Innovative structural panels create a more energy efficient Southern Pointe

  |     |   Northwest Iowa News

Special insulated panels sped construction at Southern Pointe Apartments while providing a more comfortable energy efficient final property.

Southern Pointe Apartments is our latest new apartment community, offering 3 and 4 bedroom apartments in Spencer, Iowa.  The building offers larger apartments that are badly needed in Clay County and the Iowa Great Lakes Region generally, and it brings together a lot of what we’ve learned from almost 25 years developing apartment buildings that meet community needs for our neighbors in Iowa.

Recently, Casie Tindell from ASK Studio, our architect partner on Southern Pointe (and numerous other projects), wrote this article highlighting one particularly innovative element of Southern Pointe’s construction:  the use of an innovative structural panel to create the building’s outside walls.  It’s a great look behind the scenes of offering Southern Pointe to the community.  Here’s Casie with more:

Affordable housing and innovation often seem to be disparate terms. Innovation in construction is often synonymous with expense…the antithesis of affordable. Designers and developers need to challenge the status quo of construction to make it affordable. Innovation can mean cost savings. It is not a simple search, but one worth pursuing.

Community Housing Initiatives’ project, Southern Pointe, was led by construction director Kris Vodraska. Kris had a vision of building a highly efficient complex by combing highly insulated envelope systems in concert with high efficiency mechanical systems. Kris and ASK Studio researched suppliers of Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) and discussed cost impact with possible general contractors. The SIPs method of construction has many sustainable features that would impact the affordability of the homes being created. The judicious use of resources in construction and the need for quality insulation against stiff Northwest Iowa winds are things that can rarely be changed after the open house. Making the best decisions for decades to come was the charge of Kris to the design and construction teams.

Demand for wood products has increased world-wide as other countries flourish during their own industrial revolutions. As a result, we are faced with rising costs of building materials. Prices can fluctuate wildly due to many factors, including increased demand due to natural disasters like hurricanes and floods. Add to this the cost of energy needed to heat and cool new housing and it is difficult to predict what the cost of building and owning a home will be in the future. All things considered, standard building methods are no longer as affordable as they once were.

SIPs combine structurally rated interior and exterior sheathing with a rigid, solid core of insulation in one composite panel. The sheathing is a structurally engineered oriented strand board (OSB) which is made from fast-growth trees harvested from managed plantations and self-regenerating woodlands. SIPs are structural, so there is usually no need for a framework of wood or steel studs. SIPs create a continuous whole-wall system with virtually no gaps, breaks or air infiltration that are current with wood or steel enclosure systems. The result is a tightly constructed building with lower heating and cooling fuel consumption and lower energy costs, while maintaining exceptional living comfort.

Technology for this kind of construction has long been on the drawing board among housing experts, but today it is a reality with SIPs at Southern Pointe. State-of-the-art SIP manufacturing is accomplished with computer-guided machinery and specialized software. This software converts building plans directly to machines which can quickly cut panels with amazing precision. After the SIPs are delivered to the job site, they can be assembled in hours or days instead of weeks. The time study publishing company, RSMeans, indicates that construction with SIPs can save 55% of erection time compared to stick construction. The reality of saving heating and cooling energy of up to 50% or more with SIPs is driving the SIP market today.

The use of SIPs panels allowed a condensed construction schedule at Southern Pointe, ability to work in harsh winter months and an ability to keep a project moving in a time of labor and material shortages. The resultant apartments have low utility bills and almost no outside noises can be heard in the units. The units will be comfortable and efficient for residents for decades with no need to add more insulation later.  Southern Pointe is proof that new construction methods can be used in providing affordable housing. The first costs are achievable and the long-term value is indisputable.

Construction photos used in this post are courtesy of ASK Studio.


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