 ton HVAC system.  Buy a variable speed HVAC system if you can - these used to not exist but with the increased presence of mini-splits we are seeing it more and more.  A 3,500 to 4,000 sqft home might need a 2 ton system.  A home 1,500 to 2,500 sqft can typically get by with a 1.5 ton system.  So if we had to say we had a rule of thumb, it would be approximately 1 ton of HVAC for every 1,500 to 2,000 sqft of house.  Always use at least Energy Star rated windows (and the rating needs to be appropriate for your climate zone), and Cardinal Glass is also a great choice (odds are your window mfgr offers it).  We do like mini-split systems as these can be great for smaller homes (they have been long used in Europe and Asia where smaller homes are more the norm).

ASHRAE tells us that an HVAC system needs to run for at least 15 minutes or so before it starts to achieve optimal operating efficiency, and in a super-insulated home we have heard past clients of ours brag that "we know our home is super-energy efficient because the air conditioning only runs for 5 or 6 minutes at a time before it turns back off".  We slap our foreheads in frustration because we know that the HVAC company sold them an oversized unit - sometimes more interested in a bigger sale than a "right-sized" sale.  Their unit may indeed be cooling the house, but it is not "conditioning" the house, which is eliminating the high humidity levels that any summer months may realize.  And all of the short-term cycling of the equipment will certainly shorten its useful life, again increasing your long term operating costs.  In reality you want a system that will run "low and slow" in the background, cooling and dehumidifying but at the same time using a lower amount of energy - this is why a variable speed system like a mini-split or one of the new TRANE variable speed units is attractive to us - they are made to run longer on lower power.  You don't want it to run all the time, for sure, but I think 30-40 minutes or so is just fine.

HERE is a nice article on "right-sizing" an HVAC system for a super-insulated home from a blog that we appreciate (and we think they give great advice most of the time).  If your HVAC contractor is not familiar with this sizing concept and always thinks that "bigger is better" then RUN AWAY - they are not the company for you.

 
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