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Structural Insulated Panels


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Leonard's Forum Posts: 7
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By Leonard in Colorado Springs, CO on 2/5/2006


My wife and I bought a piece of property near Eleven Mile Reservoir and are in the soon-to-excavate stage of building a small house using Structural Insulated Panels. We will use them for the basement walls, above-grade walls, and roof.

We are our own general contractors on this project, and are learning every day. If anyone is interested in our project, drop us a line.


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By Shilo in New Castle, CO on 5/3/2006


Just thought I would drop you a line. I didn't know if you are still on this website, but my husband and I are building this summer up Four Mile near Glenwood Springs. We are interested in how your project is going, and what things you are learning - it's my first time as a GC on our project as well - Shilo
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By Michael in Castle Rock, CO on 11/12/2006


Hi Leonard,

Hope your building project has gone well.  I plan to build next summer in Nine Mile Heights. I was hoping to get some recommendations on subcontractors in Park County.

So far I've noticed that folks in the mountains move at a slower pace than down in the city--tough to get anyone to even return a phone call. What's your experience been so far? How's it been working with the Park County building officials? Any input would be appreciated.

Thanks,

Mike
 


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By Dale in Richland, AZ on 11/16/2006


Greetings all,

Here is an FYI for those who may be interested. This week Greenbuild is happening in Denver.

For more info, go to the USGBC.org website and follow the links to the conference. There will be several hundred companies in the trade fair.

For more info about Structural Insulated Panels visit the Green Building Forum here on this website.

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By Roger in Denver, CO on 1/23/2007


Leonard,

We're building East of Brighton this year and I'm interested in SIPs. How was your experience, and who was your supplier?

Thanks,

Roger


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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 4/15/2007


Howdy!

We'll be building soon not terribly far from you, down Highway 115 southwest of Colorado Springs. Plan to use ICFs for the whole thing, below grade and above, and almost certainly will act as our own general contractors.

Very interested in seeing how others fare with their projects!

Steve

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By Cal in Loveland, CO on 6/25/2007


We are going to be building on the north side of town up in Loveland, and are interested in ICF's as well. How is your project going? Did you use ICF and who was your supplier? Any input would be helpful!

Cal/Lisa

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By Steve in Loveland, CO on 6/27/2007


Loveland is a pretty area!

 
Actually my project had a bit of  delay; can't pick your family, I'm afraid. I hope now to have the plans in place by end of summer, so that we can start building in the spring.
 
I haven't picked out a SIP supplier yet, though I am poking around. Do you have any suggestions? My plan is that the SIP room will sit on the third floor of an otherwise ICF-framed building. I want the room to be set back from the outer walls a bit, so I figured all that concrete over essentially unsupported space was a bad idea. That, plus I want some large windows there, so I came up with something like this (you'll want Courier Font for this diagram if you are using something else):
 
 
                                ----S---
                           S   /        \  S
                              /          \
                              \          /
                            W  \        /  W
                                --------
                                    W
 
As you can see, it'll basically be (I hope) SIPs for the "back" half and windows for the "front" half (towards the south). That will let me see anybody coming up the road really well from that room (basically my computer room/office).

We'll see what an architect says, of course...

Good luck with your project too!
 
Steve

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By Michael in Castle Rock, CO on 2/17/2008


Hi Leonard,

I'd love to know how your project went. I'm also going to build near Eleven Mile Reservoir and would love to hear your war stories. Specifically about your subs.

Regards,

Mike


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By Michael in Castle Rock, CO on 2/17/2008


Hi Steve,

I'm also building a home this summer not too far from you (near Eleven Mile Reservoir), and would love to hear how your project is going (if it's still going). The house will be built from SIPs, most likely from ICS-RM in Loveland. I imagine most of my subs will be from Colorado Springs and Canon City, but don't have them all ID'd yet. If you have someone who's done a particularly good job for you, I'd love to get their name/contact info.

Regards,

Mike


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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 2/28/2008


Howdy Michael.

We just started visiting architects, but definitely yes, the project is still going. The first guy is very supportive of our using ICFs and understands how to build with them. Like you, I haven't lined up any contractors yet. That'll happen after we've got the building permit in hand--but we're doing a bunch of research.

We meet with the first architect again tomorrow, and we're pondering a couple of bids to do the soil analysis and perc test. He may have another company to recommend as well, so we'll have to see.

I know one contractor I was VERY pleased with who did our driveway here at this house--he's a good concrete guy who did excellent work and didn't argue when I wanted a higher PSI concrete than normal. Let me know if you're looking for somebody like that... no idea if he works up in Loveland, of course.

Steve

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By Leonard in Colorado Springs, CO on 3/24/2008


The most important thing to do is get a list of subcontractors that you can trust, communicate well with, you can ask dumb questions, and they will communicate with dovetailing contractors if your dumbness prevents you from doing so. That's a tall order, but a very important one for novice general contractors. Ask around a lot, and don't assume much; even good contractors are not the greatest communicators. 

We are still working on our house, it is going well. We have recently passed our final electrical. Because our plumber went out of business after our rough plumbing was done, we are completing the trim plumbing, which includes tiling the tubs and showers ourselves. Not too tough. With that done, we will put up all the railing on decks and stairs and get our final inspection and CO. Then trim around windows, put in interior doors, finish tile and wood on floors, and just about be very comfortable in the house, many weekends of our own work later. A photo is included.


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By Ken in Boulder, CO on 6/12/2009


Leonard:

I am quite interested in following your house-building progress. I am about a year away from starting our house in Grand Lake, and am interested in using SIPs. Did you get bids? How much does it differ in cost from stick frame? Also, what kind of attic insulation are you using?  

Ken


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By Leonard in Colorado Springs, CO on 6/15/2009


Ken,
 
We used Enercept panels, because the price was better than two other companies I got bids from. The cost of transportation was considerably less, because of the factory location, and they went together more simply than others, as demonstrated by an architect's house I'd seen in construction. Also they had an SIP basement-wall system, which we used, instead of concrete (efficient savings of space, labor, and insulation). We used ten-inch-thick panels in the roof for snow load, six-inch in exterior walls, and the basement panels are eight-inch for structural strength.
 
We submitted conventional plans to Enercept and between the SIP company drafting department and Kim Wegner (wegnerdesign@iw.net), a former contractor, designer, drafter, who I highly recommend, we converted to an SIP plan. A local lumber company designed the truss system for each of the floors for our business. Because this is considered non-conventional construction, as a log-cabin design would be, we had to get all parts of our plans, stamped by a structural engineer. He communicated much with the SIP company on rated loads, etc.
 
All of these steps take much time and I highly recommend that you start the process three to six months in advance of the best building weather. There are many inspections; all will bog a project, and so will winter weather.
 
SIPs are a more expensive material to use than conventional stick construction. Not a lot, but I don't even know how much. It is often said that cost are saved in the speed of SIP construction. I doubt that is true.  Most builders are familiar with conventional and do it very quickly. There are details in SIP construction that you have to insist the builder do, like: galvanized nails in basement SIPs, sealing tape (included) on all interior seams of SIPs, using a god-awful tar sealant between SIP panels, using angular slivers of polystyrene between where panels meet at odd angles, using expanding foam in all other areas where panels meet at odd angles and around windows. All are very important points. Absolutely insist that framers use a sealant tape (made for that purpose) around window exteriors. It is a new, relatively-simple technique that saves a tremendous amount of energy. And, foam around windows on the interior.
 
I used no insulation, it is all in the SIPs, except between floor joists on the different levels at ends. That is another big loss of energy. Enercept supplies an insulated rim joist that I wish we had gotten.
 
We still have much to do in terms of finish staining, base board, and cabinets, but the house is very quiet, comfortable and energy efficient. Enercept used a picture of it on their site in their residential projects page, the steep tin-roofed stucco, surrounded by snow. enercept.com/residential_project_pictures It is an old picture; we have most of the deck railing up now.
 
Good luck. It's a long, bittersweet project.

Lyn

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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 7/6/2009


Howdy Leonard:

I must absolutely second both of your points here:

  • A list of contractors and subs whom you can trust is absolutely vital. Our project has mutated a bit from its original vision, and we're now using an experienced ICF builder (highest-rated green builder west of the Mississippi, we've since found out) to build the "shell" of the house while we do the bulk of the interior work.  This guy has been invaluable as both a teacher and as a partner and has answered every question (and believe me I've asked some dumb ones) patiently and completely.

  • Don't assume that the contractor/builder/sub knows what you're thinking. Even if you've been over the plans with somebody a half-dozen times, you'll discover at the last moment (that's best, anyway) that you had two completely different views of what you wanted a thing/building/room to look like. Drawings and models help a lot; a sample of trim around the window helps even better.
We're only just now getting ready to set and pour the footers, but we'll be where you were when you posted this soon. If you've got any other handy tips, I'm all ears!

Steven in Colorado Springs

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By Leonard in Colorado Springs, CO on 7/8/2009


Something to keep in mind when pouring footers. Although my soil was inspected by the county for construction and I got the go-ahead from the engineer for a certain size footer, the excavator pointed out that I might want to increase the size by a foot in width. The soil was a little soft at basement level, something the engineer did not specify. It cost about $200-$300 to increase the size of footers, and no doubt saved a fortune in settling foundation. The engineer doesn't know all. 

Also be sure the footers are level; ours were a little off, probably negligible, but I am sorry I didn't check with a level after poured, and consult the framer BEFORE we started framing.


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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 7/8/2009


Thanks for the info, Leonard! That's all good advice.

Actually, you touch on something that has been an ongoing mini-saga in our building process.

We have had the soils tested for suitability twice, once a year or so ago and then again a couple of months back when we got closer to starting. As it turned out, the soil itself is borderline (a tightly-structured clay that actually shrinks slightly when it gets wet), but our architect took the results of the testing and used them to engineer the footers in amazing detail. They are NOT a single fixed width (say, 18") around the perimeter, but instead vary in width in conjunction with the weight-bearing capacity of the soil at that level and the loads that the house structure will bring to bear in that area.  Superb work and representative of that "little extra touch" that I think makes all the difference.

Totally concur with the level measure, by the way. Our builder has a fairly sophisticated laser-level system he's been using for the major excavation, and it'll reappear once the footers are in place before all the concrete gets poured in. I have been called somewhat anal when it comes to measurements (okay, I think Colleen may have used a different phrase) but for something like this, it clearly is a good thing.

Steven in Colorado Springs

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By Gulnara on 10/25/2010


My name is Gulnara. My family wants to build an SIP-paneled house. Hope you would assist in some of our current issues.

Here they are:

1) We would like to do electrical wiring - hidden electrical wiring. What if we hide the wiring with a gypsum-board interior? OSB's thickness is 12 mm, and after the OSB there is polystyrene foam in the panel. Should we just deepen it and set wire directly in the foam? Isn't it dangerous regarding fire safety? Or how should we do this?

Also, when we place wire directly in the foam, thus, we reduce the  insulating layer, removing foam to install outlets. What about reduction of insulating properties in that case?

If we make  a wallpaper interior - then what should electrical wiring be like?

Hope you would assist in these questions and provide some specific information about wiring.

Thank you very much in advance,

I am looking forward to hearing from you.

Gulnara

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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 10/25/2010


Howdy Gulnara!


Glad to have you on board!

There are two basic ways to install electrical (and plumbing and other such things) in this kind of form. One is to cut channels in the exterior foam and route the lines in these channels. This is pretty straightforward (though extremely messy, trust me--you'll make more Styrofoam bits than you ever dreamed you'd make), though you'll probably want to use more "shallow" electrical boxes, and that will make wiring in everything a bit tricky.

The other way is to bore holes through the wall sections and embed the electrical lines (or whatever) inside the panels themselves. This works pretty well, and is usually an option when you order the sections, but it requires good up-front planning, since the company making the walls has to bore the channels during construction.

While it may seem like you're compromising the insulation value of your foam you're really not, not to any significant degree. When everything is put together you've created a nice "dead space" of air in the channel, so while you do lose about an inch of foam insulation right there, you've replaced it with a dead-air space that won't do much to transmit heat or cold either direction.

Having wallpaper on the interior shouldn't make any difference at all, other than cutting around electrical outlets and switches and the like.

Did that answer your question, or did I misunderstand what you were asking?


Steven in Colorado Springs

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By Dan in Canon City, CO on 10/26/2010


I think your previous responder did not understand the type of structure you are using. He built his house using ICFs (insulated concrete forms) and you indicated you wanted to use SIPs (structural insulated panels).

I am currently in the process of building an SIP house in the Canon City, Colorado area with 6.5" walls and 6.5" SIP roof. My research indicates that many SIP manufacturers will embed conduit and electrical boxes in the walls during the manufacturing process. I would suggest that this would be the best way to go. You can take a look at the SIP panels I am using at their website: ics-rm.com. They are located in Ft. Collins, and I feel they have a very nice product.

Let me know if you have any questions.

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By Steven in Colorado Springs, CO on 10/26/2010


Nah, I think I just wasn't very clear. I was trying to give an SIP answer and I've seen both methods I described used locally.

Personally, I prefer the embedded channels as you describe, but it requires very good planning. I know that in our ICF house we ended up moving a couple of lights and switches when walls went up when we realized something didn't quite look the way we thought it would, and of course that would be more difficult with SIPs.

I think you're very right that if you can get the manufacturer to embed this stuff at the start that's a great way to go.

BTW, you're in Lakewood and building down in Canon City? Nifty... pretty much just around the corner as things go around here. Gorgeous country down there. I assume you'll be moving after construction?


Steven in Colorado Springs
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By Dan in Canon City, CO on 10/27/2010


We sold our Lakewood home in one day (surprise!) last spring and are living in our motorhome inside our 30x40 shop on the property. I've been reading the Tanglewood posts for a year or so, but haven't looked at it for about five months. Thought you would have been moved in by now. We've had a two-month delay due to the SIP manufacturer then the framer, so I can understand your situation. We're about 12 miles north of Canon City on County Road 9 (Garden Park Road) so we may be just over the mountains from you.

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