If Your Product is So Great, Why Isn't Everyone Using It?

Question from a Prospective Client: (late Saturday evening, Sept 26, 2015) Hey guys.  I sent this to my friend I told you about in Southport area.  He talked to an electrical/plumber contractor who told him he wanted nothing to do with a SIP house.  What is up with that?”

Eco-Panels Response: (5:00am on a Sunday morning, Sept 27, 2015)

Good morning Ron,

I hope you don't mind but I may use my reply to you (would not mention your full name of course) on our website blog.  I’ve got a couple of hours this morning before the rest of my family gets up, and I need to do a new posting to our website!

Unfortunately the response your friend received from the contractor is not unique, and I think this foretells both good news and bad news.  Good news is, the economy must really be getting better if this contractor can be so selective at taking on new work, and the bad news is this would not be the first person who stood in the way of progress.  There are still populations in this country that insist on loading up the family and using a horse & buggy to go to the store, and they would quite simply never drive a car.  Not that there is anything inherently "wrong" with that, but I think most people have accepted automotive transportation and the efficiency it can offer our modern lives and "moved on".

And by the same token some people are still living in homes that were structurally framed the same way that they were almost 200 years ago.  Oh wait - that's like 99% of the population of the United States!  As crazy as it sounds, modern stick frame construction in the US dates back to the 1830s and has remained largely unchanged since that time (it’s darn hard to try and think of anything else that has remain largely unchanged since the 1830s).  It is true that other methods have tried to replace stick frame construction, but if we Americans aren't stubborn then I don't know who is.  One of our challenges that we (Eco-Panels) face every day comes from not just people that are resistant to change, but from people who have had prior experience with "SIP" construction and hated it – and quite frankly I can’t say as I blame them.  If you had a chance to read through our presentation you saw in the first few pages that we believe that more than 90% of the Structural Insulated Panel (SIP) business in the US is with EPS or polystyrene foam SIPs (like DOW Chemical Corporation's Styrofoam®).  And these can be quite challenging and difficult to assemble!  While some come with pre-formed chases, many do not, and if you want an electrical chase you will find yourself taking a very large RED HOT steel ball and dropping it "through" the foam at the top of the panel - it literally vaporizes the foam as it falls - and hoping that you catch it in your steel bucket or you've now got a red hot fire hazard rolling around your mostly wooden jobsite (seriously, this is how it's done - how's that for liability?).  Or in attaching two panels together you find yourself trying to insert lumber in between pieces of crumbly foam and sheathing and nailing it all together while trying to keep it closed up air tight - and who ever sees good straight lumber any more to use as splines?  And would you like window or door openings?  Take a chainsaw (or large "panel saw" (that sounds better, doesn't it?)) and just cut it out!  Of course you better make sure you cut in the right place with the right dimensions!  And then take your HOT KNIFE (it's a thing, look it up) and cut (vaporize) more of the foam out of the panels at the window and door openings so that you can then come back and insert 2x lumber in these places - don't forget to apply sealant at all openings before inserting the lumber - so that now your windows and doors have something to attach to.  Of course some EPS panel manufactures have special building crews to put up the panels themselves because deep down they know it is challenging and requires more than a little expertise (and patience) – heck, they even have a “SIP School” that you can attend.  And does the electrician want an electrical box in a special place?  He will need to cut it out, digging out the foam with little white beads flying everywhere and then attaching to the wood facing something that rarely seams really well secured.

Quite frankly I don't blame those contractors for wanting to reject “SIPs” outright – and this is why for years I rejected even referring to our product as “SIPs”.  Again, we're all creatures of habit, and if you had to deal with the above - why wouldn't you want to keep doing it the same way?  When we first started operating in western North Carolina we too had builders try to run away because they had tried the other kind of panels – but now that they have used us they understand that we are a superior product that helps to ensure a superior home.  We are "Eco-Panels" - and the "Eco" can stand for either "Economical" or "Ecological" - take your pick.

The fact is, with our pre-engineered and cam-locking panel system most of our wall structures (homes) go up before lunchtime.  This is two to four hours out of what is typically a six to 10 month build time!  Windows and doors are pre-framed at our factory and the closed cell adhesive foam is injected under very high pressure to bond and forever seal everything together (we are not simply gluing EPS foam to wooden “skins” as our competitors do – and so we can very easily offer a LIFETIME guarantee against delamination).  The panels are numbered and connected in their respective order, and the electrician has already looked at our panel plans and told us exactly where he wants his electrical boxes and wire chase - this is all pre-molded in our factory and is solid as a rock.  For an electrician (and I helped to pay my way through college working as an electrician's assistant) it is more like "pulling wire" on a commercial job - except easier because you don't have to run EMT.  But mind you, much of the electrical wiring in a home is done on the INTERIOR walls of a home - never to see a panel or inconvenience the electrician.  And by convention - and if you think about it, as a testament to stick frame construction being SO ENERGY INEFFICIENT - plumbing is almost never done inside of an exterior wall.  Look under your sink for example - if it is on an exterior wall the plumbing is probably coming up from the floor.  So plumbers do not really have a dog in this fight (apologies to the ASPCA).

The sad fact is there will always be resistance to change even if it is for the better - we are creatures of habit after all, right?  And we only 'know what we know', and as we discussed, over 90% of the panel market uses the EPS foam (BECAUSE IT IS CHEAP).  But there are builders and contractors out there willing to try something new in the hopes of finding a better way - you just have to look a little harder sometimes.  Will the builder send you the $100 or $200 each and every month that you would have saved in energy costs living in an Eco-Panels home if he insists on building it out of stick frame because it's easier FOR HIM?  Nope.  Even most spray foamed stick frame homes have the same wall R value as a stick and fiberglass home, so unless they actually move to a SIP method of building they will not begin to achieve the efficiency of an Eco-Panels home in either the assembly or the performance - and THAT is what you as the homeowner should insist on - the PERFORMANCE of the home for the next 30+ years after the builder leaves and is never heard from again.  Stick frame construction is actually the weakest and least energy efficient method of construction allowed by law (building code).

Please tell your friend to keep looking - start with a regional "green building" chapter as they often have builders and contractors that are willing to try newer and more alternative methods.  Or ask us and we will try to help you find someone who is willing to actually work for your benefit instead of their own convenience (and will not charge a king's ransom to do so).  This is YOUR home - not theirs - and it's a shame that we see contractors time and again talking homeowners (or the general contractor) out of our panel technology.  "I've been framing homes this way for 30 years, and I ain't never had any problems.  I frame the same way as my pappy and my grandpappy did!  You tell'n me my grandpappy was a fool?  Why my foundations don't have to be square - I just cut the lumber different than I was supposed to in order to make it fit - and when we get to the top of the house we just kind of cut it again just right to make it all fit - THAT is where the skill is!" (ok, that's actually a blend of comments from three or four different framers/builders I've heard over the years)

One of the most well known “green builders” in Asheville North Carolina turned us down because our panels were at a $3,500 to $4,000 premium to what he could build it for out of stick frame construction.  2x4s don’t cost much at all, and with a little labor it can look darn impressive – “look honey, the house is starting to take shape!”  And he sold this “green” home (it was certified!) for over $300,000.  So our premium – according to his own analysis – was just over 1% of the total home selling price.  The only one who took home any “green” from that deal was the builder – pocketing that $3,500.

If we don't hear it all the time - we sure as hell see it all the time.  Keep educating yourself – and encourage your friend to do the same.  Knowledge is power.  And we will do the best we can to continue to answer your questions so that hopefully the home that you build, is the home that you want, and it performs just how YOU want it to, not how your builder wants it to (unless of course he's willing to send you lots of money every month for as long as you own your home!).  We stand behind our product, and if you live within a half day’s drive (or so) of our factory, we will at no cost to you provide free job-site technical support with panel delivery, because it’s pretty easy, and we don’t have to be there long.

Best Regards,
Charles Leahy
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