QUESTION: I am planning to build a new super-efficient house. How energy-efficient is stress-skin panel construction? Is it reasonably-priced, and can I do some of the construction work myself?
ANSWER: Stress-skin panel construction is probably the most energy-efficient and cost-effective building method available today.
With super-high insulation levels and airtightness, a stress-skin panel house should have extremely low heating and cooling costs. A reduction of 50% on utility bills as compared to a typically constructed house is reasonable.
Stress-skin panels, made to your building plan, are delivered to your building site. You can also select from many standard house design packages to reduce the costs.
This construction method is simple and you should be able to do much of the work yourself. Most panel manufacturers will rent you any necessary tools. Once the foundation or basement is poured, It should only take a few days to close in a house (walls and roof).
You can purchase the panels with the openings for windows and doors already cut and framed. You just slip them in. If you want to add a window at a later time, you just saw a rectangular hole through the wall. Then rout out a little foam, frame the opening and set in the window.
A typical structural (no supporting frame needed) stress-skin panel is made of thick, rigid foam insulation (insulating R-values up to R-40). A 7/16-inch thick sheet of exterior-grade plywood or wafer board is bonded to each side of the insulation forming the panel.
You can attach siding, stucco, brick, etc. to the outdoor surface and drywall or paneling to the indoor surface.
The foam insulation is routed out to accept standard lumber at the top and bottom. Once your foundation is complete and the sill lumber is in place, tilt up the free-standing panels and the routed-out bottom fits and seals over the sill.
Nail the panels to the sill. Each panel is joined vertically and sealed along the joints with 2-by-4 or insulated splines.
Work your way around the foundation until all of the walls are up and properly positioned. The corners are nailed together through studs that are in the routed-out ends of the corner panels. This forms an extremely strong and rigid house.
Electrical wiring chases are provided in the insulation behind the indoor wafer skin. It makes wiring easy with no air leaks or insulation voids as with studded-wall construction.
Since a stress-skin panel house is so efficient and airtight, you should install an air-to-air heat exchanger ventilation system. This gives you complete control over the ventilation in your house. Outdoor noise, dust, pollens, etc. are almost totally eliminated.
You can write to me for Utility Bills Update No. 374 showing a list of stress-skin panel manufacturers, typical panel specifications, and a floor plan layout and exterior diagram of a typical stress-skin panel house. Please include $1 and a self-addressed, stamped business-size envelope. Send your requests to James Dulley, c/o Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Dr., Cincinnati, Ohio 45244.
Accurate Thermostat Should Be Level
Q: When I had my house interior painted, the painter loosened the thermostat and retightened it slightly crooked. Will that effect the operation of my central air conditioner and furnace?
A: It can definitely affect the temperature calibration. Most standard wall thermostats have a liquid mercury switch in them. As the bimetallic strip inside reacts to temperature changes, the mercury flows back and forth to control heating and cooling. It must be level to be accurate.
Clothes Dryer Takes Longer to Do Job
Q: Our clothes dryer seems to get hot, but it is taking longer to dry our clothes. I keep the lint filter clean. What could be the problem?
A: A clothes dryer uses a lot of energy, and the extra running time can get expensive. If your dryer is still getting hot, then your problem probably is inadequate air flow. One cause may be the vent duct has become clogged with lint. Pull the duct loose from the back of the dryer and run a rag on a coat hanger through it. Another possible cause is that the flapper on the outside vent is sticking closed. Make sure it swings freely.
Letters and questions to Dulley, a Cincinnati-based engineering consultant, may be sent to James Dulley, Los Angeles Times, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, Ohio 45244.