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Insulated panels save energy, construction time

Adam Jensen
Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily TribuneBret Hackett with Healthy Home Consultants readies a portion of the roof to be lifted Monday at a house under construction on the South Shore.
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In search of the right construction technique for his first green home, one local builder found a material that increases energy efficiency while coming together a bit like big puzzle pieces.

Bret Hackett, the owner of Healthy Home Consultants in South Lake Tahoe, looked at several green building methods last winter before deciding on structural insulated panels (SIPs) for a 2,600-square-foot home he is building on Dick Lake Road.

The panels are prefabricated wall and roof sections made from rigid foam insulation sandwiched between oriented strandboard, a wood product similar to plywood.

Once the panels arrive at a job site from the manufacturer, only slight modifications are needed before the walls and roof can go up, leading to significantly shorter building times, according to manufacturers of the panels.

Faster construction, as well as increased insulation, are two of the benefits of an SIP-constructed home, said Cheryl Murakami, a real estate agent with RE/MAX Tahoe Realty and a member of the Sierra Green Building Association.

Because of the tight seal of the panels, the amount of energy needed to control the indoor temperature of an SIP home can be cut by up to half, according to the Structural Insulated Panel Association Web site.

There also is little of the excess found at standard construction sites because of the prefabricated nature of the panels.

“We’re cutting out an enormous amount of waste,” Hackett said.

Although SIPs are more expensive than standard wood construction, Hackett expects the home’s total cost to be “pretty much a wash,” due to decreased labor costs.

Besides working through the learning curve of a new technique, the only difficulty the builder has experienced is not being able to make modifications on the fly, Hackett said.

“(SIPs construction) can be done for any home, but it pays to be organized and have the end product in mind when you are designing,” he said.

Hackett hopes to have the home certified gold under a U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design home-certification pilot program when the it goes on the market in April.

The program considers a variety of aspects of a home, including building materials, when ranking its environmental friendliness.


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