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`Panels' and `Snap-Foam' add energy efficiency to building

When the American Institute of Architects got involved in building the home for the Habitat for Humanities program, one of the first things it looked at was energy efficiency.

Why build an affordable home, it asked, for people of modest income, if they couldn't afford the high energy bills that can sometimes go with heating and cooling?So, it simply said, when building a home, why not make it as energy efficient as possible?

And so it did.

Through the AIA's involvement, the latest home-building technologies are being used through the Habitat for Humanities program to build an energy-efficient home.

The program was started several years ago by former president Jimmy Carter. In summary, land is purchased and a home is built. The one difference is that the home is built with as many volunteers as possible, and with as many donated building products as possible.

One obvious problem with this is that often some of the volunteer workers are not skilled at a particular specialty.

Which is one of several reasons the group targeted Advance Form Plastics during construction of the Utah home.

Frank Palmer of Advance Form Plastics, Inc., of Murray, says the two products used from his company are called "R-Control Structural Building Panels" and "Diamond Snap-Form," an insulated concrete forming system.

The Diamond Snap-Form system is a "stay-in-place" forming system for concrete walls, which replaces conventional methods of forming.

R-Control is a panel system constructed of two sheets of oriented strand board laminated to a core of foam of varying thicknesses. Primarily, these pre-built panels are used for exterior walls, roofs and floors in both residential and commercial buildings.

"When AIA got involved," says Palmer, "it saw the energy-saving potential of these two products. Also, because both are so easy to work with, they realized that most anyone could do the building. Between the energy savings and the ease of building, they felt the Snap-Form and the R-Control panels were keys to their ultimate goal of building an energy-efficient home."

The AIA took the standard Habitat floor plan and adapted it with the use of the Snap-Form and R-Control panels, along with passive-solar windows and radiant heating.

The R-value of the foundation using the Snap-Form system is R-20, where the R-control foam panels carry an R-24 rating without insulation.

The home is a two-bedroom rambler with about 1,200 square feet of finished area.

Palmer says he believes in the projects and was more than willing to participate, to a point where he volunteered his own time to help in the installation of the two products.

More and more these days, builders and buyers are looking at things like efficiency and energy conservation for new homes. Because of this, new products are surfacing, and old products, sometimes forgotten, are resurfacing.

The Diamond Snap-Form system is a "stay-in-place" forming system for concrete walls, which replaces conventional methods of forming.

Diamond-shaped ties are used to hold planks of expanded polystyrene in place. But once the concrete is poured between the forms, instead of dismantling them, they are kept in place to be both an insulating value and a base for attaching sheetrock.

Palmer points out that Utah has adapted to the Model Energy Code, which states that perimeter foundation walls must have at least an R-8 insulating value, making Diamond forms even more attractive to builders and homeowners.

"Mainly," he points out, "because with our forms you can achieve R-20 value easily."

And because the foam forms are left in place, the cost of removing and hauling away conventional forms is eliminated and the concrete cures more effectively because of the insulation.

The Diamond Snap-Form system offers wall thicknesses of four, six, eight and 10 inches.

This system, too, has been treated with insect-resistant material to protect the insulation (foam).

R-Control is a panel system constructed of two sheets of oriented strand board laminated to a core of foam of varying thicknesses.

The R-Control panels take the place of the common stick framing being used today by builders. Instead of building exterior walls, for example, of 2-by-4 or 2-by-6 wood placed every 16 inches, R-Control panels are put up instead.

The reasons, says Palmer, are easy to see.

"The foam-core panels are 20 percent stronger than with stick framing, and 40 to 50 percent more thermally energy efficient. Just as important to builders and homeowners is the fact that they can be put up in one-third the time. Yet another reason is the sound level. The panels offer a lot more sound control than stick framing with insulation added," he notes.

"The panels are a little more expensive, but this is offset with immediate savings in labor during building and the long-term savings in energy costs. Some studies have shown that homebuyers can get their money back in the first two years of heating a home."

One study done in 1988 on a 1,260-square-foot home in Brigham City, built with the foam panels, showed a total heating bill for the year of less than $100.

Back when lumber was less expensive and of higher quality, foam-core panels were seldom considered by builders. Now lumber is much more expensive and the quality is not nearly as high.

The panels can be used in just about any home. And, Palmer points out again, time saved during construction can be substantial.

Builders use R-Control panels in homes for the exterior walls because:

- Six-inch walls have unsurpassed insulation (R-24).

- The walls are perfectly straight and twice as strong as stick-built walls.

- The exterior walls can be erected in two days.

- Headers in the windows are easier to install and provide perfect window flange to ensure a tight seal.

- R-Control panels reduce air infiltration drastically.

- Local sales support is superb.

- Expanded weather construction capability.

- Design flexibility and versatility.

The exceptional strength of the panels makes them able to resist typically heavy loads caused by winds, snow and seismic activity.

Also, the panels are made with a safe, insect-resistant material that protects the panels and foam from wood-destroying bugs.

Gary Pipkin of High Mesa Building suggests that those in the early stages of building talk with their builder or ask for information and a cost estimate, to compare other building systems.