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ThermaSteel – Light Guage Steel Insulated Panels

by Chad Ludeman on February 5, 2008 · 30 comments

in Building Science,envelope

Recently I’ve received a few recommendations to check out an alternative to SIPs that uses light gauge steel to give insulated panels structural integrity rather than sheets of OSB. The most local company that provides such a product is the ThermaSteel Corporation located in Virginia.

Some of the touted advantages include the following:

  • Using light gauge steel increases the % of post-consumer recycled content in the panels and can be recycled again if the building is torn down
  • The design eliminates or greatly reduces thermal bridging
  • The panels are lightweight and easy to assemble by hand
  • The system can be very cost effective due to reduction in labor
  • The panels form a vapor barrier and allow many types of traditional siding to be screwed directly to the exterior without needing an extra layer of house wrap or rain screen system

ThermaSteel Panel ImageThe main advantages over SIPs seem to be the vapor barrier feature as well as how light and easy to assembly the panels are. Also, if you were to go with light frame steel for the entire home, you would have very little waste and the entire home could be screwed together in a matter of days.

I called up the crew at ThermaSteel and they were kind enough to provide an estimate in a matter of hours. I was a bit disappointed at first but think that there is room to improve the pricing. The original estimate came back at about $25K for the 100K home and $28K for the corner home. The sales rep, Mike, and I talked through a few ways we might be able to knock a couple grand off the estimate by changing some of the windows as well as other minor changes. Since many of our window openings are over 40″ wide, they must include custom panels and reinforcing members to accommodate them. Also, a big 25% discount could be received if we wanted to commit to this building system long-term and become a distributor. The fee for this is $7,500 but we would get intensive training and would be licensed to sell to other builders in the area (not necessarily something we’re interested in).

Time will tell if this is a viable option for us this time around or in the future. We have a very important design meeting with our architect and builder tomorrow where we will review the full estimated construction budget and any final design changes needed to reach our goals. We will discuss SIPs, ThermaSteel and traditional stick framing with high-performance insulation at this meeting.

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{ 30 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Rob February 5, 2008 at 5:55 pm

I found this site from the Metroplois article. And I have to say very impressive. I am glad to see that you truly are exploring many options. As a student at Virginia Tech I had a little bit of interaction with Thermasteel panels, and they seem like a good option for building with SIPS. You can also get the tradidional SIPS with integrated structure, either solid sawn or engineered lumber. Those may be more comparable to the Thermasteel panels as you can probably get them designed to span the 18′. Also I would look into SIPS with xps or polyurethane insulations as they may act as an air and vapor barrier if properly installed. Also they would give you more R-value per inch and potentially decrease the panel thickness.

2 lavardera February 6, 2008 at 6:28 pm

I know of two projects with these – one is blogged at the Austin Mod House: http://austinmodhouse.com/blog/

Another being built by a friend in Dallas. He had problems with dimensional tolerances. But if you can overcome the problems the system looks great.

3 Rous February 6, 2008 at 7:50 pm

I’m the friend in Dallas. These look like they have one advantage over the version we used with the “ship-lap” joints. For ours, you had to screw a piece of track to one side of each panel and then slide the next panel into it. We had structural steel about every 14′ around the perimeter of the house. The panel dimensions were so tight for the most part that in some cases the heads of the screws holding the track in place made the panels too tight. The builder had a guy jumping up and down on top of the panel (9′ off the ground) with others using crow bars to try to squeeze the panels into place. The sheetrockers are going to have a task dealing with all the bent steel. In other places, there was 1″ or more between the panels. However, with about 90% of the panels the wrong size, this was probably a quality control issue — these things can not easily be modified in the field. But talk about waste: We still have about 15 panels sitting on the site waiting to be taken to the dump. Also, with the structural steel posts, the chases became useless. The electrician didn’t want o buy the hot knife, so he dug out chases with a utility knife, what a mess. Oh, and about one out of every 15 panels would “spill its guts” when cut. That is, the EPS didn’t fuse in the center of the panel, so when you cut into it, gallons of little white beads would fall all over the floor.

Aside from this, there are all sorts of big gaps in the envelope. We are going to need about $2000 in spray foam insulation to fill them all in. Most of this is to handle gaps between the floors where the end of joists meet an outside wall.

All in all, it took over two months to get the structure up.

One last piece of advice, make sure your foundation is absolutely as level as you can make it. Even a 1/2″ rise or fall over 20′ will give you fits.

4 chad February 6, 2008 at 11:02 pm

Wow. ThermaSteel is out…

5 Rous February 7, 2008 at 3:03 am

Well, I should just be clear that our panels were made by a company other than Thermasteel. I can break down the total failure.
25% uneven foundation
25% panels sized with too tight tolerances
25% panels the wrong size (not fabricated according to the plans — or shop drawings)
20% plumbers and electricians have to cut out lots of foam to do rough-in (admittedly, we don’t have a lot of inside walls).
5% need for extra spray in foam to fill gaps (structure between floors).

Only 25% of this is inherent to SIP design.

If I could do it again, I’d definitely use steel stick-built with spray foam insullation.

6 chad February 7, 2008 at 3:45 am

Understood and thanks for the feedback. I’m sure ThermaSteel is a great company as they have been building for decades with their product. This is just too unfamiliar for this project to take a risk on. SIPs is already a hard sell and that is at least using wood panels and dimensional lumber that framers are familiar with. Also, we would have a lot of work to do to get the pricing down to the level that our SIP quotes are already at. The price just doesn’t compare and we have too many other places to cut costs without trying to get ThermaSteel down another 40%…

7 Rous February 7, 2008 at 5:59 am

Just make sure your builder (and his subs) are on board. Both the plumber and electrician were cool with the SIP concept, but once they started working, they were cursing it. This added to the delays we have had. The much touted chases are not as easy to work with as you would hope, and if you use the type that have conduit run to every opening, you can be sure that once this thing starts going up, you’ll wish you could move a few openings or add a few and these changes won’t be easy (if possible at all). It is amazing to me that even after all the planning, once the walls go up, you see things that you never saw in Sketchup!

8 Gary February 11, 2008 at 2:28 am

Hi,
Her is a pretty detailed description and pictures of one persons positive experience building a ThermalSteel SIP home:
http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/SolarHomes/sipandicfhouse.htm

Gary

9 chad February 11, 2008 at 4:37 am

Gary – Good link, thanks. I think with the rise of price in steel, these types of panels are no longer cost competitive with the more affordable OSB SIP options out there. I am going to keep my eye on this type of system though as I like how you can design all of the framing in the house to be delivered to the exact dims needed and you can just screw it together. The light weight of the steel SIPs is also an advantage in the city where it can be difficult to get a crane or lift in as well as expensive.

10 paul September 14, 2008 at 6:10 pm

besides thermasteel does any one know of any other light steel sip manufacturers that i may consider for my project
thanks

11 lavardera September 14, 2008 at 7:09 pm

I like Kama’s product. They make a true thermal break between the inside and outside steel frame.

http://www.kama-eebs.com/

12 chad September 15, 2008 at 11:51 am

This technology is promising and probably worth us looking into for the future. The pricing was just too far off at twice that of SIPs for this go around.

13 FredsGreenWorld September 17, 2008 at 2:15 pm

The Kama price was very reasonable to me. Even with shipping now that they make panels on the East Coast and West Coast.

14 lavardera September 17, 2008 at 4:15 pm

Are you from Kama Fred? Your link goes to their site.

15 FredsGreenWorld September 18, 2008 at 2:38 pm

No. I put in their site. I live in Texas.

16 Kevin November 14, 2008 at 3:30 pm

GreenSteel has recently been through a 26-month automation design that makes structural steel and EPS wall panels a much quicker and more exacting manufacturing process. Look to see more from GreenSteel as their marketing programs “ramp up.”

17 Angela August 19, 2009 at 2:20 pm

I saw where there were some posts about ThermaSteel. My husband and i built a house last year using TS. To be honest, it was the best move we could have made after all of our research of other panels. Everything was shipped out as noted and our builder had our house up in half the time that it would have taken with wood. Our builder hasnt used anything like it before, but he said that he wish he could build using ThermaSteel panels then using wood. A friend of my husband is using it to construct their house. It is a great insulated product with a constant thermal break. Since we used the panels we were able to downsize our HVAC unit. I highly recommend it…thats just my 2 cents worth!

18 cmkavala August 21, 2009 at 7:30 am
19 environmentally wise January 10, 2010 at 1:15 pm

We found Thermasteel panels and adjunct necessary materials very expensive, labor intensive and difficult to work with in general. Subcontractors were frustrated etc. The manufacturer would not help us when we contacted them and really needed their assistance.

20 B. A. Conner June 7, 2011 at 11:33 am

question to environmentally wise, you said you could not get the manufacturer (ThermaSteel) to help when you needed assistance. What was the problem with your panels from ThermaSteel. We are having problems with them too.

21 AgaveVerde June 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm

Check out: http://www.transconsteel.com They offer more than Insulated Structural Panels.

22 Tom Bishop October 20, 2011 at 2:05 pm

I am planning to build a two story garage in NC and am considering using Thermosteel made in Roanoke, VA. What I have read here could sway me either way. I would like some feedback from Builders who have worked with material from this source. I am interested in the accuracy and fit of the panels. Any unexpected labor and/or materials required to properly complete the job.
Thanks

23 Les Lorimer May 23, 2012 at 7:28 pm

Chad or whom ever is listening I like a lot of the comments I was reading about ThermaSteel I have been using it for years in my houses. Sometime there are adjustments that have to be made but there usually fairly easy. One of the things not brought up about the panels is they are thermally broken. Your stud placement is on both outside and inside with polystyrene in the middle. See a typical stud allows your ambient temp from outside to transfer into your building which means your heating and cooling system has to work harder to keep the temp inside your home comfortable. And that means more money out of your pocket. The other thing you can do is look for ways to lower cost in energy consumption. There is a payoff on everything and if you plan on staying in your home for very long it will eventually put money back into your pocket.
Thanks Les

24 Dan D January 25, 2013 at 4:34 pm

I built a SIP house in 2007, and really was impressed with the ease and speed of assembly. WOW, 5.5 days and the entire house was up, house wrapped, with windows and doors installed and with 30# felt on the roof. Then I duplicated a bunch of stuff like adding a $11,000 metal roof (WHY?) and vinyl siding $4,000 (WHY?). I shall build another house next spring 2013, and have begun to explore using MIPs instead of SIPs. My thoughts; If I want a metal roof why use SIPs first, and since the exterior SIP walls must be covered with something to protect the OSB why do double work.
It is hard for a sales rep to convince me of the superior quality of any product (vested interest), but I’m trying to school myself WRT the pros and cons of going all metal panels.
Some questions arise about afixing sheetrock to the interior metal, will it hold? Do I need an exterior covering for the MIP walls? One sales rep says no need for siding, another mentions oilcanning, who is right? Has anyone ever seen or used a hybrid panel with a metal exterior side and an OSB interior side? Is that even possible?
Rous painted a pretty ugly picture of using metal panels back in 2008, have the panels been tweeked to eliminate his problems?
I’m not sure why plumbers would have a problem, my design called for all plumbing to enter and exit through the floor not through a wall. Did I miss something?
I have more questions, but will wait for these answers first.
TY
Dan

25 Holly March 13, 2013 at 11:27 am

Hi Dan D … liked you post, but unable to find any information about “MIP” what is that and do you have any links?

26 Dan D April 7, 2013 at 9:01 am

Sorry for the delay Holly, I don’t monitor this site very often. No I don’t have any links, I use MIP as Metal Insulated Panel, it is just my invention and probably does not translate accurately.
I did have problems with the pre-installed electrical chases, I’ll take half the blame (ignorance) and the electrician deserves half the blame also ignorance. One warning, if you have cathedral ceilings and want to hang a heavy fixture or fan, the factory MUST beef up that area or you will be wearing that ceiling fan one day.
As you will see when you read the comments, there are expenses involved with using MIP’s that are not associated with using SIP’s.
And as you can see I have not had my questions answered here.
Dan D.

27 Dan D April 7, 2013 at 9:07 am

One more thing I forgot, go to You Tube and search SIP construction, one short vid demonstrated making a new electrical chase using a red hot metal ball that melted a straight line down inside the panel and exited into a “catch bowl”. I was skeptical at first but it did come out at the correct place. I have not seen any videos relating to metal panels.
Dan D

28 Agave Verde April 7, 2013 at 1:19 pm

Dan and Holly, Please checkout http://www.transconsteel.com . There s a considerable difference when it relates to the structural integrity compared to Thermasteel. Besides not being able to meet IRC wind load calculations, they have suffered from the stud delamination from the foam. Thermasteel can not be engineered to support ledgers which require additional engineering to support the wall. Thermasteel has a proprietary system which means every job requires complete structural engineering. As a General Contractor I have used numerous systems. Transconsteel uses a delta stud which eliminates 90 % of the thermal bridging. Since transcon has no priority components it is viewed as light gauge steel framing. Makes a big difference when it comes to framing inspections. Dan, utility chase can be easily cut using a hot knife. Check out Wind-lock, they support the foam industry with proper tooling and fasteners. To eliminate duplicate work, the exterior can be wrapped with Tyvech or any other vapor barrier. Then add a outside finish from stucco or any type of metal cladding. The interior can be sheet rocked.

29 Pete Brosey June 3, 2014 at 10:49 pm

It is interesting to follow the past 6 years of dialogue recorded here concerning ThermaSteel! Thank you Chad and company for your diligence in challenging best practices in building of all types. And thank you for permission to offer my service here as a ThermaSteel distributor and framing professional. I’ll work to address some of the questions noted here and invite interested parties to contact me personally for your specific questions about ThermaSteel applications and pricing.
— Pricing concerns top the list! ThermaSteel can be purchased as Wallframe panels that come in standard sizes, stud spacing and gage of steel. They are then modified in the field to accomodate wall and roof sizes and openings. I’ll add more about modifying panels below. This is by far the most cost effective option and offers much shorter lead times and less up front details: Rough openings, wall types, etc. I have,at times, personally stocked panels making it possible to have panels on local sites in a matter of hours.
—Dimension discrepancies and changes after production: In the case where ThermaSteel panels seem to grow as a wall is put together. This phenomenon is also a struggle with panelized wood framing! There are methods for keeping panels tight as assembly goes together but sometimes modifications need to be made because the floor deck grew or windows moved. 3 1/2″ and 5 1/2″ panels are the most common and match dimensional lumber allowing wood to be used for some changes. Wallframe standard size panels can be used for major changes as well. This leads to the next discussion of cutting for MEPs.
—Cutting panels for mechanical, electrical and plumbing. When the molded chases aren’t enough, a hot knife is the way to cut chases. When studs need to be cut, keep in mind that the panels have a pre-stressed quality so that your saw blade may bind and require another pass. This leads to the next discussion of panel failure…
—Panel failure. There are a number of competitors to ThermaSteel coming up through the ranks and it sounds like there have been bad experiences. ThermaSteel panels are an engineered composite of steel and EPS where the two materials are bonded during a manufacturing process that compresses the steel. When the panel takes a load the steel and EPS are already working together to oppose the load. The panel failures discussed here may have had to do with manufacturers struggling with this composite.
—When the floor deck or foundation isn’t level: Grout under the track or in the track is a fix that keeps panels from rocking and sagging. We run into this problem with wood frame panels also but with ThermaSteel the track provides a form for structural non shrinking leveling grout to fix the issue.
—Cladding: Gypsum or Drywall products can be applied directly to ThermaSteel panels. In some cases exterior cladding can be applied directly to the panels and the panels will provide the drainage plane, vapor barrier, insulation and structure. Sometimes though, exterior sheathing and drainage plane may be advisable in order to properly flash openings and provide substrate fastening for exterior cladding. In either case ThermaSteel panels are not an exterior cladding in and of themselves.

I’ve tried to touch on most of the questions that have come up here and again thank Chad for permitting my offer of additional information on ThermaSteel projects, questions and pricing!

http://www.facebook.com/dandelionwood
http://www.dandelionwood.com

30 Agave Verde June 4, 2014 at 8:03 am

Please review my post dated April 7, 2013. Thermasteel provides features that competitors do not. One benefit is the vertical ship-lap joint allows for great means of vertical attachment and permits the contractor to make adjustments in the field. As stated above, concrete is not perfect. It is always best to seek out quality foundation contractors and pay the premium to ensure the slab is level and square. My biggest issue with Thermasteel is the failure to meet contractual agreements with the local distributors. Originally, the company’s policy limited one distributor per state. It would require approval from the original distributor to allow additional distributors in the same state. However, the company found a cash cow by talking prospective clients into a distributorship by charging $5000. In turn they would receive discounts when meeting an annual sales quota. By allowing more than one distributor per state, it makes it impossible to meet these quotas. If you are to remain a distributor you are required to pay an additional annual fee. That is why I dropped Thermasteel, and have been working with other manufacturers that maintain an ethical approach in their business model. On a positive note, these systems are great when factory support is available. As a contractor, I have found using Insulated concrete forms work best for walls, and using SIPs for the roof. The ICFs are very user friendly and with the right training work well. Most of these systems appear to be easy for the novice, but years of experience in the trades is your most valuable tool. HGTV and DYI networks fall short and companies like Thermasteel can mislead the consumer of the ease of assembly. One day of factory training is no substitution for years in the field.

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