Solid Green Christmas


Yesterday I had the privilege of attending the Solid Green companies (SGC) Christmas open house at their warehouse/office. Beyond the opportunity to enjoy good food and networking, their offices were partially built with their foam-steel frame building system. The exposed and cut-away sections of the office walls sparked lengthy and educational discussions. Here’s what I learned during my visit:

Background– SGC began with the purchase of an insulated concrete form (ICF) company about five years ago. They switched to foam panel and light-gauge steel building materials when they discovered that it offered greater affordability and energy efficiency. Past advisory board members have included Pliny Fisk III of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems. The current advisory board chair is Andres Carvallo, Chairman of the Energy Thought Summit and formerly of Austin Energy among other endeavors.

Projects – SGC has completed construction of both single-family homes and multi-family housing projects. They have enjoyed particular success with projects in the Eagle Ford Shale oilfield towns like Kenedy and Gonzales including the construction of apartment buildings. Two of their projects speak especially well of the energy efficiency and affordability of their building system. First, the developer for apartments they built was able to pay off a $2 million loan in 18 months with the combination of high rent (oilfield) and low utility bills. And, a 7,100-square foot luxury home they constructed boasts an average monthly electrical bill of $150.

Building System– SGC builds with a system of large expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam panels framed with 16-gauge steel. The foam panels are about 9’ tall, 2.5’ wide and 9” thick with a density of about 1.5 pounds/cubic inch. Both walls and roof are constructed of the foam panels and steel framing. The foam wall surfaces are finished by either gluing on a mesh, or putting on an adhesive-backed wrap followed by stucco, or siding. Roof decking is attached to the steel frame. This insulating wall and roof structure reduces electricity usage by 50% or more compared with conventional construction. SGC estimates their buildings should last around 50 years. An additional benefit of this foam-steel building approach is the potential recyclability of both materials.

The SGC green building system does have many positives. Yet, the manufacture of polystyrene does cause some significant environmental/health impacts. The mono-styrene pre-cursor is made from petroleum-sourced chemicals and VOCs are released in the process that contribute to ground-level ozone formation. Also, mono-styrene is a suspected human carcinogen and a neurotoxin.

Are the impacts and risks of producing polystyrene worth the energy efficiency and building durability advantages of this foam-steel construction? The manufacture of other”green” technologies also have negative environmental/health impacts. For example, solar PV panels have similar impacts to that of the semiconductor industry. So perhaps EPS foam isn’t so bad. It may be a good solution for now and in the future some innovative reuse option may arise.  

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