CA Designers Develop Steel-EPS Insulated Panel

Originally published by: Builder OnlineDecember 7, 2018
by Lauren Shanesy

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The California housing market often seems like it's experiencing hurdles from all directions--an already tight and expensive market is overwhelmed by raging wildfires that have been hard to quell, making affordable, resilient, and sustainable building practices a crucial topic in the current home building climate.

Santa Monica, Calif.-based architecture and design firm Minarc is doing their part to answer to the issues with its innovative mnmMOD panels, a prefab product manufactured in Los Angeles using a blend of recycled steel and Cradle to Cradle-certified expanded polystyrene (EPS) insulation to create a wood-free structural insulated panel (SIP).

The panels, the firm says, are 40% more energy efficient than traditionally built structures, and are installed with less labor and almost zero waste. The panels are customized to specific building plans and design aesthetics, and can be delivered to construction sites across the U.S. Overall, the sustainable panel system keeps building and material costs low to create more affordable housing options.

Here, Minarc’s Icelandic founders and designers, Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir and Tryggvi Thorsteinsson talk with BUILDER about the panels:

The Dawnsknoll home in Santa Monica was built using mnmMOD panels.

What was Minarc’s mission in creating these panels? 
Minarc: mnmMOD panels were developed in reaction to the limitations and risks inherent in traditional wood framing. They are simpler to build with, more durable, more energy efficient, and better for your health than traditional wood construction. Compared to custom site-built homes, mnmMOD construction is the same in practice but is totally different in application. mnmMOD’s factory-fabrication saves time and labor on site while conforming to the building norms of site assembly and the rigorous site inspection process. We see these eco-conscious factory-fabricated construction methods as the future of building.

What are some of the noteworthy features of the panels? 
Minarc: The panels are wood free and use 100% wood-free and steel studs made from 34% recycled content, and are VOC-free. mnmMOD panels far exceed the required energy efficiency standards in California, and are built in a waste-free factory and construction site. The panels also prevent mold and termites from destroying a building, prevent mold and warping, and can withstand fire, which is a particularly attractive feature for California residents.

How does the panel make a home more energy efficient? 
Minarc: Looking at the Home Energy Rating System (HERS) Index, a typical existing home scores between 101 and 250 and a newly built home typically yields a score of 100. The average mnmMOD home rates 60 without PV solar panels and can achieve net zero efficiency with the help of PV. This makes mnmMOD homes 40% more energy efficient than a standard newly constructed home. mnmMOD achieves this by having thermally broken walls and roof panels that yield an insulation value of R4 per inch for a total value of R24. We can also provide thicker walls and denser polystyrene that has a higher R-Value depending on client needs. The high insulation values increase home efficiency, significantly reducing dependence on heating and cooling systems.

Why do you feel it's important to focus on energy efficiency and sustainability?
Minarc: Building energy efficient homes is important for the future of our planet, as 16% of greenhouse gases generated in the U.S. are from residential buildings. It is the responsibility of the construction industry to build more energy efficient homes to reduce this figure. It is also vital that we construct these homes using methods that reduce our ecological footprint. In an effort to do so, mnmMOD utilizes steel and insulation that contains recycled content. Additionally, our factory fabrication methods lead to a waste-free and wood-free construction site in a world where 60% of all trees are used for construction and 40% of construction waste is wood. Unlike a stick-built home, mnmMOD does not require plywood sheathing and are also free of dyes, formaldehyde, VOCs, and MCFC.

How does the installation process reduce labor, time, and waste? 
Minarc: Factory fabrication methods not only lessen one’s ecological footprint but also save builders time and money. mnmMOD panels are customized to your specific building plans, then delivered flat packed to your construction site from our factory. Once on site, the installation is simple, requiring nothing more than a screw gun. This leads to faster construction, less labor than traditional wood framing and zero waste.

How much are the panels? 
Minarc: The average cost of the entire panel system is comparable to traditional stick-built methods; however, in the long run, home buyers will save thousands in energy bills and maintenance since mnmMOD panels don't mold, support fire, get termites, or warp.