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.

Metal Insulated Panels

Metal Insulated Panels

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.

Metal Insulated Panel waste is recycled or cut down to create insulated headers

Metal Insulated Panel waste is recycled or cut down to create insulated headers

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.

Metal Insulated Panel

Metal Insulated Panel

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.



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  • Andrew Taylor

    Okay, so I’m fascinated by the metal insulated panel product. I got interested in SIPs about 10 years ago when we built our last house, but frankly they were just ridiculously expensive. I’m curious about how the MIPs compare cost-wise to ICF, SIP, and/or stick-framing? Can you give me a ballpark on cost per square foot of wall (or of living area, since they included all the joists, interior, etc)? I’m finishing up the plans for our next home, which we’ll hopefully start building in the next few months, and I’d really like some more info on this subject.

    Thanks!

    • Hi Andrew, that’s a great question. I’m happy to share the numbers with you in detail if you’d like. Please email me direct at brinn@architangent.com. The quote we received was for all of the perimeter walls in the insulated panels, all interior framed walls in metal studs, all levels of floor/ceiling joists, connector pieces and engineering fees. Since this product is produced by a steel fabrication company they were able to provide essentially the entire structure for under $50k.

  • hobowankenobi

    Any updates on this project? Been researching quite a few companies for these metal/EPS panels, and Transcon was towards the top of my list. Using them? Any gripes?

    • I’m working towards finishing my drawing set and submitting for permit by end of this year, so we’re planning on breaking ground early 2015, just after the holidays. I’ll post more updates through the process as we go. Thanks for your interest.

      • hobowankenobi

        Hi again –

        Looking forward to seeing your progress.

        I contacted Transcon, but was told they are not ready for individual residential projects yet. Boo. Maybe because I am in CA? They did say they are planning another facility in Arizona for late 2015 that would handle single family residences. Hope they do well, looks like a great and needed product. I will have to continue my search.

        • Yes, it is likely due to your location. They did mention they’re expanding their distribution, so hopefully it will reach your area soon. Thermasteel is another similar product, but they’re based on the East coast, so the shipping would be high (and their product cost was nearly double that of Transcon).

  • Bill

    MBCI, based in Houston, manufactures what are essentially metal-skinned SIPs. They are typically used in applications like walk-in freezers and/or refrigerated distribution centers, but they do show some additional applications, and they are not averse to residential — merely that it is not a developed market for them. They may be worth a discussion.

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  • Sam Thomas

    What is the status on this project using Metal Insulated Panels.

    • Sam,
      We had a long series of delays from the first builder and the bank, so we only just now broke ground (a year and a half late). We are not using the Metal Insulated Panels, as the manufacturer stopped producing them and alternates were twice the cost.

      • Sam Thomas

        So what are you using instead of the Metal Insulated Panels?

        • Metal studs with mineral wool insulation

          • Sam Thomas

            Who did you go with to do the metal studs and how is the cost?

          • metal framing is approx. twice the cost of wood framing. HM Steel Fab has supplied materials for us.

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