CONTENTS

SMART PANELS: MULTI-FACETED BENEFITS

Habitech Systems - residence in Hawthorn, Melbourne.

IN THE QUEST FOR BUILDINGS THAT ARE HIGHLY SUSTAINABLE, STRONG, FAST TO CONSTRUCT AND COMPARABLE FINANCIALLY WITH TRADITIONAL METHODS, STRUCTURAL PANEL SYSTEMS OFFER NUMEROUS ADVANTAGES. BEVERLEY JOHANSON UNPACKS THE OPTIONS AVAILABLE.

Smart’ or insulated panels are a nascent but growing category of prefab components and are available in a daunting array of options and permutations.

Allen Mitchell, CEO of the Insulated Panel Council, indicates the complexities involved in utilising these products. “There are many different types and materials and all have different properties, benefits and drawbacks.”

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) consist of an insulating foam core sandwiched between two structural facings.

Insulated Sandwich Panels (ISPs) have steel skins with an inner core laminated in the centre, which could be polystyrene, polysocyanurate, mineral wool or polyurethane.

Aluminium Composite Panels (ACPs) are coil-coated aluminium sheets bonded to a non-aluminium core.

Mitchell says the advantages offered by these products are wide-ranging and particularly significant from a sustainability point of view; they have the potential to insulate so well that very little energy is required to keep the building within a comfortable temperature range. Insulation is consistent over the life of the building as it doesn’t compress or rot.

“They offer faster building times, are able to span up to 23 metres for walls and eight metres for roofs. They are light and easy to work with and contribute to a short construction time,” he says.

“They offer faster building times, are able to span up to 23 metres for walls and eight metres for roofs. They are light and easy to work with and contribute to a short construction time,” he says. Allen Mitchell, CEO – Insulated Panel Council.

He adds that actual material cost when comparing panel builds with traditional methods is probably similar, but the speed of construction and the massive savings in energy for the life of the building make them a more economical proposition overall.

“For example, Bondor built a house in Queensland for a family of four and their energy bill is $300 a year,” he says.

Insulated panels are at the heart of Passivhaus building principles, developed in Germany just over decade ago and now seen as the gold standard for sustainable, energy-efficient housing. These rigorous guidelines produce comfortable, affordable buildings that require very little heating and cooling and have a low ecological footprint.

Passivhaus buildings are constructed from super-insulated, airtight panels that form the thermal skin. Heat exchange ventilation units transfer at least 75 per cent of the heat or cold from exhaust air to filtered fresh air by means of an energy exchange. Uncontrolled leakage through gaps must be smaller than 0.6 of the total house volume per hour and the air-tightness of the building assessed by a “blower door test” after installation of the airtight membrane. Thermal bridges are avoided by taking great care with edges, corners, connections and penetrations through the insulation.

For Habitech Systems, a Melbourne manufacturer of SIPs and designers and builders of highly insulated modular homes built on Passivhaus principles, environmental considerations are paramount.

Managing director and architect, Chris Barnett, had a sustainability consulting and design business, Third Skin, when he became interested in the panels. “Australian housing is abysmal by international environmental standards. So I took up the challenge and thought ‘we can do better than this’. I was looking for the lowest impact way to build a house. I did a lot of research into SIPs and it’s a more efficient form of engineering with better material usage.”

“Australian housing is abysmal by international environmental standards. So I took up the challenge and thought ‘we can do better than this’. I was looking for the lowest impact way to build a house. I did a lot of research into SIPs and it’s a more efficient form of engineering with better material usage.” Chris Barnett, Managing Director and architect – Habitech.

Barnett founded Habitech and the first house was built at the end of 2010. “We’ve now built more than 40 houses and are looking to build 30 in the next year,” he says. “The word is getting out. Demand is increasing.”

Habitech panels, made in the company’s factory in Bayswater, Victoria, and delivered flat-packed to the building site, deliver a fully resolved facade as part of the installation.

The external surface is magnesium oxide cladding imported from China and composed of 50 per cent sawdust, magnesium oxide and a small amount of fibreglass mesh that gives the boards the ability to flex and absorb movement. The internal surface is plywood and the core is expanded polystyrene.
“The inner surface is doing structural bracing, the core is doing the insulation, but it’s also helping with the bracing and adding structural performance. The outer surface is doing the cladding but also works as part of a composite structure to make the panels stronger. This is what I’ve divined from nature. Things never just work in one system, they work in multiple systems,” he says.

Barnett admits that from an environmental perspective, polystyrene is not ideal because of its persistence in pollution and origins in fossil fuel, but he expects Habitech homes to last around 100 years, by which time the positive effects of the material will have outweighed the negative “We’d love to use another material, but it doesn’t exist. We’re involved in researching other materials with the University of Melbourne.”

A Hawthorn, Melbourne residence  receives a Habitech makeover. Aside from a visual facelift, benefits of Habitech’s system include structural bracing and and insulating core.
A Hawthorn, Melbourne residence receives a Habitech makeover. Aside from a visual facelift, benefits of Habitech’s system include structural bracing and and insulating core.
A Hawthorn, Melbourne residence  receives a Habitech makeover. Aside from a visual facelift, benefits of Habitech’s system include structural bracing and and insulating core.
A Hawthorn, Melbourne residence receives a Habitech makeover. Aside from a visual facelift, benefits of Habitech’s system include structural bracing and and insulating core.
A Hawthorn, Melbourne residence  receives a Habitech makeover. Aside from a visual facelift, benefits of Habitech’s system include structural bracing and and insulating core.
A Hawthorn, Melbourne residence receives a Habitech makeover. Aside from a visual facelift, benefits of Habitech’s system include structural bracing and and insulating core.
Queensland University of Technology conducted a study into the use of Bondor’s InsulLiving building system on a house in Mt Gambier, S.A. (pictured) and found that houses performed the equivalent of an 8.5 to 9-star energy rating by creating a thermal barrier that significant reduced air and heat leakage and improved energy efficiency.
Queensland University of Technology conducted a study into the use of Bondor’s InsulLiving building system on a house in Mt Gambier, S.A. (pictured) and found that houses performed the equivalent of an 8.5 to 9-star energy rating by creating a thermal barrier that significant reduced air and heat leakage and improved energy efficiency.
Queensland University of Technology conducted a study into the use of Bondor’s InsulLiving building system on a house in Mt Gambier, S.A. (pictured) and found that houses performed the equivalent of an 8.5 to 9-star energy rating by creating a thermal barrier that significant reduced air and heat leakage and improved energy efficiency.
Queensland University of Technology conducted a study into the use of Bondor’s InsulLiving building system on a house in Mt Gambier, S.A. (pictured) and found that houses performed the equivalent of an 8.5 to 9-star energy rating by creating a thermal barrier that significant reduced air and heat leakage and improved energy efficiency.
Queensland University of Technology conducted a study into the use of Bondor’s InsulLiving building system on a house in Mt Gambier, S.A. (pictured) and found that houses performed the equivalent of an 8.5 to 9-star energy rating by creating a thermal barrier that significant reduced air and heat leakage and improved energy efficiency.
Queensland University of Technology conducted a study into the use of Bondor’s InsulLiving building system on a house in Mt Gambier, S.A. (pictured) and found that houses performed the equivalent of an 8.5 to 9-star energy rating by creating a thermal barrier that significant reduced air and heat leakage and improved energy efficiency.

 

“The MGO is pretty good. It’s made in a waterborne process and the reaction actually absorbs carbon from the atmosphere. It’s about 50 per cent sawdust. It’s an extremely green product, but still not as good as timber.”

Habitech’s roofing is a panel with a steel skin that can span up to eight metres. It eliminates much of the structure and fittings that act as thermal bridges, carrying heat or cold through the insulation and into the building.

Habitech can build off any kind of flooring, but favours a cement slab for thermal mass. Interiors are usually lined with plaster.

“We reduce heating and cooling needs by about 80 per cent. If you then get some PV cells on your roof, typically about $10,000 worth of PVs, you can produce more power than you use. Why build a house that uses energy when you can build a house that produces energy?,” Barnett says.

“We reduce heating and cooling needs by about 80 per cent. If you then get some PV cells on your roof, typically about $10,000 worth of PVs, you can produce more power than you use. Why build a house that uses energy when you can build a house that produces energy?.” Chris Barnett, Managing Director and architect – Habitech

Air sealing is a major factor in attaining exceptional building performance. “We do the door blower test … and fit heat recovery ventilation units, which can exchange 90 per cent of the heat or the cooling in the outgoing air into the incoming air and eliminate moisture and the threat of mould.”

“On a cold morning, you might be taking air out at 19 degrees. The incoming air at four degrees will be raised to about 15 degrees by the time it has been through the heat exchange process, so you only need to heat the house from 15 degrees up to 19 or 20.

“You end up with really well sealed buildings that have this beautiful fresh air.”

Habitech is working in Tasmania, New South Wales, South Australia and New Zealand.

Habitech wall panels achieve an R rating of 4.6; roof panels rate at 5.3. Walls are 170 millimetres thick. The panels are load bearing to three stories and eight times as strong as a standard frame.

“People’s perception of prefab is still a factor. They are looking for something cheap. We say ‘we will give you a house that’s twice as strong as a normal one and we’ll give you a house with environmental performance that no one else can get to, unless you are right up in very expensive budget land’. We’re not cheap. We build good houses for between $500,000 and $1million. We do have one standard house that we can put out for about $450,000.”

Habitech wall panels have an R value of 4.3 and roof panels R6-plus.

Burkhard Hansen built houses to Passivhaus principles in his home country of Germany and throughout Europe. When he and his wife decided to settle in Melbourne, he worked as a carpenter and quickly realised the need for a more advanced building system here.

He established Carbonlite Design + Build and now has three factories in Thomastown producing PANELlite panels and employing 13 staff including an in-house Passivhaus designer. “It is unethical and irresponsible to build any other way,” he says.

PANELlite floor, wall and roofing panels are made of locally sourced timber with glass wool insulation, and Proclima airtight membrane. “We are exploring other more environmental and people-friendly insulation options,” he says.

Panels come pre-plumbed and pre-wired. They are airtight, wind-tight and watertight. “There is no condensation, no mould, and they deliver a consistent internal temperature of 20 degrees. The star rating is outdated compared to Passivhaus standards, but the equivalent would be eight-and-a-half to 10 stars,” he says.

“PANELlite can increase home energy efficiency by up to 90 per cent. “I’ve built this way all over Europe and even in -30 degrees, we get the same performance.”

Hansen says the PANELlite system is the only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere to be Passivhaus certified. Demand for Carbonlite homes in Melbourne is becoming “incredible”, he says.

“I have never seen anything like it. Five years ago, people thought we were crazy. Now they want to build as an investment in the future. They are fed up with houses that make them sick, make them cold. Rising energy costs and global warming all contribute to this demand.”

“I have never seen anything like it. Five years ago, people thought we were crazy. Now they want to build as an investment in the future. They are fed up with houses that make them sick, make them cold. Rising energy costs and global warming all contribute to this demand.” Burkhard Hansen – Carbonlite.

“We have just invested in a timber processing machine that can make 4500 to 6000 panel components per shift.”

External finishes can be anything the client wants, he says. “That’s all cosmetic because it’s outside the thermal envelope. The house could be metal-clad, rendered, brick veneer. We had a client who used fake rock and it looked fantastic.”

Carbonlite has just delivered a Passivhaus childcare centre to Canberra, a commercial building in Greensborough, Victoria, and is about to branch out into single and double-storey apartment developments.

Daniel Jukic, co-founder of Perth-based Pro9 Global, bought into a structural wall panel business in Western Australia after selling the mining services company he founded at the age of 23 to a global engineering firm for $65 million.

He quickly realised that the panel manufacturing process, and the product, could be improved and could become the building product of the future.

Investing more than $10 million over five years, he re-engineered the business from being a producer of basic wall panels to a highly technical plant manufacturing steel-frame, prefab wall systems complete with electricity, plumbing and windows.

Panels consist of steel framing, magnesium sulphate cement board (ProBoard), a polyurethane core and an interlocking system.

Bondor: Including BlueScope Steel skins, and a range of insulating core options, the InsulLiving system can be rendered externally and painted internally.
Bondor: Including BlueScope Steel skins, and a range of insulating core options, the InsulLiving system can be rendered externally and painted internally.
Habitech Systems - residence in Mornington - Victoria.
Habitech Systems - residence in Mornington - Victoria.
Pro9 render - the company’s panel solution can reduce build times by up to 30 per cent, overall build costs by 20 per cent and site waste from wall construction by 80-90 per cent.
Pro9 render - the company’s panel solution can reduce build times by up to 30 per cent, overall build costs by 20 per cent and site waste from wall construction by 80-90 per cent.
(Above and at top) Carbonlite Design + Build’s PassivHaus in Heathmont, Victoria. Carbonlite’s system includes pre-plumbed and pre-wired panels that are airtight, wind-tight and watertight.
(Above and at top) Carbonlite Design + Build’s PassivHaus in Heathmont, Victoria. Carbonlite’s system includes pre-plumbed and pre-wired panels that are airtight, wind-tight and watertight.
(Above and at top) Carbonlite Design + Build’s PassivHaus in Heathmont, Victoria. Carbonlite’s system includes pre-plumbed and pre-wired panels that are airtight, wind-tight and watertight.
(Above and at top) Carbonlite Design + Build’s PassivHaus in Heathmont, Victoria. Carbonlite’s system includes pre-plumbed and pre-wired panels that are airtight, wind-tight and watertight.

 

Along the way, he established a similar manufacturing operation in Croatia, developed a (patent pending) process for curing the polyurethane in record time – four minutes – and a world-first process for laminating components. Panels are fused together rather than glued. After arduous testing, this method showed no delamination and no cracking, Jukic spent around $2 million testing the panels to meet the stringent CodeMark building product certification demands of Europe and the US and successfully met, or exceeded, all of them. Fire testing was a revelation as the kiln broke down and burnt before the panel did, which makes them a suitable material for extreme bushfire areas.

“These panels have the potential to be incredibly successful internationally,” says a spokesperson for Pro9. “People are talking about all sorts of uses as well as construction. They reduce build times by up to 30 per cent, reduce overall build costs by 20 per cent and reduce site waste from wall construction by 80-90 per cent,” she says.

“These panels have the potential to be incredibly successful internationally,” says a spokesperson for Pro9.

“People are talking about all sorts of uses as well as construction. They reduce build times by up to 30 per cent, reduce overall build costs by 20 per cent and reduce site waste from wall construction by 80-90 per cent.” Spokesperson – Pro9.

“Pro9 Global has the manufacture technology, the roadmap and the capacity to achieve the economies of scale necessary to disrupt the entrenched position of the market leaders.

“Over the last 12-months, the company has been scaling its operations to become a serious contender for established competitors such as James Hardie, Boral and CSR,” she says.

Pro9 Global has just raised $8 million to build a second manufacturing facility in Australia. The Sydney factory will primarily produce structural wall systems for the residential market and have the capacity to produce just over 4500 houses a year.

The PRO85 wall panel, at 85 millimetres thick is an internal load bearing wall and has an acoustic rating of 32db, a fire rating of 30/30/30 and an R value of 2.6. The PRO 125 wall panel at 125 millimetres, is an external load bearing wall without support or beams, and has an acoustic rating of 31db, fire rating of 60/60/60 and R value of 4.2. They are load bearing to four stories

Bondor has been providing thermal building solutions for more than 50 years and has developed the InsulLiving System of wall and roof panels which meet structural and thermal standards while simplifying the construction process.

The BlueScope Steel skins, coupled with insulating core options including expanded polystyrene, polyisocyanurate and mineral wool, can be easily rendered externally and painted internally. InsulWall panels coupled with SolarSpan roofing form a fully insulated, structural shell.

A spokesperson for the company says that the InsulLiving system, “combined with sympathetic design, allows us to achieve an eight-star rating and more”.

Insulwall panels are 1200 millimetres wide and have a thickness of 90 millimetres and 140 millimetres. The steel is 0.6 millimetres standard. The 90 millimetre panels have an R value (m2 K/W) of 2.35; at 140 millimetres, it is 3.69. The core is expanded polystyrene. Acoustically, the Rw value is 24-25.

Bondor’s panels rate well for early fire hazard properties with ignitability, spread of flame and heat involved at zero and smoke at two to three.

Solar Span panels have a thermal conductivity of 0.038 W/mK. At 50 millimetres thick, the panels have an R-value at 8 degrees Celcius (m2 K/W) of 1.6, at 75 millimetres it’s 2.3, at 100 millimetres 2.9 and 150 millimetres 4.2. The R value at 20 degrees Celcius is 1.6 for 50 millimetres, 2.2 for 75 millimetres, 2.8 for 100 millimetres, 3.5 for 125 millimetres and 4.1 for 150 millimetres.

The early fire hazard properties have ignitability in the test range 0-20 for the external top skin at zero; spread of flame, test range 0-10 is also zero; heat involved 0-10 is also zero and smoke, 0-10 for the external top skin is one.■


popup top
Click the book icon to navigate
table of contents
popup left
Click here for
previous articles
Click here for
next articles
popup right
swipe left swipe text swipe right
Scroll Down for
Feature article
popup bottom