Hello Panelman Readers! A few weeks ago, I backpacked into the Pinckney State Recreation Area. It was the perfect fall hike, and I spent the night in a tiny tent which gave me just what I needed: shelter for the night. Nothing more, nothing less. It got me thinking about the tiny house trend.

Haven’t heard of the “tiny house”? It’s exactly what it sounds like…a very small house, the size of a larger shed. Most people who are big on small homes are into living greener, simpler, and more sustainability. It’s minimalism to the max. Some tiny houses are built right on a trailer bed that can be towed wherever the owner wants to go! The majority of tiny houses feature wood frame construction, or are like small log cabins.

But don’t think for a minute that these small houses skimp on style or design! Check out this great blog link :http://tinyhouseblog.com/ to see what I mean. Of course, my mind went directly to SIPs (structural insulated panels) and my friend Damian’s awesome SIPs kit concept. It’s literally a home in a box, which can be customized to your specific needs. The great thing about using SIPs for tiny house construction is that it provides unparalleled energy efficiency.

The SIPs that Damian uses are comprised of 3.5” EPS foam sandwiched between 7/16” OSB. So the 4×8 panels come pre-insulated thanks to the foam, and are ready to be assembled and finished. People love SIPs for homes because it creates an indoor environment that stays cooler in the summer, and warmer in the winter. The smallest SIPs kit floor plan is just 12×16 but yes, it has windows, a roof, doors, space for a hideaway bed, and you can wire in electricity and build out plumbing. The best part? This tiny SIPs house has a tiny price tag starting at just $8,500.

The 12x16 Tiniest Tiny House!

In some cases, Damian may be able to build SIPS with MgO skins, which are even more resistant to the elements. MgO (magnesium oxide) is naturally resistant to insects, fire, and moisture. It won’t grow mold or mildew. Contact me if you’re interested in talking tiny homes, and how a SIPs kit could work to build your dream (tiny) house!

If you’ve been following my blog over the years, you may have noticed a trend: more and more contractors are recognizing the benefits of SIPs for basement remodeling (for a refresher of those benefits, check out my previous post right here). I connected with one of the top Chicago land remodelers, Elite Remodeling Group, to find out why they’re so excited about SIPs in a basement finishing application. Elite Remodeling Group is known for using innovative building technology, and were just featured in this article. Here’s what Elite Remodeling Group Managing Partner Michael Macek had to say:

The Panelman: I’d like to learn more about your remodeling business, but first, tell me how you see SIPs in comparison to other basement systems?

Michael: It shocks me that remodelers out there will still sell a lumber and drywall finished basement. Because at some point, moisture will become a factor: it will rot the wood and fiberglass insulation and lead to mold growth. It’s not a question of “if” it’s “when” will a homeowner have to tear down moldy or rotting drywall? But our exclusive eSIP wall panel system is made of materials that won’t harbor mold or mildew. In fact, these panels naturally resist moisture and most importantly they’ll last for a lifetime, instead of just a few years. Not to mention, the insulation is also superior in R value to fiberglass. We guarantee what we install 100%. That’s how it should be! It’s just bad business to build a finished basement for someone, when you know it will need to be torn out and replaced. In fact, 30 to 40 percent of our jobs are replacing the work that someone else has done – and failed to do properly.

Finished basement by Elite Remodeling Group MgO SIPs

Finished basement by Elite Remodeling Group

The Panelman: What about “soft” basement panel systems? I know those resist moisture and you’ve had some success with those.

Michael: Yes, the good thing there is that these soft wall systems also are resistant to mold, mildew and insect damage. However, these panels are fabric-covered and not structural. They’re too flimsy to hang pictures on. Plus, the homeowner can’t update the look of their basement by painting over the fabric and they have unsightly seams. They look like panels! The nice thing about our eSIP basement system is that it looks and feels like a true room. The walls are solid and sturdy without seams: you can paint them, decorate, hang anything you want, etc. Homeowners always tell us they want to bring the feel of the upstairs, downstairs into their basement living area – and the e-SIP system accomplishes that.

The Panelman: So before we dive back into SIPs, I want to know more about your company. I did a little research and found out you have a great Better Business Bureau rating, tell me how you’ve become one of the best Chicago Land remodelers? How did you get started?

Michael: Elite Remodeling Group actually started in 1993 as a small window and siding company. But we grew the company because of our ability to “super serve” our customers and at the same time, improve our company’s profitability. For example we were listed in the Top 500 Remodeling Companies by Qualified Remodeler again this year, for the 5th consecutive year. I also want to mention that we started as Elite Windows and Siding, but soon changed our name to Elite Remodeling Group. To grow our business, we knew we had a choice: we could expand into other locations OR by offering more services. We chose the latter, and took our signature Elite approach to kitchen and bath remodeling, larger room renovations, and of course basement finishing.

The Panelman: So what is the Elite approach and how does it make you different from other remodelers?

Michael: Remodeling comes to down to two things: what you install, and how you install it. The problem is that many remodelers install sub-par materials to save on costs. Instead, our approach is truly elite; we hunt down the best products out there, do extensive research, test, and test again, until we are 100% sure we want to put our name on the product. If we don’t find a product we think is good enough? We’ll custom manufacture it…

The Panelman: Wow, that’s pretty involved. Can you give me an example?

Michael: Sure, there are thousands of Chicago area remodelers who install the same window systems. These window systems typically use a metal spacer to connect two window panes together to increase the insulation factor. However, we found that these spacers are prone to failure (rust, corrosion, and displacement) and cannot be repaired – but must be replaced. That’s not fair to the customer! We worked with Edgetech – an international innovator – to create a custom window for our customers that features a non-metallic, super spacer that adheres the glass together. We literally created airtight “Chicago windows” built for our infamous cold and windy winters.

More like an upstairs living room than a basement...

Elite Remodeling Group' s eSIP system creates the look and feel of an upstairs room in the basement.

The Panelman: So are your eSIPs custom built just for Elite Remodeling Group?

Michael: Yes they are! Chicago basements face some tough challenges: snow, rain, humidity, bitter cold, and temperatures that can change by 30 degrees in one day. Like our windows, our SIPs are custom designed. They core of each panel is comprised of BASF’s Neopor EPS (read more, here), a material that promotes healthy indoor air quality. Then, the SIPs are laminated with magnesium oxide board sourced from a reputable American company. Together, these two materials deliver a high R value which remains consistent unlike fiberglass, which as you know looses its R value over time due to moisture. Our eSIPS really deliver the best of both worlds: they offer the versatility and functionality of traditional materials like drywall while providing protection against the elements like fabric panel systems.

The Panelman: Ok, I have to ask: Are your SIPs basement systems really expensive?

Michael: That’s a good question, actually. For a drywall and fiberglass basement, the customer will pay 40-50% less than our system. But they will have to tear it out at some point, could be 5 years later or as soon as 2 or 3 years. Our question is always: Why go through the hassle of redoing your basement twice? Do it right the first time with a product that is truly made for a Chicago basement! Our basement finishing system is proven, tested, and will be with your home for a lifetime. Plus, the customer will enjoy greater energy savings which will offset paying slightly more for a SIPs basement.

The Panelman: What about those who want to install SIPs themselves?

Michael: Do it yourself home improvement is a good thing; however, let’s just say our team of highly skilled contractors did not learn to work with SIPs overnight. People usually “do it yourself” in order to save money, but SIPs are more expensive than drywall or cement board. Any mistakes will be costly. Plus, Chicago home improvement codes specify that electrical wiring be hard lined into the panel – so now you’re throwing THAT into the mix, too. Our recommendation is to work with a contractor skilled and certified in working with SIPs…

The Panelman: So why do you think SIPs for basements are in higher demand today? What do homeowners really like about them?

Chicago basements comfortable in all four seasons

Usable, livable, and comfortable in all four seasons - that's the benefit of basements finished with SIPs.

Michael: People are looking for something that is truly green: they want their basement to look good, work hard, and be green. SIPs really are a greener option. First, the homeowner isn’t going to waste actual tons of construction debris when they have to tear our their drywall basement in a few years. Plus, our Elite eSIP system is highly energy efficient, and homeowners will use less energy to heat or cool their basement. People also really like the fact that our panels address mold: that’s the #1 cause of household sickness AND the #2 most expensive issue to address. Mold remediation in the Chicago area is not cheap! It’s best to prevent mold altogether by taking a preventative approach – and that’s what the Elite eSIP system offers.

The Panelman: I understand that even tough your goal is to bring the best, most innovative remodeling to the Chicago area, you are also a bit old fashioned?

Michael: (laughs) That’s true, we are known for having someone answer the phone from 9am till 9pm, every day except Sunday. There’s no recorded message, cheesy jingle, or anything. We want to make sure that if our customers need us, we’re there.

The Panelman: If you’d like to learn more about a better, waterproof basement solution, then contact me today and I can connect you with a basement finishing company like Elite!