Who Drives Change?

Have you ever stopped to wonder how real change comes about?

According to marketing experts, most new products are picked up by people referred to as “early adopters.” These consumers like to be out ahead of the curve, don’t mind a little risk, and–most importantly–think independently. They’re not influenced by the status quo. Early adopters document the truth and spread it to the masses.

We’ve all completed difficult projects, then later discovered a new tool or method that would have saved time and effort. Unfortunately, construction remains one of the greatest defenders of the status quo. Change comes painfully slowly and, for the most part, only when drawn into the market by the end user. Construction is very much a “pull” rather than a “push” market. Rarely do you see builders bringing the latest and greatest to the table.

Think about house framing, which hasn’t changed in over 100 years. Think about home insulation; the bulk of the market is fiberglass batts, which have been around for more than 60 years. These two components make up the structure and energy efficiency of your new home–with technology that’s decades old! What other areas of your house use technology that old? Is it because nothing else is available? Is it because no other alternatives have been approved? NO. For instance, I happen to know of some pretty easy-to-use, energy-efficient structural insulated panels!

There are many improvements available to the current standard of stick building and batt insulation. The question then becomes, “How do we get these technologies into the mainstream?” The answer is an educated consumer. Do your Google research about SIPs and other alternatives and bring the data to your builder. Ask him why he’s not using more modern techniques and technologies like structural insulated panels. If he refuses to listen, move on to someone who WILL do the research and listen. Remember: The consumer drives change, so let’s get behind the wheel.

Mortgage Risk Shrinks with Energy-Efficient Buildings

So it’s not just me. Jen Alic, a blogger for The Christian Science Monitor, says, “Here’s some new impetus for those sitting on the fence over household energy efficiency: The risk of mortgage default is one-third lower for people with energy-efficient homes, according to a recent study.”

The research by the University of North Carolina’s Center for Community Capital provides the first real academic link between mortgages and energy efficiency, but it proves my favorite point: SIPs and other smart energy-saving features just make your financial situation better.

In the study, houses with lower HERS scores showed a lower mortgage-default risk. After all, when you save hundreds of dollars on energy costs each month, it becomes much easier to make your mortgage payments—and still have money for other priorities.

Homes built with Thermocore structural insulated panels consistently score lower on the HERS index. A normal HERS rating is 100; the Energy Star standard is 70. Bart Rynish of Barton Designs achieved a HERS rating of 35 with Thermocore SIPs. After Art Smith of Rocky Ridge Designs received a HERS rating of 67, he found that his SIPs home actually consumed less than half the predicted amount of energy in its first year.

Despite what some may say, building with structural insulated panels does not cost more than traditional building methods. There are so many reasons to build green. Now we have proof that using SIPs and other energy-efficient features also protects your mortgage.

How Standard Options Hurt Fuel Economy

We’ve all had the experience of buying a car, new or otherwise. Many of us search the web to find the best model for the best price. We look at features. We probably check fuel economy, too, because today’s global marketplace has taught us that we do not in any way control how much we pay for fuel.

Now imagine your research shows that the tires offered as standard in the car industry reduce fuel mileage by over 25%. Let’s say you also find a new, advanced tire that guarantees not to cost gas mileage like the old technology, and most likely increases fuel economy. Wouldn’t you wonder why car manufacturers haven’t made this new tire standard equipment?

That’s exactly what’s happening with traditional exterior wall framing. Using studs and other materials creates what’s commonly referred to as the “framing factor,” which can knock more than 25% off the R-value of whatever insulating materials you use. Who can afford to give up 25% in fuel economy, whether it’s your home or your car?

In the tire example, the alternative was hypothetical. In construction, SIPs provide a real alternative to traditional framing. SIPs not only eliminate the 25% framing-factor loss, but also increase R-value over a standard wall. Before you invest in a new home, make sure your builder or manufacturer knows about the options to “standard equipment.” Share with them and get your 25% back.

What Makes an Upgrade Worth the Investment?

Many builders tell me that SIPs are too expensive. But these same builders tell their clients that “upgrading” to hardwood floors, cherry cabinets, and granite are all worth it. They say that chair-rail and crown-molding upgrades are worth it. Really?? I challenge anyone to show me the economic equation that proves the payoff. Financing any of these non-functional upgrades at 4% over 30 years pretty much eliminates any possibility of a return when you sell your house. The reality remains that most “upgrades” are a financial pit with little or no chance to recoup your investment.

Ahh, but there are exceptions. A few products actually return more than you spend, and most have to do with the climate of your house. Heating, cooling, and insulating systems influence your monthly expenses more than any other products in your home, so new alternatives can quickly produce positive cash flows when compared to standard building options. No surprise, the one with the highest return is structural insulated panels–a one-time, no-maintenance investment. You’ll also save money with smart HVAC and water heating choices.

Before you build, investigate the costs and rewards of potential upgrades. When you talk with your builder, start with the options that carry the best investment value; they’ll make all the other “non-investment” ideas that much easier to swallow.

Happy Holidays and Low Utility Bills to All

As 2012 comes to a close, we reflect on some highlights of the past year. In the last 12 months, Thermocore invested over $225,000 in new equipment to better serve our customers. That investment ranged from high-pressure foaming equipment that creates a stronger, more consistent SIPs insulation core to CAD software that speeds the production of SIPs drawings. These technology investments not only help your next project; they also reflect our belief that better buildings lead to a better environment for generations to come.

We’re also very proud of our participation in Purdue University’s Solar Decathlon home (read more here). In their first year entering the international competition, Purdue’s INhome placed second overall out of 19 teams, and tied for first in the Energy Balance category, producing more energy than it consumed. Accomplishing this in a $250,000 home proves that money is not the enemy to net-zero design. With the right material selection, net zero is very obtainable on any budget.

Lastly, we want to thank all our customers and wish you many low utility bills for years to come. Happy holidays and happy New Year to all!

SIPs Performance Verified by Energy Audit

Sometimes other people say it best. I recently received this letter from Paul and Barb, who built their Indiana home with Thermocore SIPs and moved in earlier this year:

“Recently we took advantage of an offer from our electric provider to have an energy audit. The technician who did the test was blown away. He said it was the tightest house he had ever tested–by far. He had no recommendations that would make it any better. Needless to say, we were thrilled to verify that all of our planning was right on target. SIPs do work as advertised!!”

Why My Winter Coat Reminds Me of SIPs

As summer swiftly fades into the rearview mirror and fall begins the pre-game to winter, we all start what I call “closet turnover.” What was once our staple of short-sleeve shirts and shorts moves to the holding pen until the warmth of summer returns.

As I go through my winter wardrobe, it occurs to me how high-tech clothing has made the winter months so much easier and more enjoyable. Gone is cotton and wool outerwear, replaced by Gor-Tex® and Polar Fleece. High-tech fibers allow for much thinner fabrics that resist cold and moisture. Winter clothes feel warmer and more lightweight. Once fringe names like North Face® are now the staple in winter clothing. They’re not the cheapest, but we prefer them because they achieve the one thing we all desire more than anything in winter–warmth–and they do it without the bulk of clothing of the past.

In essence, that’s what structural insulated panels and Thermocore do. SIPs provide the high-tech Polar Fleece and Gor-Tex® wrap for your house–and more importantly, for you. You can settle for 1950s construction technology. But would you settle for outdated technology in a new coat? Will the gear that kept you warm in 1950 provide the same level of comfort as today’s fabrics? Think about it. Ask your builder as he stands in front of you in a high-tech fabric coat: How are you going to keep my family warm? 1950s or 2012?

How the American Dream Home Spells Doom

What symbolizes success? A big home and a nice car? They may look good, but they mean bad news for our future.

Sprawling, two-story, conventionally built homes guzzle more energy than the worst cars on the road—but they don’t grab near as much attention. How much energy will our generation waste?

In the book Building Today’s Green Home: Practical, Cost-Effective, and Eco-Responsible Homebuilding, Art Smith says, “I was told, ‘We don’t build homes THAT WAY around here. Curb appeal only is what sells houses.’ I was advised that homes had to be large to be good…But, what is real now? Our global warming and rising costs situation are not just passing, they are the future reality. Building green should not be just the latest fad–it is a wise thing to do…We can choose to be smart or we can choose to leave a mess for our children.”

I want to clean up that mess. Green home building makes sense now and for the earth’s future.

(Read more about Art Smith’s experience with Thermocore SIPs here.)

Urban, Affordable SIPs Homes…Who Knew?

I hate stereotypes. Many people think of SIPs homes as rustic. True, SIPs are used a lot in timber framing. But SIPs add energy efficiency to many other residential and commercial buildings, too. And they’re definitely not expensive, as much of the construction market seems to think.

Architectural designer Brian Burtch is breaking the stereotypes. He’s designing and building an affordable, energy-efficient, modern home in the eclectic Fountain Square neighborhood in downtown Indianapolis.

Guess what he chose for the building envelope? (Thermocore SIPs, in case that wasn’t obvious.) On Brian’s blog, he explained:

The panels are manufactured in the factory and will come to the site and be tilted into place. As a result, they allow for more precise construction practices, quicker on-site construction, and less waste. Finally, the panels allow for a much greater insulation value than traditional 2×4 framing, achieving an R-24 in a 4″ thick panel as opposed to around an R-13 for a traditional wall.

If you live in the area, come see Brian’s design during the Architects’ Home Tour, hosted by the American Institute of Architects Indianapolis, September 22-23. It’ll be one of just seven homes on the biennial tour. See for yourself how wrong stereotypes can be.

The Biggest Offender in Energy Consumption

Many people point their fingers at automobiles as the biggest offenders in energy consumption and pollution. But surprisingly, the biggest enemies of energy conservation are actually buildings, both commercial and residential.

Think about it…your furnace or air conditioner runs 24 hours a day for most of the year. On the other hand, your car gets you where you need to be, then stops. Most vehicles spend the night parked in a garage, while our furnaces and air conditioners plow on. But hybrid and electric cars make for great press.

The real energy villain is your own house–or to break it down further, the WALLS of your house. This fact was brought to light by Jan Kosny, Ph.D., of Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In a presentation published February 14, 2008, Kosny clearly shows through extensive hot-box testing that air leaks from wind pressure, combined with convection from studs, transfer enough energy to reduce the R-value of a wall 30 to 45 percent. According to Kosny, just the convection effect of studs increases a home’s overall energy demand by 10 to 12 percent.

The moral of the story? Sure, we want to conserve gas with more efficient vehicles. But build your exterior walls without studs, and you save 10 to 12 percent on energy bills. I’d rather focus my attention on the biggest offender and the greatest return in energy savings.