Panel Building Update

2002 Archive

This is an accumulation of all Panel Building Updates published in 2002

General Panel Update

We're up to speed on the transition from Apache Panel to General Panel, with hardly a pause to change names.  Danny and Cathy have done a great job getting business out while learning new ways and things are working very well.  We think that the best fabricated panels in the industry are now shipped from General Panel in Union, MS.

As a result of Union handling all the fabricated jobs, the Johnson City, TN Plant has been able to concentrate on specialty lamination for log and timberframe homes with great success.  We look forward to an excellent year.

Accessories

Perma R Products and General Panel Corporation have decided to turn the accessories business over to people with better pick pack and merchandising skills.   We have had so many instances of "wrong item shipped" to our credit that we prefer to let someone better equipped to handle this type of transaction take over.   We are referring all of our panel accessory inquiries and specifications to SIPBIZ.   They can be reached at (423) 434-9527 sip1@chartertn.net    http://www.sipbiz.com .

Perma "R" Purchases Apache Panel- General Panel Corp formed

The same fine production and administrative staff is on board at the Union, MS facility to provide continuity in quality control and service. During my initial tour of the plant to assess their systems, I decided that ALL fabrication would be done there. The Johnson City Plant will continue to manufacture SIPs in lengths up to 4' x 16' primarily to the timberframe industry. Union, MS will continue to manufacture Code-approved SIPs, fabricate, and offer timberframe and nailbase panels. We anticipate that this acquisition will allow not only additional geographical coverage, Jumbos, and Code certification, but also better pricing due to much higher volumes. Our webpage, http://www.sipsproducts.com has been modified to reflect the changes resulting from this acquisition.

A Discussion of Thermal Mass

The March, 2001 Rural Builder Magazine included an excellent article regarding Thermal Mass, written by Rob Pickett of Southland Log Homes. The article "Thermal Mass- Beyond R-value", deals with the limitations of R-value as a predictor of energy efficiency, and is a useful in seeing why, in spite of Building Department focus on energy efficiency, energy problems still confront us. According to the article:

Thermal mass is an under-valued factor in energy efficiency. as are infiltration/exfiltration, and radiant deflection. The under-valuing of these factors, to the benefit of R-value has a great deal to do with why increased energy efficiency awareness in the general public (and in Building Jurisdictions) has not resulted in the energy efficient homes that were anticipated. This is not really surprising, given that most energy efficiency studies are carried on by the vested interests in insulation, and "more is better" is a typical approach to R-value. Structural Insulated Panels are an excellent energy efficiency alternative because they are efficient in all four areas. As a result, SIPs significantly out-perform their R-value.

Log Homes-"Structural" Insulated Panels

According to Jim Leroy and Ted Cushman, Building Systems Magazine, "March/April, 2001," SIPs are more than foam core panels, they are "structural" insulating panels. For log home builders, they represent a number of solutions to common log home roof issues. If all that is needed is insulation over an existing structural roof deck, nailbase is the answer- EPS foam laminated to OSB or plywood to provide an uninterrupted insulation layer and a non-slip roof nailing deck. If you are covering the space between log purlins or rafters, it hardly seems logical to build a full (and inadequate) roof system between the rafters, when a SIP would solve the problem in a single step, and close in your structure in 1/4 of the time. Rather than use two-by or three-by T&G, why not face nail 1/2" T&G to SIPs and fly them up as a finished roof/ceiling structure? Haven't you already got enough wood in that log home?

Log home packages often include substandard structural and insulation materials for the roof as a give away to make the package more attractive. Don't make the mistake of using substandard materials because they're free. You didn't buy the log home package to cheapen your life- you made a lifestyle choice which is an upgrade. Don't downgrade that choice with a poor roof structure/insulation decision. See http://www.buildingsystems.com.

Building Inspector Comments on SIPs

An excellent resource for SIP information is SIPWEB.com . A recent article indicated that a North Carolina Building Inspector viewed SIPs very favorably, especially with regard to hurricanes. In a follow up article, they contacted the inspector and he confirmed that "if he had his way, every home would be built with SIPs." The article is worth looking at. Http://www.sipweb.com

Green Building and SIPs

It is often overlooked that SIPs are a "green" building product. EPS foam used as a durable use insulator is an excellent use of the resource, OSB utilizes "trash" lumber rather than old growth dimension lumber, and SIP energy efficiency reduces energy consumption- all "green" goals. The Southface Energy Institute, a leading Green Advocate, built their facility with SIPs as a conscious choice. Their facility, located in Atlanta, GA, is open to the public to tour.

Prices Going UP

Every year OSB costs start rising in the Spring, forcing SIP prices up (OSB represents about 65% of our cost). Prices are already starting up so order while prices are at their lowest. www.sipsproducts.com/keeper/price/

Pricing Policy Change

We have been able to work out square foot pricing on OSB, allowing us to switch over to square foot pricing for our panels in new standard sizes. In Johnson City, our standard sizes are now 4' x 8', 4' x 9', 4' x 10', 4' x 12', and 4' x 16'. In Union, MS, our standard sizes are $' x 8', 4' x 12', 4' x 16', 4' x 20', 4' x 24', 8'x 8', 8' x 9', 8' x 10', 8' x 12', 8' x 16', 8' x 20', and 8' x 24'. Go to http://www.sipsproducts.com/price/ to see our new prices.

Why OSB?

The SIP industry uses OSB as it's skin of choice for a number of reasons:

In addition to all these reasons, the SIP industry is closely tied to the OSB industry due to their long term support of the SIP industry. They have helped us with research, demonstration and marketing,.

Cool Roof Program

Recent studies by DOE and EPA have shown that energy efficiency of cooling systems is greatly enhanced by using light colored, reflective roof colors. California's has determined that 20% of their total goal for energy use reduction can be achieved through a Cool Roof program on commercial structures. This reflects a 20 to 40% decrease in energy cost for cooling. It also has a very large impact on pollution- as much as eliminating 40% of the vehicles according to one study. Predictions are that a cool roof program could reduce pollution by more than any other pollution control legislation. This is a VERY significant issue for the building industry. It is possible, even likely, that a "Cool Roof" standard could be applied to about 65% of ALL roofs by 2010. It is hard to imagine how much that would influence the roofing industry with only white, reflective roof materials allowed. It would certainly change designer and architectural approaches to design. This is one to watch.

Task Force Study says Energy Efficiency is Under-Stressed in Public Policy

A recent study, financed by the major oil companies and conducted by the Baker Institute for Public Policy at Rice University and the Council on Foreign Relations which was presented to the White House recently emphasized that a supply side focus would not solve the energy problems anticipated over the next ten years. To quote from the report, "Supply-side responses alone will not be enough. To be effective and politically acceptable, solutions must also focus on demand-side efficiency.. Indeed, if quick fixes on the supply side alone brought prices back down in the absence of effective efforts to promote energy efficiency, they might actually prolong the problems the United States now faces in the energy arena, by bringing even greater reliance on imports."

General Panels for Panel Enthusiasts in the West

Although freight costs can be an issue, and solving problems cross country is often difficult, General Panel has found that it is doing more and more work in the West. This is particularly true for timberframe enclosure and loghome roofs. Our specialty Arauco simulated T&G panels have been very well received throughout the country. Given the long term energy situation in the West, which is beginning to be experienced in areas in the Midwest, northeast and southeast, SIPs are becoming less an alternative building system and more the material of choice. General would like to help to build your home. Let us bid your project. We are also looking for distributors.

Distributors

The huge increase in SIP business has required that we utilize distributors to get our customer's needs met. There just isn't sufficient time to handle all the details to keep your project on course without more hands. We are currently looking for SIP Distributors in many areas. Here is the list of our distributors. They are listed by the areas that we expect them to serve, but our distributorships are non-exclusive- you may work with any distributor in any area that they are willing to handle. Please call Butch Johnson at 800 251-7532 sip@xtn.net if you need help finding a distributor.

SIPs and Non-Toxic Houses

A recent article in Building Systems Magazine ("Panels Provide Perfect Fit For Nontoxic Housing," July/August, 2001) deals with the specific benefits of EPS core SIPs as "healthy Homes" and with the advantages to builders for this niche. A new niche with as much as 3% of all new homes has opened to specifically service people with sensitivities to various building products, mold and mildew, and other unhealthy home attributes and which represents an opportunity to builders that learn to service this niche. SIPs made with EPS foam are a natural for this market due to their offgassing stability, extremely tight construction, energy efficiency, and durability. If you are considering a home which meets the qualifications for the American Lung Association Healthy Home, EPS core SIPs are the only certified system.

Tight Homes- Pro & Con

Over time, we have solved energy and comfort problems by tightening up houses.   This allows us to maintain a constant, energy-efficient temperature, keep the dust out, keep a lower temperature gardient, and reduce the destruction of our exterior environment due to overuse of energy resources and poluution due to the use of these resources.  So the benefits of tightening a home are:

Benefits of a tight house

But tightening up the house keeps stuff inside that needs to get outside also.   Almost everything off-gases, and the stuff in a new house is particularly dangerous.  Things like carpet and padding, cabinet finishes, furniture, and even some of the home building materials (polyisocyanurate foam cores for example) emit substantial amounts of pollution which is trapped inside.  Moisture cannot migrate out and can create serious problems.

Problems resulting from a tight house

Many builders are of the opinion that the problems caused by tight houses are more trouble than they are worth.  You often hear their mantra- "a house has to breathe."  Obviously, if the problems are not properly solved, a tight house is not a good idea, and their concern is that they are not sure how to solve the problems, especially long term.

How are these problems addressed, long term?

Solutions to the problems

Recent SIPWEB article on SIP roof rot

Over the past few months there has been a set of articles regarding SIP roof problems in Juneau, Alaska. Although it is clearly a site workmanship problem ( the insurance companies didn't quibble over the fault), it points out that building a "very" tight house can cause problems if workmanship is poor.

The culprit is usually moisture. Foam is a vapor barrier. This means that moisture can not pass through foam easily, so all migration of moisture must occur at foam joints. All SIP manufacturers require that panels be firmly affixed (splined/fastened to the structure) and tightly sealed at the joints. Unfortunately, often the crew installing the SIPs is not familiar with - or worse, does not care about- the need to adequately seal the joints. Although this can be an issue in any climate, it is especially critical where interior temperature and moisture greatly exceed exterior moisture and temperature. Throw in 300+ days of rain (in Juneau) and the stage is set for trouble.

Tech reps are available for every job we ship. Their job is to make sure that things are done properly on site. If you have doubts about your contractor, or if you are doing the job yourself, please consider having a tech rep on-site for a couple of days. The roof problems in Juneau were easily avoidable, after all, most SIP roofs up there have had no problems.

Here in the Southeast, our issue is primarily cooling, and our winters are not as severe- or as wet. Moisture problems in roof and ridges are relatively rare here, but the same techniques that assure that moisture problems do not happen are the recommended techniques for energy efficiency and strength, so there is no reason not to follow the construction manual guidelines.

Accessories

General Panel Corp (Johnson City) has decided to turn the accessories business over to people with better pick pack and merchandising skills. We have had so many instances of "wrong item shipped" to our credit that we prefer to let someone better equipped to handle this type of transaction take over. We are referring all of our panel accessory inquiries and specifications to SIPBIZ. They can be reached at (866) 874-7249 (toll free) sip1@chartertn.net http://www.sipbiz.com .

EPS or Urethane Cores- Another Opinion

My position on SIP cores has always been that EPS makes more sense than urethane for a core material with a few exceptions- high heat (Southwestern desert roofs or commercial situations such as mushroom farms) or when core thickness is essential to design. A recent posting in SIPWEB on-line magazine made me re-think whether the product needs more development before it is viable at all. In the posting ( http://www.sipweb.com) click on SIPTALK and go to Urethane or Expanded Polystyrene), the homeowner was very upset with urethane for two issues I'd never considered, varying panel thickness and foam crushing pre-installed conduit. After reading this posting, I checked with other homeowners and found that both of these issues are common problems with non-standard panels (fabricated to the job prior to foaming). Be VERY wary of unpressed panels.

SIP Construction Financing

I recently received correspondence from Tammy Kershner at M&T Mortgage Co describing their "one time close construction permanent mortgage."  It is a 12 month construction loan the construction loan is rolled into a permanent mortgage with no additional fees.  They are an Energy Star approved lender and can offer a $250.00 discount for complying with Energy Star guidelines.  Their draw arrangement allows for a panel draw without hassle.

They can lend up to 95% if a General Contractor is building the home and 75% to owner/builders.  They are licensed to do business in the 48 continental states.   Contact info: M&T Mortgage, 2270 Erin Ct., Lancaster, PA 17601, (717) 399-2685 trkershner@mandtbank.com .

An interesting SIP Project

Recently, I received a package from All Seasons Energy, a panel manufacturer in Gila Bend, AZ that showed a Prayer and Information Center in Colorado which was built with SIPs, including some unique SIPs which were curved to form what can best be described as a silo roof on a circular base.  All Seasons is a small, relatively new SIP operation that seems to have very creative problem solvers.  If you are looking for that creative flair, they can be contacted at (520) 683-6533 http://www.paonia.com/ase .

Tight Homes- Pro & Con

Over time, we have solved energy and comfort problems by tightening up houses.   This allows us to maintain a constant, energy-efficient temperature, keep the dust out, keep a lower temperature gradient, and reduce the destruction of our exterior environment due to overuse of energy resources and pollution due to the use of these resources.  So the benefits of tightening a home are:

Benefits of a tight house

But tightening up the house keeps stuff inside that needs to get outside also.   Almost everything off-gases, and the stuff in a new house is particularly dangerous.  Things like carpet and padding, cabinet finishes, furniture, and even some of the home building materials (polyisocyanurate foam cores for example) emit substantial amounts of pollution which is trapped inside.  Moisture cannot migrate out and can create serious problems.

Problems resulting from a tight house

Many builders are of the opinion that the problems caused by tight houses are more trouble than they are worth.  You often hear their mantra- "a house has to breathe."  Obviously, if the problems are not properly solved, a tight house is not a good idea, and their concern is that they are not sure how to solve the problems, especially long term.  How are these problems addressed, long term?

Solutions to the problems

Resources

I have decided to add this section as a permanent last paragraph.  As resources become available they will be added to the list.

Structural Panel accessories (fasteners, expanding foam, tools)- SIPBIZ (866) 874-7249 http://www.sipbiz.com  sip1@chartertn.net

Financing- M&T Mortgage, (717) 399-2685 trkershner@mandtbank.com

Tech Reps (on site training & supervision of panel erection)- Charles Judd, (865) 435-4616 blueheroninfo@aol.com , Sport Putney, (423) 245-5440, sfxtn1@aol.com , Steve Tyree, (615) 286-2716, idcllc@aol.com .

Panel Plan Conversion- Steve Tyree, (615) 286-2716, idcllc@aol.com .

Siding/Coating- GrailCoat, acrlic-modified concrete stucco (warranted for direct application over SIPs) (877) 472-4528.

SIPs 15 times tighter than stick & Batt According to ORNL testing

In an article in the May/June Building Systems Magazine, recent testing at Oak Ridge National Labs indicates that when subjected to the standard test for infiltration/exfiltration, SIPs outperform 2x6 stick construction by 15 times.  Quoting from the report, "The CFM50 for the SIP test room was almost 15 times less leaky than that measurement in the wood-frame.  By comparison with the wood-framed room, the SIP room is extraordinarily airtight.  These results show that, with care, a very near airtight construction is possible with SIPs."  The report also makes the point that based on previous measurements of onsite construction of other SIP houses that this is not unusually airtight for SIPs- it is easy to attain this level of tightness in SIP construction.  The SIP room measured .05 air changes per hour (ACH ) compared to well built stick frame tests which range from .5 to 1.0 AH. 

This is probably part of the reason that, in this test, the 4" SIP wall used 9% less energy to maintain temperature (70 degrees F inside- 0 degrees F outside) than did the 2x6 stick frame wall which has 27% more R-Value based on current ratings.

SIPs outperform HERS ratings

In an attempt to clarify energy efficiency in various building systems, a system has been developed to measure efficiency call Home Energy Rating System (HERS).  The HERS score is considered a much better method of determining insulation effectiveness than is R-Value.  In a  test monitored by the Florida Solar Energy Center (FSEC), three Habitat for Humanity houses were built to identical HERS scores (two with SIP walls and roof, one to the same HERS score in stick and batt), yet the SIP homes used 25% less energy.

"Obviously, the identical HERS ratings did not reflect the true differences between these houses...clearly the HERS rating, as applied in this case, did not meet the intent of Congree- the identical ratings would not have helped the potential home buyer to understand that the SIP house was, in fact, a better enegy buy." (quoted from article in May/June Building Systems Magazine)

Oak Ridge National Labs Update

A number of interesting research projects are underway at ORNL www.ornl.gov .  They have about completed the Whole Wall R-Value study and are satisfied with the model they have developed to predict energy efficiency in various wall systems.  At this point roof and floor systems can use the same efficiencies, but further testing will undoubtedly reflect heat and moisture pressure.  In the interim, this model is the best predictor of actual energy use where a comparison between insulating systems is desired.  As a result of this testing, Oak Ridge is specifying SIPs for their new construction.

They are just beginning a project near Oak Ridge, in Lenoir City, TN, in a partnership with Habitat For Humanity, entitled the Zero Energy Bill Project (ZEB).  The goal here is to build homes for low income homeowners with an energy efficient insulation system and solar and wind generated co-generation systems to eliminate monthly energy bills.  Many structural systems will be tested for energy efficiency, with nearly a third of the homes to be manufactured with SIPs. 

The best way to locate research in their site is to use their search function.  There are over 100 articles published on Whole wall R-Value for example.

New Simulated T&G Panels

We have recently gotten some sample material of a new plywood product from Weyerhaeuser that is a substantial upgrade to Arauco as a simulated T&G product.  The new product, which we call Smart T&G is a fletched, laminated with a goove at 4" o.c. and it is a finished product.  Please visit our webpage at www.sipsproducts.com/smarttg/ for pictures, prices and further information.  Samples will be available by August 15th.

SALE   -We will be ending production on Arauco simulated T&G as soon as the present stock runs out (about 800 panels).  Prices have already been reduced to reflect this.   Information on the Arauco product is available at www.sipsproducts.com/arauco/ , prices are online at www.sipsproducts.com/price/ .   

Logix Insulating Concrete Forms at Full Production in Johnson City, TN Plant

Our parent company, Perma R Products, is in full production of Logix ICFs.  ICFs are used for basements, foundations and walls and work well with SIPs.  For information about the system go to www.logixicf.com .  For a distributor near you, contact Bill Kees wkees@xtn.net 800 251-7532.  We have a seminar scheduled in Nashville on September 18th designed for homeowners wishing to use ICFs and SIPs together as a building system.

New Simulated T&G Panels

We have recently gotten some sample material of a new plywood product from Weyerhaeuser that is a substantial upgrade to Arauco as a simulated T&G product.  The new product, which we call Smart T&G is a fletched, laminated with a goove at 4" o.c. and it is a finished product.  Please visit our webpage at www.sipsproducts.com/smarttg/ for pictures, prices and further information.  Samples are available.

We have now dropped Arauco as a product.  A few sheets of material are available until used.

Panel Seminars

Please bear with us over the Fall and Winter while we restructure our seminar.  We have decided that, although general panel information and question and answer periods are helpful, what we really need is actual hands on training for builders and owner/builders.  We are also designing a seminar intended for architects, designers, specifiers, engineers, and Code Officials that will concentrate on plan details and inspection.  We are counting on our presence at Building Shows (see below) for contact with homeowners and other interested decision makers to ask questions and see our products.

At this point, we do not know how long it will take to design and implement the training seminars, but we hope to have some seminars scheduled by late Winter.  Please email sip@xtn.net if you are interested in having training of either sort near you.  Please indicate the type of training that would best suit your needs.

Building Shows

General Panel Corp will be exhibiting at these Building Shows over the next few months.

General Panel Public Efforts

Tim LeClair, CEO for Perma R Products, our parent corproation, and Danny Bain, Plant Manager at our Union, MS Panel Plant, recently met with Habitat For Humanity officials regarding a large project in Meridian, MS.  A prototype SIP building was installed by The Women's Build Project (see a webpage for the project at http://sipcore.joehagerman.com/ ) which greatly impressed all involved.  The website also chronicals a simple building project with good detail.  This is an excellent starting point for information for inexperienced owner/builders wondering what they do not know and what are the challenges of being your own contractor.

We also worked with Auburn University to provide panels on a very creative project for the Solar Decathlon held in Washington, DC in September (the project placed 3rd, but many felt it should have placed higher).  Their website is at http://spi.auburn.edu/decathlon/ .   Working with educators and students gave us a new perspective on how to train people in SIP construction, and is an important part of our decision to change our seminar approach.

Path Update

A report, "PATH Technology Roadmap: Advanced Panelized Construction" is available as one in a series of inquiries into the future of building sponsored by the Federal Government.  These reports are available through HUD at www.huduser.org/publications/destech/panelization.html .  This is the latest technology information and indicates the direction Building Code and financing will go in the future.

Hybid Projects in the Southeast

A number of builders are opting for SIPs as part of hybrid (SIPs with other structural materials) projects in the Southeast.

Mill Creek Post & Beam www.millcreekinfo.com , Blue Heron Timberworks www.blueherontw.com , and Cowee Mtn Timberframers www.timberframesales.com all manufacture hybid timberframe/SIP, and other structural material custom homes.   Koenig Homebuilders http://www.koenighomebuilders.com/   builds spec hybrid homes in the Highlands/Cashiers, NC area. 

A number of builders in the Charlotte, NC area are using SIPs for the wall structure and conventional trusses for the roof.  A number of Insulating Concrete Form (ICF) wall installers have started using SIPs for gable ends and roof structure.  Many log home manufacturers now use SIPs the same way, as do some masonry wall commercial project specifiers.

One builder in Kentucky is using SIPs for floor and walls with trusses for the roof.

The post frame industry is starting to use SIPs as enclosure now that they are upgrading from purely agricultural buildings.