SIPs, Hats, and Heat Loss

I recently ran across an article that challenged the old wives’ tale about wearing a hat because you lose most of your heat through your head. The article said, “The head as a body part represents about 10% of the average adult’s total body surface area, so in reality, only 10% of your body’s heat is lost from your head.”

Don’t count on a hat alone to keep you warm on cold winter days!

What does that have to do with structural insulated panels? In the building world, a parallel myth suggests that the most important place to insulate is the attic. Don’t get me wrong—the attic and your head are both important in the warm game. But the attic isn’t nearly as important as your walls in controlling energy costs.

According to a study out of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, “Heating and cooling loads associated with wall areas are the highest among all building envelope systems. That includes attic, doors, and windows.”

If you ask most builders where they’d like to see more insulation in a house, they’ll most likely answer “the attic.” However, just like the head in the body, the attic accounts for only a small portion of the building envelope so it doesn’t make the greatest impact in the energy equation.

Don’t build your home based on old wives’ tales. Modern building envelopes need the most insulation in the walls, with systems like Thermocore SIPs. Insulated attics, like hats, are great. But structural insulated panels give you the warmest coat possible. That’s how you win the warm game.

Why SIPs Equal Multiplication

I’ve got a simple equation, even for those who hate math. Here’s the story: David Watters, owner of The Beamery, designed a 4,000 square-foot, two-level home in Nashville, Indiana. Built to Passive House standards with Thermocore insulated wall and roof panels, the home uses an 18,000 BTU heat pump as its only heating and cooling source. Throughout last summer, indoor temperatures stayed between 68 and 72 degrees.

First let me ask: How warm did your home get last summer? And how much air conditioning did that require?

Now let’s do the math on the home David designed. First the homeowners saved on initial costs. No expensive air conditioner. No furnace. Just a very small heat pump. That’s because structural insulated panels don’t need much help to keep indoor temperatures comfortable. Think of it as SIPs doing the heavy lifting so the heating and cooling system can sit back and relax.

Now let’s add in ongoing savings. Running an 18,000 BTU heat pump costs significantly less than a typical heating and cooling system—each and every month.

Bottom line, SIPs result in exponential savings. Read more about David’s Passive House and the press coverage it received. Then consider how much your savings could multiply with SIPs.

SIPs Contribute Energy Efficiency for New Apartment Complex

Here’s an example of Thermocore SIPs in a unique commercial application:

Irvington Lofts, designed by One 10 Studio, provides housing for moderate-income residents in a historic neighborhood near downtown Indianapolis. Thermocore SIPs helped achieve multiple goals of the project. “We utilized six-and-a-half-inch insulated wall panels on the first floor for structural issues, with four-inch panels on the upper floors,” said Patrick Kestner, One 10 Studio project manager and associate. “That allowed us to stay at the budget number we needed, but also provide the energy efficiency we wanted.”

The contemporary-style apartment complex will receive a Silver rating under the National Association of Home Builders Green Building Standard. “Obviously, the SIPs are huge in being able to achieve that, since they’re the building envelope,” Kestner said.

Read more about One 10 Studio’s experience with Thermocore structural insulated panels. It’s not just homeowners who get energy savings in a quieter, sturdier structure!

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?

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.

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.