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.

EP Mobile Response Clinics

You may already know that Eco-Panels manufactures the widest variety of structural (SIPs) and non-structural insulated panels on the market.  Our company is famous for manufacturing the most efficient panelized building system on the market today.  But what you may not know is that we have extensive experience using Steel and FRP sided panels for creating the most ruggedized yet comfortable towable mobile medical clinics on the market today.

Most mobile medical clinics on the market today are actually retro-fit campers or horse/cargo trailers.  Over the years Eco-Panels, through our Guardian Mobile Systems division, has worked with mobile responders to create a purpose-built, off-road capable mobile responder unit.  Whether responding to an earthquake in China, floods in Angola or a refugee crisis in Jordan, the environments our clinics typically operate in are harsh - no roads, often no outside power, no clean potable water and very often extreme temperatures.

Eco-Panels mobile medical clinics have been deployed in Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Peru, Haiti, the Dominican Republic as well as the continental United States.  Our trailers are super insulated and ruggedized, equipped with solar panels for renewable power and water filtration systems capable of taking local unclean water and making it safe and drinkable.  A supplemental generator (we've installed diesel, gas and even LNG generators) provides extra power when fuel is available.

By working with a non-profit disaster relief partner we can also supply governmental, NGO and other similar non-profit relief organizations with free medical supplies for use with the trailer (subject to validation of need).  Below is a unit recently shipped to the government of the Dominican Republic.

Eco-Panels ruggedized mobile clinic


Eco-Panels and Passive House

There are many, many different prescriptive "green" building and low or even net-zero-energy building standards.  I once heard that there were over 500 in the US alone.  One thing that all of these standards SHOULD have in common is an initial and primary focus on a highly insulated and well sealed building envelope.  Over the years we have seen many of them, though one of the better known initiatives with international standing is the Passivhaus standard originating out of Germany (some simply call it Passive House).

One of our partners in New Zealand has been working with a Certified PassivHaus Architect/Designer to rate several homes with Eco-Panels as meeting the Passivhaus standard.  What is nice to hear - actually substantiating what we have been saying for a while - is that we have been able to achieve the Passive House standard using only our 4.5" panels THROUGHOUT the home - for both walls and roof.  Of couse this is climate and orientation specific, but New Zealand has a wide variety of climates, from those similar to the Canadian Rockies (Queenstown area) to the more semi-tropical North Island.  And our 6.5" thick R40 wall and roof panels have been shown to meet the PassivHaus standards in the colder regions.

What is especially nice to hear about this certification is that many Passive House "experts" claim a very prescriptive "R40 walls, R60 roof" (which we can provide!), but in fact it is largely unnecessary for most climates in North America (including Canada).  We understand the science that teaches us about the diminishing returns for incremental inches of insulation, and we are not afraid to discuss it and how it affects our panels.  Additionally these thicker walls - and especially the much thicker roof (which can be more than a foot thick if using the inferior EPS foam) can be unsightly in appearance.

The Passive House standard also requires a very high degree of air sealing - capable of achieving 0.6 air changes per hour (ACH) at 50 pascals of air pressure.  On even simple low cost homes we have beaten this by 20% so we are not worried about that.

Eco-Panels makes building an extremely energy tight home simple, fast and efficient.  Whatever energy efficient building standard you wish to pursue - start with the building envelope.  And if possible, start with Eco-Panels.

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