Panel Building Update

Archive, 2003

January

Prices down

Prices for SIPs are at their lowest now (osb prices are down), installation crews are the least busy that they will be all year, and lead times are at their shortest, so now is the best time to bring your project in.  Sometimes our competitors do not drop prices in the Winter when we do, so in the Winter, we are competitive in a larger portion of the country.  Consider getting a bid from us, even if you are outside our shipping area.  We may still be able to save you money.  Our prices are online at www.sipsproducts.com/price/ .

Timber Frame enclosure

The bulk of our business is enclosure panels for timber frame homes.  We sell to timber frame companies that provide our panels.  In addition, we provide panels to builders that are looking to save some money on the enclosure portion of the bid and are unhappy with the quality, price, delivery, or assistance they are getting from their current supplier.  Often our panels reach the jobsite for half the cost of other sources.  How can we provide panels for so much less money?  See our website at www.sipsproducts.com/cheap/ .

New Residential Building Style- Post Frame

Timber Frame construction has been the fastest growing area of construction over the past few years, but it tends to be a top-end product- pretty pricey. About 1 in twenty people that desire a timber frame home can afford it.

Post Frame construction has been around for years in the agricultural construction market, but has never had a product suitable for residential use.  Recently, various post frame companies have experimented with providing residential quality frames and some interesting things are developing.

A post frame can be erected for substantially less money than a timber frame, sometimes for nearly the same as stick frame.
When enclosed with panels, a post frame home is strong, energy efficient, and stylish.
With exposed trusses and laminated posts, unique design possibilities exist.
Very long spans are available making wider homes easier to do.  Bungalow style becomes very easy.

We are developing plans and designs to present at the Frame Building Expo in Nashville in late February.  Our new webpage showcasing postframe is located at www.sipsproducts.com/postframe/ .  As more pictures are available, they will be added.

 

Solar Decathlon- Auburn takes Third

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 overall and first in energy efficiency, 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.

March

Owner/Builder Update

Most problems encountered by owner/builders are related to a lack of awareness of the building process- especially the "that's not my job" issue.  Going into building your own home assuming too much is a good way to completely destroy a schedule and a budget.

I've run across a number of excellent tools for owner/builders over the past few months to minimize this problem.

The first is an excellent Project Management software program that is easy to learn, comprehensive, and handles all phases, including initial site evaluation and financing.  It is nearly unlimited in capacity, so you could evaluate as many properties and projects as you wish.  It includes contracts for each sub contractor, maintains budget and schedule and identifies the critical path and milestones to keep a project on schedule.  It also includes links to many resources that are handy such as specialty and architectural products, pre-manufactured products (stairways, arches, etc.) and links to local (or relatively local) suppliers.  If you plan to handle your own building project you need a construction schedule program at a minimum.  This program expands the scheduler into a full management tool.  It is called EZ Home Build and is available online at www.ezhomebuild.com .

If all you need initially is a good, easy to use construction estimate that doesn't forget anything, check out Estimating with Microsoft Excel by Jay Christofferson.  It is Excel based and includes a CD of templates which make estimating a less painful experience for those of us who don't do this everyday.  The book is available from Craftsman Book Company (800) 829-8123 www.constructionresources.net .

If you are starting from scratch on the home building experience, a good resource is the Home Builder Institute home courses and books.  Their web site is at www.homebuilderinstitute.com and they have courses appropriate to every level of building experience.

SIPs Become the Material of Choice For Affordable Housing

Recently, SIPs have become the center of a new approach to "affordable housing", especially among Rural Community Development and Rural Housing Agencies in the Southeast.  The primary factors driving the use of SIPs are

Homeowner preference
Rapid close in
Engineered tolerances making subsequent Trade work of shorter duration
Amenibility of system to audit, tight schedules, and austere budgets
Long term energy savings to the homeowner
Upgraded strength of structure

We are currently working with about two dozen agencies on affordable housing projects in five states on using SIPs.  Habitat for Humanity uses SIPs on many projects now, as go many of the new Rural Housing Consortiums which operate in a similar manner.  Perma "R" and General Panel are leading the way in low cost housing.

A discussion of the program in Mississippi is available in an article online at www.ur.msstate.edu/news/stories/2003/sips.asp.

Post Frame Update

Response to the Post Frame article in January Panel Building Update has been overwhelming.  Post Frame residential building is definitely an idea whose time has come.  We are working with various post frame manufacturers and their representatives to make the transition from post frame commercial buildings to residential building as smooth as possible.  The first packages will be available in Kentucky, Southern Illinois, Southern Indiana, and Tennessee, primarily because the first staff trained to handle the transition are located central to these markets.

There is some development of the process and market in Minnesota, Iowa, and South Dakota already moving forward.

We hope to have staff trained in other areas by early Fall.  Initially we will probably develop some standard plans based upon Cape Cod, Colonial and bungalow styles to make the transition easier.

Moisture and Mold

Issues of concern to anyone building a tight or "partially tight" home is moisture control and mold.   SIP homes are less susceptable to mold in the structure due to the continuous nature of the envelope, but their extreme tightness can lead to problems if ambient moisture is not controlled.  If you are concerned about mold in your existing home or if you are considering buying a home and have concerns, there is an excellent video available through Rudd Productions (888) 993-3332 ruddpro@aol.com called The Truth About Mold worth looking into.  In addition to providing a good understanding of where to look for mold, what causes it, how it affects you, and what helps keep it from forming, they also go into remediation, insurance issues, and testing.

A good product for less than health-threatening mold issues is the EcoQuest air purification appliances.  They use a broadcast system of low level ozone and particle ionization to remove spores from the air (minimizing some of the harmful effects of the mold on humans) and reducing the living area of the molds.  Higher levels of ozone concentration can even kill off mold (once the moisture source is corrected).  See www.ecoquestintl/keeperofthewind for more information.

April

SIP Cost Increases

The world continues to shrink. North America has experienced one of the most severe winters in history and Venezuela has run into political snags which reduced oil production.  This has reduced the supply of natural gas while it has been in high demand.  If the situation in the Persian Gulf is not resolved quickly, or if we experience surprises which affect natural gas supply, the situation could worsen rapidly.  Even if everything is resolved quickly and without major effects on the industry, it is likely that the demand drawdown on reserves will affect prices for much of 2003.

Natural gas is critical in plastics production- as much as 30% of total cost in some industries under normal circumstances.  Over the past three months, we have absorbed cost increases that were passed on by our suppliers- the expandable polystyrene bead manufacturers.  These same suppliers indicate that their situation is extremely serious and that they have no ability to hold prices or meet existing contractual hedge pricing to major customers.

This means that prices could go up substantially, quickly and without warning.  The current prediction is that the foam portion of the SIP could increase by 100% within two months.  Since OSB prices also increase in the Spring as a result of seasonal demand, panel prices are likely to rise quickly, and without notice, as much as $.50 to $1.00 per square foot of panel.

Obviously, these increases will affect the entire industry, so most likely, prices will rise across the board in the SIP industry this year.  If you are looking for panels sometime this year, I recommend that you order immediately and take shipment before prices increase.  We will be unable to hold prices on orders more than two weeks at a time.  There is little likelihood of prices reducing before late Fall.

It is likely that these increases will be felt in other building materials also, especially materials where plastics are part of the bill of materials in production..

Post Frame Show

We exhibited at the Frame Building Show in Nashville in late February, and it was clear from the response that Post Frame Builders are ready to go into the residential market.   Our response from potential home buyers and builders indicate that this new approach to building will be very popular.

We are working on a group of new plans including a 32' x 48' Cape Cod, a 36' x 36' Craftsman bungalow, a 28' x 48' cabin (with loft), and a 28' x 40' workshop/garage.  We should have plans and pricing available for the May newsletter.

As information is available, it will be used to update our page at www.sipsproducts.com/postframe/ .

May

About R-Value

R-Value is HIGHLY over-rated as a measure of insulation efficiency.  In a typical residential structure, mid-wall R-Value for the structure is arguably the least important issue in the energy efficiency of the home.  Of at least as much interest are:

R-value at various temperatures and conditions

Infiltration and exfiltration issues

Radiant reflectivity

Thermal mass

Non-insulated portion of the structure

Window efficiency and

Connection details

Did you know that R-Value testing is done at 72 degrees Fahrenheit with no infiltration/exfiltration, humidity at 40% or lower and with a small temperature change for a short duration?  This test, which is the standard R-Value test was designed when the only insulation material being evaluated was fiberglass.  It was developed by the Fiberglass industry, so it's hardly surprising that it would favor them.  When the conditions of the test are varied fiberglass doesn't do well.  For example, at 20 degrees F with 50% humidity, fiberglass is R-0.  EPs acually gets higher R-values as the temperatures decrease, and humidity does not affect it at all.  The test is an unreliable guide to efficiency.

Imagine how effective insulation is when doors and windows are left open.  Essentially, infiltration and exfiltration issues are similar.  Air and moisture flow through the structure greatly reduce the energy efficiency of the home.  SIPs address this issue better than conventional stick or steel frame construction.  Blower door tests indicate that SIPs are 20% tighter than very well built stick frame homes and as much as 40% tighter than most conventional construction.

If you've ever used a space blanket, you've seen how effective reflective radiant sheeting can be for insulating.  Any material which keeps radiant energy from converting to condutive energy is considered good as a radiant barrier.  Stick frame, steel studs and masonry are all exceptionally bad at this and SIPs are good at it.

Some materials are slow to change temperature- they have inertia to temperature change.   Air and metal are very bad at this and non-metallic solids are good at it.   SIPs are excellent insulators where thermal mass is a factor.

A standard stick or steel frame wall has studs every 16", which translates to about 20% to 25% of the actual surface area.  Obviously there is no insulation where the framing is so the less framing, the higher the insulation efficiency.  According to Oak Ridge National Labs, this one issue reduces the efficiency of a wood stud wall by 33% and a steel stud wall by as much as 55%.  SIPs rate a 7% loss of efficiency.

SIPs are generally tighter at the window connections, but teh quality of the window (R-value and low E) is often the most under-rated issue in energy efficiency.  If you look at thermographic images of highly energy-efficient homes the loss through windows is striking.

Connection details at the corners, wall top and bottom and at openings are another weak spot for energy efficiency in conventional construction which is well-handled in SIPs.

As you can see- the real issues of energy efficiency are ignored when R-value is stressed.

Polyisocyanurates Finally Comply

The Urethane (Polyisocyanurates) industry has finally come into compliance with the Montreal Protocol to reduce ozone depleting HCFC's and have changed their blowing agents to carbon-based agents which are compliant, bringing them into the green industry with EPS.    Although this does reduce their R-Value somewhat, it does produce a more green alternative in manufacturing.

Speaking of R-Value

A commonly heard phrase in the insulation business is "R-Value is a lie" and this is true in many respects.  As you can see from the first article on this page, R-Value has a simple test, but the implications of the test are highly questionable.   One of the major issues in dealing with the inherent problems in R-Value testing and the Code Official's reliance upon R-Value for energy efficiency evaluation is that non-fiberglass insulation material producers often feel the need to level the playing field somehow. 

This had had the effect of making it more difficult to compare the veracity of claims by insulation manufacturers, especially among closely related materials like plastic foams.  There has been an ongoing argument between EPS manufacturers, Extruded Foam manufacturers and urethane/polyisocyanurate manufacturers about "true" R-value in rigid foam products, with each trying to gain relative advantage against the others. 

The most recent event in this ongoing saga has been the contention by polystyrene producers that polyiso producers had exaggerrated their R-value claims unfairly in an attempt to even out the cost discrepancy.  For years polyiso companies have advertised their "aged" R-Value at R-7.2 per inch, but have warranted at 5.6 per inch (the industry standard is R-6.0/inch).  Eventually this practice attracted the attention of the government.  As a result of Federal Trade Commission intervention,   polyisocyanurate manufacturers must advertise only their warranted R-Values, so R-5.6 is now the standard.  This information has already been promulgated to Building Code officials.  This brings the official R-Values for SIPs as follows (fiberglass information for comparison):

Foam Core Thickness Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) Polyisocyanurate (Urethane) Fiberglass (comparison)
3 5/8" R-16 R-21 R-11
5 5/8" R-24 R-33 R-17
7 3/8" R-30 R-42 R-22
9 3/8" R-38 R-54 R-29
11 3/8" R-47 R-65 R-35

Polyiso/urethane panel manufacturers have promoted their 5 1/2" panel as R-25 and their 6 1/2" panel as an R-40, but based on the new standards, the 5 1/2" panel will now be rated as R-21 and the 6 1/2" panel rated as R-33.   This means that to meet the new R-38 Building Code requirements in Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia, you will need either a 9 3/8" eps core panel or a 7 3/8" polyiso panel   (Polyiso could meet the Code requirement with a 6 5/8" core, but splines would be non-standard).  A 9 3/8" eps core does meet the Code standard with 2 by 10 splines and fascia block.  Remember, all of these states require that only the "insulation material"- the panel- be allowed in the calculation.  No R-value allowance is made for the other structure of the roof, so the R-33 cannot be upgraded by felt, shingles, or ceiling materials.

For further discussion of the issues, and how they might affect you, please follow the links to the Trade Associations involved www.epsmolders.org and www.pima.org

Be VERY wary of other claims, they may cause you problems in passing final inspection or in warranties at resale.

September

OSB shortage- costs soaring

If you've been to the building supply store recently, you may have noticed that OSB prices are way up.   There is a major problem with OSB supply relative to demand right now.  OSB availability has gone from 2 weeks to 2 months and prices per sq ft on osb has gone from $.18/sq ft to $.63/sq ft.  For a SIP, we need two sq ft of OSB to each sq ft of SIP, so our costs have increased nearly $1.00/sq ft over the past four months.  Our prices have increased by the increased cost to us as a result.  There is a sizeable difference in cost in various sizes, so our prices have been modified to reflect each size we offer at the Johnson City, TN Plant.

The extended lead times have played havoc with our production schedule also.  We are three weeks behind our original ship dates- with the liklihood that we will slip further as OSB inventories run out waiting for the extended lead times.  This is an industry-wide problem.

The rumor is that materials are being purchased for the re-building of Afganistan and Iraq.  If that is the case, dimension lumber will be purchased next, making stick framing more expensive also.

With luck, the normal downturn in construction over the winter will allow inventories to get back in line.  If not, the construction indutry is in for a VERY rocky 2004.  Our most current prices are online at http://www.sipsproducts.com/price/ .

Polyisocyanurate R-Value modified per the Federal Trade Commission

Urethane and Polyiso must now be advertised for the same R-Value as their component manufacturer warrants as an aged R-Value.  With the exception of some SIP manufacturers, everyone else that sells yellow foam now complies with the R-6.2 per inch standard.  Be wary of the claims when comparing SIPs.  See www.sipsproducts.com/updt0503/ for the full story.  There are rumors of building inspectors requiring additional insulation at final inspection (after the roof is on and the finish work is done.

FibeRock SIPs available in January

We will be changing over from osb/gyp and osb/mrg to osb/FibeRock panels this winter.  These panels are semi-structural and can be used for walls, ceilings and catherdral ceiling/roof panels.  We will be conducting testing to determine allowable loads, header loads, and spans.  When we switch over to FibeRock we will no longer offer osb/osb/gyp panels. 

Radiant Ceiling Panels

Back in the 70's radiant ceilings were the thing.  Wires were set on the drywall before the acoustic finish was applied and a dimmer switch was set on the wall to adjust the output.  It allowed comfortable clean heat to be used where it was needed.  Unfortunately, it was relatively expensive to operate, and heated the surfaces which heated the air, so it had limitations.  Also, if you didn't know where the wires were, it was easy to hit one when you installed a swag lamp or plant hanger.

Like most things, things change and often make sense again.   Since panel homes are tight- they don't leak air through the structure, and energy efficient- so the radiant heat generated isn't lost through the walls and roof, radiant systems deserve another look.  The new pre-manufactured systems are much more efficient than the site-built systems and the wires are in the radiant panels which are easy to avoid with swag hooks.

The new radiant panels can heat an 8' x 12' room with a single panel that uses 750 watts.  This becomes a practical solution for spaces that are difficult to get ducting to.  I have seen radiant panels used as an additional source of heating when a heat pump is insufficient and have seen a few homes which relied upon radiant panels exclusively that were very energy efficient.

For more information contact AJ Saunders a.j.saunders@mindspring.com (800) 544-5182 or go to the website at www.aboveradiant.com .

TJI Mechanical Issues- Try Metwood

Often, the reason people don't use I-joist (engineered osb floor trusses) is problems with HVAC and plumbing.  Plumbers are notorious for hacking up structural members to solve plumbing problems and HVAC contractors also find I-joists problematic to get through. Metwood's Joist Reinforcers may be the solution to these problems.  They manufacture metal reinforcements for the openings which are engineered to your needs- a jole cut through the I-joist can be re-strengthened with their Joisr Reinforcers.  Go to http://www.metwood.com/mainframes2.htm for details and pictures.

October

All About the OSB Shortage of Fall, 2003

So far, nobody has a good answer for how OSB got so much in demand and so low in supply in August, 2003.  Rumors of huge buys by the US Government for use in the Middle East have turned out to be urban legends.  Log supply problems hinted at by the industry are real, but not sufficient to the supply shortage.

Some suspect an oligarchical conspiracy by the industry, but that seems unlikely- those players get along worse than most families.   There have been some maintenace shutdowns, but they seem to be reasonable given the demand load on the equipment.

The most likely culprit is a combination of things.   Rain in the East and Southeast has made it difficult to keep projects on schedule, making heavy demand in the late Summer for late projects and last minute end-of-season projects at the same time.  Maintenance kept production low in the early Summer, so inventories were low.  Fires in the Northwest interrupted log availability as did mired roads in the Southeast.  Other manufacturers which relied upon logs as a raw material (paper & plywood primarily) ran the raw material cost and availability into problems.  The government did buy some plywwod and OSB.  But most importantly, we have an infrastructure designed to support the construction of 1.3 to 1.5 million homes per year that has been trying to keep up with 1.6 to 1.8 million new starts per year over the past five years and 1.8 million in 2004. 

As generally happens when demand exceeds supply- the cost went up.  In March 7/16" osb sold for about $200/1,000 sq ft, in early September, it usually sells for about $360/1,000, but this year it hit $635/1,000.   This means that a 4'x 8; SIP had it's cost increased by $.87/sq ft in OSB costs alone.

It seems unlikely that this price can be maintained long- the building season is winding down, the hurrican e season is ending soon- heavy demand will slip off by late November and inventories will restore and prices will fall.

My advice is to stall your building until winter- prices may drop to more sustainable numbers.