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 But would you settle for outdated technology in a new coat?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.

Paradigm Buster

One of our customers, John Young, calls this the construction paradigm: How do you balance quality, speed, and cost? To maximize one, you usually have to sacrifice the other two.

But John calls Thermocore SIPs the paradigm buster. “It’s all three–good, fast, and inexpensive,” he said. (Read more about John’s experience with Thermocore SIPs here.)

Why settle? Especially when you can make your life easier AND save money?

Lots of people resist change. They think if they’ve been stick building for years, it must be the best way. But if that logic applies, why do we use the Internet? I used a typewriter in high school, but computers sure make my life easier now.

I’ll admit that SIPs construction is different from traditional construction. It’s faster and easier. It results in a much sturdier building and cuts energy costs. No one has yet convinced me that’s a bad thing.

When Is a SIP Not a SIP?

“Often imitated but never duplicated” is a phrase that has been muttered for years. When it applies to building panels, with products like eSIPs, in a way I’m glad.

Why am I glad about half-hearted imitations of true SIPs?  Well, for one, it shows that SIPs are worth trying to emulate. It’s proof that they’re finally gaining recognition for their superior thermal performance and for being a true advancement over stick framing.

Unfortunately, imitators are usually nothing more than that…never reaching the performance level of the original. (Think tribute band.) While there’s a certain novelty in product imitations, the phrase “you get what you pay for” generally applies. According to the Structural Insulated Panel Association, SIPs consist of an insulating foam core sandwiched between two structural facings, typically oriented strand board (OSB). No studs, so no air leaks. Any variation is just that: an alteration of the original.

If you want the best energy-saving performance, only true SIP panels deliver. Anything else is just seconds.

Winning the War for Energy Savings

I was very pleased to read a recent AP-NORC Center poll that said 8 out of 10 Americans called saving energy deeply important to them. I don’t know what the results might have been for the same poll done 25 years ago, but I’d guess that the recent numbers are better.

Could it be that the green movement is finally a staple rather than a passing fad? The signs sure seem to point in that direction. Geopolitical events today, more than ever, show America’s true place in the energy picture.

However, the fact remains that we are customers, and customers have little control over our suppliers. Let’s face it: Does anyone really think that an oil company would pass up profits for shareholders just to make American politicians happy? Not likely.

But we’re not helpless in our energy savings quest. There are many weapons we can use to win the war on energy waste. Everyday devices that use energy, such as light bulbs and refrigerators, have been improved to help you, the consumer, battle energy demons. Clearly we can only fight this war by choice. Talk is very easy, but it results in nothing if not followed by action. As I tell my kids, “Saying it ain’t doing it.”

Do the research, find the resources, and align yourself with people who share your passion for energy conservation. Then we’ll move the needle.

Energy Supply vs. Demand: Why it Pays to be Unglamorous

When we talk about the energy equation, there are really two sides: supply and demand. Supply is the glamorous side with solar, wind, and geothermal as its mainstay. It’s the side of the equation politicians like to point to as they seek re-election. Unfortunately, the supply side remains very expensive, with high up-front expenses and unknown life cycle costs.

Demand, on the other hand, is very unglamorous. Often you never see the things that lower demand, especially in housing. But the demand side is by far the MOST IMPORTANT and LEAST EXPENSIVE way to manage our energy equation. In housing, for instance, lowering demand is often relatively inexpensive, with no life cycle costs. Smart choices in building envelopes can greatly reduce energy demand. In fact, it’s much smarter to focus on demand first and supply second. Why?? Well, once you have your demand at the lowest level, the supply side becomes much more economical to manage. Think half the solar panels, or a third of the wind power needed for a home. Think about a wind farm powering 1,000 homes instead of 100. With lower overall energy demand, these scenarios become possible.