Most Energy Efficient Home in America?

Most all stick-built homes today have an R-value of approx 4 or 5 for around 50% of the building envelope!  This is because the "framing factor" - or the amount of wood framing cutting through the walls & roof and floor of the house amounts to about 25% of the structure (based on ORNL study), and since we like to have windows & doors & garages there goes another 20-25%.  All of these items have very low R values, often ranging from R3 to R5 - so at some point it almost hardly matters whether you have spray foam or fiberglass insulation between the studs - you are already fighting a losing battle.  And that is where Eco-Panels comes in!

A home we recently (late 2012) provided wall panels for in the mountains of western North Carolina - not far from the Tennesse border - was able to achieve a blower door test rating of 0.282 ach50!  Now for those who do not know, this means quite simply that the home is very well sealed and "energy tight".  The average new home in America may have a blower door rating of around 7, and Energy Star version 3 homes in North Carolina have to rate at 4 or 5 ACH50 (depending on climate).  This home we provided panels for is almost 25 times better sealed!!!  Based on interviews with building science professionals as well as extensive web searching, right now we believe that this is the "tightest" home in the United States.  Of course any (good) expert will tell you that a super-tight home by itself will not necessarily qualify you for very low energy bills (think of a well sealed glass cube - it is not at all well insulated).  But when you combine a super-insulated building envelope (R26 walls and R40 roof) with super-tight construction you are virtually guaranteed low energy bills (for heating & cooling, the single primary energy use for buildings in the US).  You don't need a whole Passive House program with double stud walls to get a super energy efficient home!  (double stud walls actually take quite a bit from the floor square footage and of course require more labor & materials).  In most climates you actually don't even need very high R values WHEN USING OUR PANELS.  Some programs require an R60 roof - but this assumes that it is built in a more traditional manner and it assumes that there will be lots of thermal bridging.  Listen, we've shipped R60+ panels before, but most of them have gone to regions near the arctic circle.  If you investigate what some people call "the R value fairy tale" you'll learn that when working with superior insulating materials like our closed cell polyurethane foam, the first several inches will do the lion's share of the work.  You simply do not need the same thickness of product as antiquated systems require, and you enter a discussion of "diminishing returns" when you start piling on extra inches of foam.

This particular homeowner's first real energy bill - though it was only for 24 days - was less than $35 and his home is several thousand square feet in size.  This amount would include things entirely unrelated to heating & cooling - heck most people can spend $1/day just on water heating, plus you need lighting, your refrigerator, TV set, etc.).  This could easily be a net zero home if the owner had wanted to fill his roof with PV panels (it does have 1kW of panel), but I know he is too practical for that (actually the whole definition of what qualifies to be a "net zero" home is quite flaky, but that's another conversation).

Brian Knight of Springtime Homes in Asheville, NC, was the builder, and here is a blog article discussing this build.

We had a builder tell us last week that we were about $3-4k more than the competition - on a $300k home.  And he walked.  THIS IS WHY you pay a little bit more.  Eco-Panels is simply a better system.  The sad thing is most people will spend more money on their kitchen cabinets & countertops than they will on our panels.  The homeowner whose builder walked would probably have earned a positive return on that small premium in just a couple of years and then he'd be MAKING MONEY from then on compared to a stick-built home!  We will GUARANTEE that there is no air leakage at our corners when using our single piece corner panels - impossible for others to entirely insulate or air seal perfectly on a consistent basis.  My advice - think twice before you bid your home to the low bidder - and don't let them install cheap materials to build your home.  So many say "I've been building homes this way for 30 years - and my daddy built them before me - and if it was good enough for his clients it's good enough for mine!"  If you are the homeowner that will be owning the home, find a good builder that will build with the best products - not the way they built 50 years ago.

Here are several pictures of the home, both under construction and finished.  Note that our wall panels used Huber ZIP System as the exterior siding.

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$47 Energy Bill in South Carolina in the Summer!

Earlier this year Eco-Panels had the pleasure of working with Donald "Don" Cerra of Cerra Homes out of Aiken, South Carolina, part of the up-state region bordering on northern Georgia.  Don impressed us with his committment to "green" yet sensible home construction.  We recently had a chance to have a follow-up conversation with Don about his and his subcontractor's experiences working with Eco-Panels and our unique polyurethane core SIPs, the most advanced panelized building system on the market on truck.jpg

"The home is being build to the DOE Challenge Home program.  DOE Challenge Homes are verified by a qualified third-party and are at least 40%-50% more energy efficient than a typical new home. Matt Ryan with ELM Energy Group out of Charlotte,NC handles all the enrollment testing and part of the paper work. I'm required to do some of the in the field paper work during the build process. I use a from of LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design) integrated design concept to start the green build process. Simply stated I work with all my suppliers and parter vender to select the best dollar value for every component of the house. This helps me stay with-in my clients budget and get them the best house they can afford.  

With all that said the current project using ICF foundation for a conditioned crawlspace and 4.5" R26 rated Eco-Panels for the exterior walls and 2+ inched for closed cell (never open cell) spray foam over the ceiling and 10+" of TAP cellulose blown in over the foam giving the attic ceiling R-50 has a project annual operating cost of $600.00 per year. Just as an example Junes cooling and construction load with no insulation in the attic for the first 15 days was $47.00. This house is 2500 sq ft conditioned!  first panels going up.jpg

This was the first house in Aiken to use Eco-Panels and the support from the office to the onsite assembly was outstanding. My framing crew was very please with how fast and easy the panels went up. My electrician was amazed how well we had laid out the exterior wall electric boxes and conduit to the crawlspace. The drywaller was also pleased with the ease of installing the drywall to the Eco-Panels. 

You know I always get asked what make it green and there is no real one or two sentence answer. I will say this its is analmost finished home - aiken sc.jpg attitude more then anything else. If you are laze fair about the process you may build a house that is energy efficient on one have but not health and comfortable on the other. You may use sustainable materials but then order more then you need and trash them because most often these materials are special order. I try very hard to control material cost, just ask my framer. He has a cutoff pile that he picks from daily and no dumpster on site until the roof is sheathed. This avoids the temptation to just throw that 18" piece of 2x4 away. I'll find a use for it!  

The construction site is also has many possibilities for recycling  such as paper, plastic, aluminum cans, and cardboard. Hence the picture of the back of my SUV. don cerras recycling mini-van.jpgI made no less then 12 trips to the drop off station. All my crews know it is required of them and they do a good job of follow through. It is hard sometime though because they are not required on most other job site so they forget from time to time. An attitude of cooperation exists with each trade trying to set the stage for the next crew to preform it task unhindered. It's not perfect but if I don't try then I'm just another builder turning out an average home. I remember my dad telling a client one time that he was not going to get any better house then the one we were building across the street. My dad said every client gets the same professional job and quality the only difference are the materials. I'm not sure the guy liked the answer but that’s who and what I believe. The best I can do no matter the cost to Cerra Homes LLC.

Nice meeting with a fire captain

All the time we host interested potential clients to visit our factory and yesterday we had the honor of hosting a fire department captain - who also works as a builder on his off-shift days - looking to build a couple of buildings himself - from a garage/workshop to a home for a relative.  Being an inquisitive person myself I never miss the chance to learn when possible and fire safety is of particular interest to me, and to meet with a fireman who was also a builder was particularly great conversation.

Similar to the videos on our website homepage (scroll down if you did not see them!) we played around with "burning foam", and marveled that most EPS panel manufacturers are able to claim a "Class 1" fire resistant material because this test (ASTM E84) actually only tests for flame spread and smoke spread - and when their material simply either "vaporizes" or melts when flame is in contact with foam, there is almost no smoke or flame.  The problem is - as we both observed - if you remove the interior of an EPS panel through heat then YOU LOSE STRUCTURAL SUPPORT.  i.e. the HOUSE COLLAPSES.  And the challenge for fire fighters is that they do not know what a home or building is made from - and they may rush inside or climb on the roof to fight that fire because that is simply what they do.  And if the structure is made from EPS panels and not sufficiently protected from flame - they could be severly injured or worse.  The heat at the ceiling inside even a simple kitchen fire can reach 1700 degrees, and EPS foam starts to melt at around 200 degrees F or less.  For this reason in the UK the insurance industry largely will not insure new structures built with EPS panels (though it is still legal by building code).  Even the "open vented" nature of most test facilities testing the structural support of an EPS panel in fire to not reflect real world enclosed house situations in which heat builds up inside of a structure.

We also discussed tornadoes and hurricanes - shear wind events for which North Carolina is known to see often.  The senior building code official for Wake County once told me that our product really helps the latest building codes because asided from increased insulation values the Code has increased it's "Bracing" section of the code from around 6-8 pages to more than 20 pages - three times as much.  And when we manufacture a single piece corner panel - eliminating one of the weakest parts of a home's structure - where two walls come together - we can significantly increase the overall structural strength of a building when coupled with our wall panels that amount to shear walls by themselves (through inherent cross-bracing in every panel we build).

Eco-Panels can make your home stronger, safer and significantly more energy efficent.  Please consider us for your next home!


Of Tornadoes and Organic Weed Killer....

Our thoughts are with those in the mid-west - Kansas, Oklahoma, Missouri, Kentucky and Iowa - for the recent spate of tornadoes.  It's that time of year again, and we still can't help but wonder why people start new construciton or rebuild with traditional stick construction instead of a much stronger and safer system like our Eco-Panels polyurethane injected structural insulated panels.  We have rebuilt homes after both tornadoes and hurricanes to create much stronger, safer and significantly more energy efficient homes than the owners had before.

But I digress from my intended topic for this posting!  I have long enjoyed the hobby of plants, gardening, working in my yard, etc.  And I was visiting with my father this past weekend and we were discussing killing the weeds in his gravel driveway (he is quite along in years and can not do this himself).  We especially wanted a "non-Monsanto" product - i.e. NOT Round-Up(R).  And in doing some quick research I discovered something that really made me do a face-palm.  I quickly ran to his local grocery store and purchased a gallon of distilled white vinegar for less than $5, took it home and promptly sprayed his driveway at about 6pm (not even a time when the driveway was in full sunlight - the best time to spray weeds).  An article had advised me to top off the vinegar with either lemon juice or clove oil (don't know if this was to cut the smell or it made it more effective) and there was some lemon juice in the fridge so I used that.  Know what?  The next morning - even before the sun had hit them - about half the weeds were already showing SIGNIFICANT signs of decay.  And when the sun did finally hit them the effect was quite dramatic.  This was MUCH MUCH MUCH faster than Round-Up(R) ever acted.  Dang, all that money over all those years and we could have been using simple vinegar....  UPDATE: I see that Yellow Wood Sorrel - a very common and "clover-like" weed - seems to be immune to my lemon/vinegar mix, and even grass seems to be largely unaffected (simply shows some brown spots).  No worries though - much fewer weeds to pull by hand.

And while on this topic of "weeds" - I actually have a love/hate relationship with weeds - with my children reacting with amusement as I sometimes am eating the dandelions that I am pulling from my yard.  Did you know that a dandelion contains SEVEN TIMES the nutrients of spinach - one of our society's "super foods"?  Well, I didn't either!  Smile But at about the same time I was researching organic weed killers I came across this other article on how we as a society have basically "engineered out" most of the nutrients in the foods that we actually do eat.  Actually "weeds" are some of the only remaining un-engineered and quite nutritious foods we have readily available to us.  Somebody ought to start a business....  I am posting the article from the NY Times in full after the jump....


I want to thank the industry and our own team for making Eco-Panels the premier structural insulated panel manufacturer on the market today.  We can show you how we have the most advanced insulated panel system - and I sure wish more homes in tornado or seismic prone regions were made of our panels.  But I do want to take a moment to establish some expectations that often come to light at the wrong time.  We certainly try to head these off, yet they persist.

1.  We have been told by some clients that our panel system will come in at about the same cost as stick construction, but that is not always the case.  We will certainly save you money in the long run relative to stick if our panels are installed properly and the HVAC system is sized accordingly (not according to a traditional stick-built rule of thumb).  Please do not assume that a panel system will be "cheaper than stick".  And we are most often more expensive than EPS panel systems, but there is a reason for that - we have a better foam and panel system.  You get what you pay for - kind of like "do you really want your home built by the cheapest thing on the market?"

2.  We do our best to interpret your drawings - or sketches scanned and e:mailed or drawings marked up countless times or interpret phone conversations referenced from three weeks back - and we will send you a panel plan based on what we believe that you want.  And with your design approval that is what you will receive.  And if we make a mistake relative to our plans then we will fix it, but if you or your builder have given us incorrect dimensions or approved drawings with an improper interpretation of your drawings, we will certainly show you how to fix the issue, but please don't ask us to pay for it.  We have a pre-engineered system that is meant to minimize work on the jobsite.  Check your window rough opening dimension.  Check your electrical placement.  And turn us on to build panels.  Please do not turn us on to build panels prior to receiving your final RO's for we may make an assumption you meant what you said about wanting us to start.

3.  Finished exterior siding materials can be great, but do not expect them to always survive the build site in pristine condition.  And you may not be able to use the batten schedule you would prefer if we were not told early in the process what this would be - and even then your own window and door placement may disrupt the batten schedule you wish to have - so please keep an open mind about finish trim details. 

4.  Lots of people ask us to use Magnesium Oxide siding materials for a panel skin.  Until that material has been shown to be of sufficient structural strength as tested through ASTM E72 standard tests or similar, then we do not feel comfortable using it for structural applications (non-structural applications OK).  We realize that other panel companies may be pushing this product because it is new on the market but at this time we do not feel comfortable with it.

5.  Panels have joints.  There is a seam where two panels come together.  Sometimes this is a seam you can barely see and sometimes it is more visible than that.  It does not mean that the assembly is defective as that joint is still sealed through the width of the panel.  Traditionally built homes will have this same issue.  We have clients that want to see ZERO gap between panels, and the OSB manufacturer wants to see a minimum of 1/8" gap to handle the natural wood expansion that may occur.  Tough to have it both ways so we do our best.

6.  We need some runway.  As a pre-engineered system we will actually produce an assembly drawing for each and every panel in your home - and it will be custom built and injected with our specially formulated closed cell foam.  But this process can take weeks or even months for each home.  We start the formal process with a deposit from the client, and that process can often take 8-10 weeks from deposit to panel delivery, sometimes shorter, and sometimes longer.  And we often are able to work people in if another client pushes out - but not always.  If you are planning to have a foundation complete, you need to plan accordingly so that our panels are ready when your floor platform has been assembled.

7.  We will be a partner in your building effort and will be available for advice - and will probably even freely offer advice - on how to build a great structure with our panels.  But we are ultimately a component supplier - we are not your builder.  Asking us to do lots of extra things that should be within the purview of your builder - or a structural engineer or an architect - or yourself if you are acting as the builder - may be considered, but if it is outside of our normal scope of work then please be patient and realistic - and we may ask you to pay for the extra effort.

These are some of the more popular issues we see arise, but they are all surmountable, and in the end, it's all going to be fine.  Yes we can all get excited about new projects - from doghouses to research stations in the Arctic to your home in Anycity USA.  But it is a process, a journey.  There may be a few bumps, but we'll do our best to give you a great home, offering you great value over the long term.  Stronger, safer and significantly more energy efficient than stick construction.

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