Numerous Wildfires in Western NC, now TN

>>> I wrote this article only about three weeks before the firestorms ripped through our nearby community of Gatlinburg, TN, just over an hour from where I live.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by this tragedy.  <<<

While I grew up in North Carolina, spending many summers hiking & camping in the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains, later in life I moved to California and worked in the Hi-Tech industry.  It was in California that I learned about wildfires - occasionally being around them first-hand - and unfortunately for them they are not uncommon due to their dry environment.  Now after having returned to North Carolina I am in those beautiful mountains once again - and I am horrified to see that things have changed so much that now I am seeing wildfires every year in mountains that may not have known wildfires for a thousand years.  As far as we know it was always too wet, too green, too lush with green foliage to allow any fires to be sustained - in fact there was a time not too long ago that the "southern blue ridge escarpment" received the 2nd highest amount of rainfall in the country, second only to Washington state's Olympic peninsula.  Not any more, that's for sure.  All week the air in Asheville has been grey and smokey - burning your lungs if you breath too much.  Very sad.

But anyway - the point of my posting - is we are receiving much interest lately from all parts of the country regarding our flame retardant foam.  EPS foam panels or SIPs have the foam core melt at very low temperatures - this can negate their ability to provide structural support even if flames are not touching a building.  The foam core can melt and the building can collapse - simple as that.  Our closed cell polyurethane foam core will NEVER melt - take a look at the two video links below - and if we or your home uses fire resistant siding materials - then - well, we would expect them to perform much better than traditional methods.  I think you would be much better off if a forest fire or wild fire gets close to your home - or even if you have a kitchen fire inside your home (those can achieve 1,700 degrees just right over the stove) your home should be much better off.  And we have seen some insurance companies offer lower homeowner rates in part because of this (they rate it as "Superior Construction" - USAA and Allstate are two of them).

Please see these video links!

Hurricane Matthew Aftermath in NC

This time last week our state of North Carolina was still feeling the brunt of Hurricane Matthew.  Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those along the east coast from Florida through the Carolinas affected by Hurricane Matthew - in fact I had seven family members affected by the storm and several of them are still dealing with the aftermath.  I have sent questions out to several past clients that we have in those affected regions and have received feedback which I include below - and I also wanted to remind people of previous blog postings where the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) notes that the ONLY insulation approved for construction in flood prone regions - and those covered by the National Flood Insurance Program - is closed cell polyurethane insulation as used by Eco-Panels.  Note most insulation sold on the market today - from open cell foams like Icynene(R) to fiberglass or cellulose insulation or even most EPS panels sold on the market do NOT meet the definition of closed cell insulation and therefore do not perform well in these conditions.

Here are a two testimonials we have received so far:

Chris from Nags Head, NC -  “the winds got up to 100 mph but everything was just fine – solid & secure!”

Tim from West End (Moore County, NC) - Thanks for thinking about us. We had a lot of rain and wind but no flooding or damage. I do have to say that I noticed how quiet it was inside the house during the storm.  There was no wind whistling around the windows and doors because there are no cracks and crevices, and I hardly heard the rain hitting the house.  It’s been over five years since we built and I have to say using Eco-Panels was a decision I never regretted.

Regarding building along the coast or in flood prone areas:

Fire Retardant Foam Insulation - Videos

I used to live in California - working a good portion of my life in the hi-tech industry in Silicon Valley - and it pains me to see the raging fires in that beautiful state that seem to arrive earlier each year, taking a larger and larger toll on the communities who lie in their path.  When we started Eco-Panels, determined to create the strongest and most energy efficient building envelopes in the world, safety was always at the forefront of conversations.  STRUCTURE is always our primary concern, with thermal efficiency coming in at a close second.  And it amazes me as we consider the safety of building envelopes that probably 90% of the structural insulated panel (SIP) industry that we operate in is comprised of manufacturers using polystyrene or EPS foam insulation.  This is like Styrofoam(R), the small white compressed beads compressed together for a coffee cup or food packaging.  Actually you don't see styrofoam(R) food packaging much anymore - communities all across the country are banning it because it is difficult to recycle and not good for the environment.  But the point I am getting to is that while EPS foam may be a mediocre insulator for building materials (insulation value only slightly better than fiberglass) it reacts terribly to fire, either igniting outright or melting or vaporizing due to the presence of often very toxic additives like the neurotoxin and bio-accumulating brominated flame retardants.  Remember, a structural insulated panel acts like an I-Beam, with the panel "skins" acting as the flanges of the I-Beam and the foam core is its web.  Just as if you took away the middle member of an I-Beam and the beam collapses, when a STRUCTURAL panel loses its foam core it also collapses, allowing for a more complete destruction of a building than might otherwise occur.  A fire captain touring our factory once told me that temperatures from a small kitchen fire can reach more than 1700 degrees, and EPS insulation starts to melt/deform at less than 200 degrees, and sheetrock and OSB skin offers very little insulation against these high temperatures.  This is why it is virtually impossible to get insurance on a building made out of polystyrene (EPS) panels in the United Kingdom - while still legal by building code the insurance industry does not like to insure structures made from this material - (see discussion & results of 10 year case study elsewhere on our website).

The proprietary foam blend used by Eco-Panels will NEVER melt.  Ever.  Known as a "thermoset" foam, if it comes in contact with flame it will char, thereby protecting itself.  And, well, if we use a flame resistant siding "skin" on the panel it can create a wonderful barrier to flame.  Take a look at these couple of videos I recently posted  - I still need to get them directly hosted by our website - but I hope you will be impressed.  If it stops this kind of heat from a torch - I don't think you'll have much problem at all with a hot summer day!  NO OTHER STRUCTURAL INSULATED PANEL MANUFACTURER IN THE COUNTRY USES THIS SAME FOAM BLEND - ONLY ECO-PANELS.

Saving $10,000 Per Year - Could This Be The Most Energy Efficient Home In The World?

Eco-Panels has enjoyed a long relationship wtih the ClimateHouse team in New Zealand.  New Zealand is a fairly small country by population and most products are imported.  After a long international search for the most complete and energy efficient building system, the expert ClimateHouse team selected Eco-Panels in Mocksville, North Carolina as their go-to building product for both the versatility and highly customizeable nature, as well as of course being the most efficiently insulated building envelope on the market.  One of the team recently built his own home out of Eco-Panels, and because it was his own house he was able to try out a few "tricks" that he himself as well as our own company have been talking about over the years of working together.  This home is so energy efficient that the few solar panels he has on his roof is able to provide both supplemental power for his own home as well as provide more than enough energy for an electric vehicle, offering an estimated $10,000 payback on an annual basis.  Note that if this was a traditionally built stick framed home or a home built with a less efficient panel system he could simply never achieve these results.  It is even performing better than the PHPP software has estimated that it would, and according to PHPP this would be the most energy efficient home in the Southern Hemisphere.

Remember, you must START with the building envelope - then you pay attention to HVAC, solar panels, etc.  To simply stick solar panels on top of a stick framed house is insanity - ensuring forever that you will be losing a large percentage of the power that you generate from solar to envelope inefficiencies.  Imagine getting a 30-60% boost in efficiency from your solar panels!  This is essentially what Michael of the Climate House team was able to do.

With his Eco-Panels home recently featured in a DWELL photo review, the below testimonial offers a brief overview of his feedback.  We've certainly had much better performing homes than 0.4 ACH50, but it's still a far cry better than almost every other home in the US:

From: Michael
Sent: Tuesday, April 19, 2016 3:56 PM
To: Charles
Subject: Re: You still up?

Hi Charles,

We finally got to run the final airtightness test (had to be independent) in the weekend and got .4 ACH which is well under passive house .6 ACH - so will get certified soon.

This is a real test with no gap filling - ie there was a small draft on the large slider door which we did not patch up.

I think would be in the .3's easily if it was not for the metail ducting I used from NZ - the returns had small air gaps that I could not tape up, so live an learn.

Home is performing really well, as you may be aware this house has not heating or cooling.

A clear rule we have is no windows need sun for at least 9 months in temperate climates if passive house (we are considered temperate) so solar shading is really important design feature with a super insulated house.

So now with [winter starting and] ground frosts we have been sitting at the assigned 23 degrees (73 deg F) constantly in autumn (manged by the MHRV).

So no doubt it works Charles as a compete system.

A good friend has an plug in electric hybrid Mitsubishi and he lets us use it when away - this also proves the house can run net zero for energy to power the house and a car for 50km a day (not in middle of winter this is about 50% less solar) but is still working now in autumn.

Is still a law of averages but looks to save $100 a week in petrol and we are saving the same in heating/cooling and power so saving $10,000 NZD a year in energy consumption and with a battery (and car that can feed back electricity to house) would be completely energy independent from grid and fossil fuel.



You Don't Need A "Craftsman" To Frame Your House

I live in Asheville, North Carolina - an amazing city nestled in the heart of the eastern range of the southern Appalachian mountains - sometimes known as the "Paris of the South" for its sidewalk dining and a strong love of the arts, local crafts and craft-persons, food and beverage.  More recently it has been known as "Beer City USA" for its high concentration of micro-breweries.

But let's get back to that "crafts and craft-persons" notation.  Traditionally people living "off the beaten path" - as for centuries the southern Appalachian mountains certainly were (at least as far as persons of non-native American descendancy are concerned) - have had to largely fend for themselves, carving homes out of the very nature that they would live and die in.  And they would create amazing furniture and utensils that would impress the craftsman of Europe for their ingenious functionality, if not for their elegant design.  From these useful traditions would spring many modern day crafts people who continue to make a living (or at least try to) building beautiful furniture and elegant crafts pieces for the home in and around Asheville, NC.

So what does all this have to do with your house or Eco-Panels as the provider of your "building envelope"?  First off lets remember from previous postings that the "art" of most modern stick-frame construction methods that most homes are still built with today were pioneered (no pun intended) in the mid-west in the 1830s.  These wood working skills would flow readily from the hands of craft persons already adept at the fashioning of log homes or furniture from the trees of the land, and as economies have evolved many home builders have naturally arisen from long family traditions of working with wood.  But I would argue that we not be impressed by the "art" of stick framing a home, for it is far more important that this home provide a safe, strong, healthy and energy efficient structure for a family to reside.  Let the crafts people do the pretty trim work for the home - the crown moulding, the post and beam vaulted ceiling, the cabinetry.  These can certain make a home feel "warm and inviting".

The stick framing is there for one reason only - not to showcase a person's art - but to provide structure for walls and the roof overhead.  Don't forget it.  And it is the thermal bridging of this stick framing - where the frame structure accounts for approx 25-27% of the building envelope and allows through the wood frame the almost free flow of energy from the inside of the home to the outside (or vice versa) - that makes this one of the LEAST ENERGY EFFICIENT methods of construction allowed by law (when you also consider the strength of the structure we can accurately say that it is the WEAKEST and LEAST ENERGY EFFICIENT method of construction allowed by law).  Wood has an R value of approx 1 per inch, and when 25-27% of your house (according to USDOE) is approx R4, and you have another 20-40% of a wall system that is windows & doors that are in the range of R3 to R4 ("R" measures thermal resistance, and a low number is BAD) - all of a sudden you have 50 to almost 70% of the walls of a home that has an insulation value of R3 to R4.  Pulling from such a low baseline it almost doesn't matter what you insulate with inside of the wall cavities.  Building scientists working for US Dept of Energy have long noted that a building's walls offer the single greatest opportunity for energy loss, lack of in-home comfort and high energy bills.

Leave the building envelope - the outer shell of your home - to the experts at Eco-Panels.  Tell your builder that they can still frame the interior walls traditionally, and yes you sincerely appreciate their fine craftsmanship where you can see it in the final touches of the trim carpenter.  But lets not confuse stick framing with any sort of art - it is far more serious than that.

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