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The Insanity of Stick-Framed Construction

THE INSANITY OF STICK-FRAMED CONSTRUCTION, or "Why Stick Construction Is Not Green-Building"

Going to build or buy a new home?  Odds are it will be made out of "sticks", a simple 2x4 or 2x6 framing method that goes back almost 200 years.  And you will pay tens of thousands of dollars more over the life of your stick-built home (think of one less child in college).  Most builders that call themselves "green builders" - even well intentioned ones - still build their homes out of sticks.  And I've lost count of the number of builders who are proud to tell me that they build their homes the same way that their daddy and grand-daddy built them.  Nothing against their forefathers or most "green builders", but let's face it, times have changed....stick-frame home 2012 reduced image size.jpg

The fact is a home built with stick construction is SIGNIFICANTLY less energy efficient (and less safe and less healthy) than an Eco-Panels home - I don't care what kind of insulation you apply between the studs.  One of the premier building science research groups working for the US Dept of Energy - the guys at Oak Ridge National Labs - have noted that the FRAMING FACTOR associated with stick construction typically falls between 25 and 27% of the building envelope.  A stick framing member - because wood has an R value of only about 1 per inch - will range in R value from about 4 to 6 when attached to 1/2" exterior sheathing (the wood "skin" of most homes).  That means that 25-27% of the outside of a home is actually R4 to R6 - so let's say R5 for simplicity's sake.  So when you average this with whatever R value of the insulation you are installing between the studs the simple weighted average of those R values falls dramatically from what you think you are getting.  And because of installation errors and inefficiencies that WILL OCCUR, you're actually looking at about a 30% reduction from what you are told by the builder.  AND THEN - we're not done yet - , when you consider that many people enjoy looking out their windows, or having multiple doors on their homes - you must consider the additional decrease in effective R value associated with these.  We live in a very beautiful part of the country, Asheville, North Carolina, and people love their views.  We've seen many designs where 30-40% or more of the whole home's surface area is windows and doors.  What is the R value of most windows and doors?  About R4 on average, believe it or not (I've since been advised that it is probably closer to R3, but we'll give new construction the benefit of the doubt).  Anyone doing the math here?  Considering that most homes don't have as much as 30-40% of their surface area as windows or doors, so let's say they are only at 20-25%, and we've already discussed how with stick framing you've probably got at least a 25% ACTUAL framing factor, combined you've still got almost 50% of your home that is in the range of R4 or R5.  THAT'S CRAZY!!!!!  Think of that - 50% of your home might as well be a window - and we all know how poorly that insulates.  And you - and your neighbors! - aren't even getting the benefit of the views!  Wink

And yet so many folks who say they are green builders just don't get it.  They think that by installing bamboo flooring (NOT green and the source of another blog entry here) or using locally made countertops or simply installing R13 "organic" spray foam insulation in-between the studs instead of R13 fiberglass (wait, what?) they are giving you a super green home.  Be careful.  Eco-Panels has shown repeatedly that homes built with our panels can save 60-70% OR MORE compared to traditional stick-built homes - even if only using our wall panels.  And so if we want to associate "green-building" with reduced carbon emissions, lower energy costs, net-zero, ClimateHouse or Passive House standards, etc., it all starts with the building envelope - and the traditional stick-built home just doesn't work - in fact it doesn't even come close no matter how you slice it.  And we have repeatedly noted that the financing of the incremental additional cost often seen on the front end of home construction with our panels is actually LESS than the energy savings you can experience each and every month in your new home - THATS how we can save you tens of thousands of dollars over the life of your home.

It's true that there are other panel systems out there, but forget about EPS or polystyrene panels, especially after the National Institute's of Health recently released their 12th Report on Carcinogens including right alongside of Formaldehyde, Styrenes, and how humans are exposed to Styrenes in part through the off-gassing of styrene in building materials (and cigarette smoke - gross!).  There is simply no other panel system on the market today that offers a more continuously insulated or stronger, safer and more rapidly erected building envelope than Eco-Panels.  And yes, some regions have increased their building codes for stick construction to require several inches of foam insulation to be applied around the outside of the home to eliminate the thermal wicking of the studs that I have just discussed - so wait, you want to INCREASE the complexity, use of materials and cost of stick construction to apply what is actually just a band-aid to this problem?  Lipstick on a pig I say - they are also greatly increasing the complexity of the finished siding & trim installation, etc....

So if you are building a new home - keep your windows and enjoy your views - but INSIST on your builder not building your home out of sticks and they should use Eco-Panels sips panels instead.  And send a kid to college!  Smile

 
Tiny Cabins or Cottages

roof onLots of talk these days about tiny houses, homes, cottages or cabins.  Companies like the very well known Tumbleweed and many others have some very nice looking product on the market - very pretty and quaint.  And I'm amazed at the prices they are charging for these - $30,000, $40,000 and even $50,000 for many designs that are sometimes less than 100 sf and often not larger than 200 sf.

The sad thing about most all of these cottages is that they are stick built.  While building code sometimes does not apply to very small structures (sometimes it does) to ensure structural integrity, stick framing is an incredibly energy inefficient way to build because of the volume of wood required to maintain structure.  Building scientists working for the US Dept of Energy have noted that stick-built homes are approx 25% wood frame that has R value of 1 per inch.  When you combine that with all of the windows and doors that often take up more than 20% of the wall surface area, you are looking at a weighted average R values of 4 or 5 for 50% of the walls.  That means that WHATEVER insulation is used, cheap or premium, you've still got 50% of the walls that are about R4 or 5.  And stick-framed flooring and roofing still has significant thermal wicking - it's simply a losing battle when trying to stay comfortable.

wall panels going up starting with front corner panelUsing Eco-Panels rapidly erected cam-lock panels and single piece corner panels this cottage was erected quickly by four persons.  It has LP Smartside (carries 50 year mfg warranty) on the exterior of the lower wall panels and Huber ZIP System on the gable end for later covering with shingles.  All wall panels are floor and wall panels up4.5" thick and offer a continuous R26.  The roof panels can be R26 or R40 and are OSB sided for covering by either shingles or a metal roof after the application of felt (tar paper).  The floor panels are also 4.5" thick and R26 rated and the top surface is a 5/8" thick flooring product and the underside is 1/2" treated plywood.  The interior would be trimmed out as you see fit at your own pace.  All door and window openings are pre-framed out as well, and electrical boxes with wire chases are pre-installed.

This almost 200sf cabin would typically retail for between $9,900 and $15,000 depending upon R values and finishes you are looking for, less windows and doors.  And if you are looking for other sizes, simply let us know!  This unit can be heated with a simple small electric heater from the drugstore.

Interior - note ridge beam in beam pocket gable panelSiding with shingles on gable end

 
Lost Power? Get Eco-Panels!

We hear that so many people in the New York and New Jersey area are still without power - even in large city-run affordable housing complexes.  This is a tough situation for many in that region, but having homes made from traditional methods of construction, from stick-built to even steel or concrete frames with a brick facade, all with traditional methods of insulation, curse entire economies to both high energy consumption and bills (when there is power) or numbing cold when there is no power.

This is true whether you live in the path of a hurricane or you are a prepper looking for an off-grid retreat or cabin from North Dakota to Mississippi that you could easily build yourself.  When you have the most perfectly insulated and rapidly erected building envelope on the market today, you can actually leverage sources of heat that are simply not realized when you have traditional methods of stick or steel-frame construction.  Did you know that simply being present in a perfectly insulated room will raise the temperature of that room?  This is because our own bodies give off (radiate) heat.  The more people, the more activity, the more heat.

We have worked with physicists and biologists to build structures that - without any external sources of power - can grow tomatoes year round from North Carolina to Alaska yet can be built in a day - all because of our super-insulated building panels.  The same concepts can be used by yourself - whether in the inner city or the wilds of Tennessee - to save huge sums of money over the life of a structure and prepare for times when there is simply no power to provide yourself and your family a stronger, safer and significantly more energy efficient home or workplace than traditional methods of construction can ever hope to achieve.

 
Well Hoods and Pump Houses

As a company we see lots of opportunity for, and actually have lots of experience in using our rapidly erected and super-insulated building panels for reasons far beyond traditional construction of homes, apartment buildings, churches or schools.  You may not be aware, but in just about every neighborhood in America there are "pump houses" that house the equipment required to keep your community's water and septic system flowing smoothly.  These are small structures typically made out of concrete panels - out of habit - but concrete itself is a CONDUCTOR of thermal energy, not an insulator, and cranes are required to set the panels.  Our panels will insulate the interior equipment against the cold, and provide excellent sound attenuation as well.  We can provide water resistant or chemical resistant interior siding skins where required.

And a growing petroleum industry requires "hoods" or covers over well heads that will prevent them from freezing up in cold weather.  Often these are stick-built structures that can take a couple of days to put in place and insulate - or they are brought in pre-assembled but then a crane or boom is required and shipping cost is high.  Eco-Panels can fit the panels for 8 or 10 separate small well hoods on a flat bed truck for shipment to a region, and then the panels can be off-loaded to pick-up trucks for transport to the locations where they are required, often being erected in just a couple of hours.

What other uses do you have in mind?

 
Renovating Inner-City or Existing Buildings

In answering a number of questions we have had recently regarding retro-fitting or renovating existing buildings, YES!  We can do that.  For example we have provided R40 roof panels to inner-city redevelopment projects where the interior skin of the roof panels was an attractive furniture grade plywood skin and the exterior of the panel was a fire-rated ply that had a membrane roof.

Our wall panels have been clad over existing framing after the previous siding and insulation has been removed and cleaned out - this would be a non-structural application of our panels, though would certainly make a structure stronger and more resilient to the elements.

 
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