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.

Impressive Testimonial from Client


I thought you might find the below good reading.  I requested a testimonial from one of our former clients who has been living in their home for almost one year - and boy did he respond.  Below is a series of e:mails received from him with only one follow-up prompt in-between. 

This gentleman lives in Raleigh, NC, and as you will read below his home was destroyed in a rash of tornadoes that swept through Raleigh in the spring of 2011.  We first met "Joe" when we were working on our New Orleans project with Brad Pitt's "Make it Right Foundation" as part of hurricane Katrina reconstruction.

Note that the conditioned size of their home increased substantially while the energy bills have decreased.  And final cost of construction turned out to be a "wash" compared to stick-built when considering our higher up-front costs.

Here are pictures of his destroyed, in-process construction and completed home.  The panels for each floor took just several hours to erect.  And note the favorable comments about the insurance industry and the damning comments about traditional construction.

raleigh tornado home montage.jpg 

Best Regards,
Charles Leahy


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

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