Hi Panel Man readers, I can’t believe summer’s over. It’s been a dry summer which is bad for farmers, lawns, and golf courses – but it’s good for keeping your basement dry, right? You know I can’t go too long without talking about panels, specifically SIPs panels. They really are the best option for a dry basement whether we’re in a drought or a very rainy season. Just a guess, but I’d say half of Americans have –or have had – a basement that smells like mildew, with nasty watermarks and mold, plus drywall crumbling from moisture. Yuck! The worst is when a contractor tries to “cover it up” by slapping on more drywall instead of offering a better basement finishing system.

The good news is that over the summer I’ve talked with a lot of contractors who ARE starting to offer a truly waterproof finished basement…they’re installing SIPs panels for homeowners. Now, there are a lot of SIPs basement finishing systems and waterproofing companies out there, but they are NOT all created equal.

I’m going to talk to the contractors out there in this post, because I have 5 questions you need to ask a SIPs manufacturer before you start working with them!

1) “Have you personally built with SIPs before?”
I’ve found that the best SIPs manufacturers are run by owners who have finished their own basements with SIPs – or at least have plans to in the future. These manufacturers have gotten their hands dirty, so to speak…they believe in the product, they’ve worked with it, and they would use it in their own home. This also means they’re going to be more knowledgeable about working with SIPs, and their expertise will come in handy. Finally, at the end of the day, you want to choose a manufacturer who’s confident in their SIPs! I compare it to buying a car from a Ford dealer – you want to make sure he’s not driving home a Chevy (or vice versa…I am not partial to either – just making a point).

2) “Do you just provide the SIPs, or the whole system?”
As a general contractor, chances are you’re new to SIPs for basement finishing. Yes, SIPs have some similarities to drywall –for example, many manufacturers suggesting attaching SIPS using drywall screws. But there are many differences, too. SIPS are generally wider, larger, thicker, harder, and well…just different to work with. You don’t want to just get SIPs from your manufacturer – you want the whole system. You want the installation support and guidance down to the exact specified size of drywall screw!

3) “Are you ‘on the bandwagon’ or have been involved with SIPs for a long time?”
Ok, no contractor is going to jump out and ask this question, but a little internet research will pay off here. How long has the SIPs manufacturer been in business? Are they just now beginning to manufacture SIPs or has it been at the core of their business? Are they involved in any industry organizations like (A great resource, by the way.)

4) “Are you testing your SIPs to back up these great claims you’re making?”
Right now, SIPS laminated with MgO board are generating a lot of interest (this blog is evidence of that!). As a material, magnesium oxide board has some great inherent qualities: it’s resistant to fire, mold, mildew, insects, impacts…sounds great, right? It’s essential that the manufacturer you’re getting MgO SIPs from, has the testing to back up these claims. These tests are what homeowners want to know about – they want to hear words like “proven” and “tested” – especially when trying something NEW like SIPs for basement finishing instead of dry wall.

5) “Will you help me with sales and marketing?”
Last but not least, ask the manufacturer if they will help you market the SIPs basement finishing system. This is one of the most important questions to ask because no matter how good the panels are, if you have trouble getting your customers to want them in their basement – you’re stuck. In my business, Total Panel Source, I’m working with a SIPs manufacturer and we’re generating brochures and sales materials for homeowners – to help them understand the benefits of SIPs.

I know I keep saying it, but it’s only a matter of time before SIPs (specifically MgO SIPs) become standard in America’s basements. And when they do, your contracting business will hopefully be working with a top SIPs manufacturer after having asked these 5 questions!

Hello Panelman readers! You might think I’d be tired of writing about panels by now; after all, it’s been two years since my first post! But I feel more energized than ever about the amazing advances in panel technology for both residential and commercial applications, especially when it comes to SIPs (structural insulated panels for any newbies to this blog). There are so many resources out there if you’re new to SIPS, but one of the best places to start (besides this blog, haha) is over at SIPA.

I recently had the opportunity to talk with the current owner of FischerSIPS, LLC, one of the founding members of SIPA, Damian Pataluna who shared his insider tips on why building with SIPs is a great choice! I’ve known Damian for a long time: He bought his structural adhesives from me when I was at Rohm and Haas. Today, he’s the owner of FischerSIPS, a leading SIPs manufacturer out of Louisville with dealers in 11 states and the capability to supply panels worldwide. I caught up with Damian and here’s what he had to say…

The Panelman Asks: How long have you been in business?

Damian Answers: FischerSIPS was founded 1986 by Fred Fischer. I came to work with Fred in April 1993 as a sales representative. Some of our early work was with panelized and modular homes built out of SIPs that were being constructed in the inner city of Louisville. One of the main benefits I immediately noticed was that SIPs provided housing that people could not only afford, but could afford to live in; it was really rewarding. Having that early, hands-on experience working with SIPs has been crucial in my ability to support contractors and builders today. In 2004, I became a part owner; in 2006, I became THE owner of FischerSIPs. That was around the time we started manufacturing in our new SIPs plant: everything from OSB to magnesium oxide panels, cement skin SIPs to dry wall SIPs. In fact, my current 20,000SF plant is made with 4 ½” SIP Walls and 6 ½” SIP Roofs. My energy bills here are HALF of my 10,000 SF steel building just down the street.

The Panelman: What about SIPA? How long have you been involved?

Damian: I was elected to the board of directors of SIPA in 1993 and served as President from 2003-2006. I have remained on the board as a Past President and Treasurer since then.

The Panelman: What is the Fischer niche in the SIPS market place?

Damian: Part of what I like about SIPs is that they’re truly a versatile product and offer benefits for both the builders – and the people who will be using the structure. If I had to choose a niche, I’d say we specialize in small to mid-size builders.
We are a custom-oriented shop where we will bend over backwards to work with and try new products to try and help our builders and developers. We excel at custom-fabrication. Some larger manufacturers, they don’t like to try running new panels through their lines. They just look at the immediate numbers – not the long-term potential. Yes, opportunity has its costs, but I believe it’s worth it. I’d also say that RTA (ready to assemble) is another one of our niches. We’ll actually install lumber into the panels according to the builder’s specs. When the panels come to the job site, they are ready to go which saves on labor costs and reduces errors.

The Panelman: Where do you see SIPS construction going in the next ten years?

Damian: More towards complete fabrication and installation of RTA, definitely. Every builder deals with labor and time shortages at some point. And at first they may be resistant to spending just a bit more to have a RTA solution, but then when they do the math and realize that they’ll save more time and labor on the job site – it makes sense. As for new products, I think we’ll see more interest developing in new products like magnesium oxide board – I know that’s something you’ve been following closely. Already, we’re seeing more interest from overseas.

The Panelman: What is your experience with MgO board and laminating with it?

Damian: MgO board has tremendous potential in non-load bearing applications because it’s naturally resistant to the elements that builders (and homeowners) struggle with: water, mold, mildew, insects, fire, you name it! However, there is still testing that needs to be completed for structural uses. I’ve seen success stories when MgO is used for basement paneling. MgO board laminated to EPS is a fast way to finish an interior – and really, it stands up to just about anything. You’ll also get great R values from MgOSIPs, they are a tremendous insulator.

The Panelman: So back to SIPs in general, what are the benefits of SIPs in commercial and residential construction?

Damian: I could write an entire book on this! But to summarize the top five benefits, I’d say:
1) Higher R values
2) Better IAQ (Indoor Air Quality)
3) Stronger, more durable structures
4) Faster, more efficient construction
5) Less job site waste

The Panelman: Ok, so what are the negatives?

Damian: You’re going to pay a small amount more up front, but you’ll start saving right away. For example, let’s say a couple is working with a builder to build their dream home. On average, I’d say building with SIPs would add about 5% more to their total construction costs. However, their energy bill will be reduced by about 40-50% – and that’s a benefit they’ll see in the first month. That couple would pay a $2,000/month mortgage and a $400/month energy bill with a conventionally built home. With a SIPs home, they’d pay $2,100/month mortgage and $200/month in utilities. So that’s a savings that they can take advantage of right away.

The Panelman: What are builder reactions to SIPs? Why are they switching?

Damian: Like I mentioned earlier, a primary benefit of building with SIPs is the time and labor savings. But many builders also like the fact that their homes are being pre-fabricated in a factory setting. So much can go wrong on a job site, even to the best builders. But in a factory-controlled setting, we can catch any mistakes before they are made. That’s because we use 3D modeling to ensure the builder’s dimensions add up before we start custom-manufacturing their SIPs. It’s like a built-in quality control measure. It’s better if we catch a mistake in the modeling, than if a builder makes a mistake on the job site. Yes, you can make on-site modifications to SIPs panels, but it’s always better to catch any errors before they reach a job site.

The Panelman: What testing has been done on SIPs?

Damian: There has been extensive testing and approval on SIPs. They’re approved for walls according to ICC codes, and approval is in process for roofs. That’s why organizations like SIPA are important: we require all member manufacturers to have a complete code report and approval and an engineered line.

The Panelman: How does a builder know where to buy SIPs from?

Damian: It really depends on the end application. There are SIPs manufacturers that specialize in commercial structures, others – like Fischer SIPs – that focus on small- to mid-size builders. Ultimately, you want to choose a manufacturer that has the technology and flexibility to work with your end use. There are dozens of manufacturers listed at SIPA.

The Panelman: Thanks for your insights, Damian! Panelman readers: check back in a few weeks because Damian will review the new 2012 Model Energy Codes from the IECC (International Energy Code Council) and suggest ways you meet the new requirements through SIPs!