Metal Insulated Panels
Progress on the dream home continues as we begin to make major decisions and start full-fledged construction documents. One of the big decisions we needed to make was the type of construction we would use for the walls. We had a lot of options, including traditional ‘stick frame’ construction (wood framing), ICF (insulated concrete forms), SIPs (structural insulated panels), and more. We had narrowed down our options to ICF and a form of SIPs that is constructed from metal framing instead of OSB – metal insulated panels.
We quickly realized that for our tiny infill lot, ICF construction would eat up a lot of interior space from our home to accommodate the thick walls. The spatial and financial downsides were not enough to outweigh the benefits and we concluded that ICF did not make much sense for this project. We pursued the metal insulated panels as our front runner and researched two metal insulated panel companies: Thermasteel Corporation and Transcon Steel’s Ultra Frame product.
It was quite difficult to locate companies that produced this type of product, and finding reviews and anecdotal stories was also a challenge. Luckily, our builder knew the local Thermasteel representative in Houston, and I found Transcon Steel through extensive research. We met with both companies and reviewed their products. The overall product concept is very simple and they were quite similar in this regard: metal wall framing with insulating foam infill (think cooler styrofoam). The big difference came down to price. The quote we received from Thermasteel was almost twice what Transcon quoted. More surprising was that Transcon included joists, interior framing and all connections in their quote in addition to the metal insulated panels, whereas Thermasteel did not. With such a huge difference in price, and the fact that Transcon is located in neighboring Austin, the UltraFrame product quickly became the winner for our project.
After receiving the quotes, the builder and I took a trip out to Austin to see the fabrication facility and ask more questions before making the final decision. The facilities were simple and clean, and the staff were confident in the product; so much so, that the president built his own home with the metal insulated panels. Energy bills are typically 50-80% less than traditional construction, and their company has done over 85 residential projects and countless commercial projects in varying sizes. They model every project in Revit to make sure that each connection is feasible and they are able to easily identify conflicts with other trades (such as where ducts and joists may conflict). Structural engineers design each panel for the project, adding or reducing steel as necessary for each panel.
Once the drawings are ready, they’re translated into actual product. The metal framing is placed inside a large machine with any openings pre-located. This creates a mold that is ready to accept the EPS (expandable polystyrene) which is injected between the metal framing and around any openings. Each panel is custom made for the project. Tops are noted for easy installation, which consists of laying a bottom track, inserting the panels, fitting them tightly with a cover plate at the seams and finishing up with a top track. The panels are quite light, and can be made with pre-cut chases as required. Foam waste is recycled or cut down for creating insulated headers. The framing is designed with minimal through-wall metal, as a way to minimize heat transfer. Instead of solid metal framing, which would allow heat to travel across the member, the framing is much more akin to a joist or truss; fewer connections means less heat transfer. This was a unique feature to the UltraFrame product which was appealing to us.
Overall, we were impressed with the product and the pricing was on target for our project. Our next steps are to engage a local engineer to help us with designing the foundation and road (or other vehicle access), and get my drawings firmed up with actual product dimensions. This is the step at which everything starts to get ‘very real’ – we have to make decisions about every single item that will go into the house to ensure everything works together. It can be a daunting task, but I have the help of my awesome husband who helps keep me focused and energized.
Stay tuned for more articles on the process, products and progress!
Update Edit 9/2015: Transcon Steel no longer produces the UltraFrame metal insulated panels. The only alternative we found to be even close in price (and still twice as much) was through Premium Steel.
Written by: Brinn Miracle