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