Man Designs Energy-Efficient Homes
Cheryl BentleyThe electricity bill for Holiday resident Bill O'Leary's 1,825-square-foot home is about $100 a month.
Published: December 17, 2008
Published: December 17, 2008
There are no drafts, and the home feels cool in the summer and warm in the winter, and O'Leary couldn't be happier with his 14-year-old residence.
"I think everyone in the world should have a foam home," he said.
His home is made from an energy-efficient home shell designed by Dunedin resident Carl Hebinck.
Hebinck's company, ThermoBuilt, uses shells made from a lightweight material, expanded polystyrene, or EPS. "It's a tightly sealed, super insulated energy shell of a home of which they can finish any way they like," Hebinck said.
His pre-cut, numbered panels and studs are easily assembled and require no heavy equipment to unload or build. They cost about $15 per square foot. Double hung, tilt-in windows with removable sun screens, electrostatic air filters, whole-house exhaust fan and a door "that closes like a refrigerator door," according to Hebinck, are included in the price.
EPS looks and feels very much like that most famous of plastic foams, Styrofoam. In fact, it was a Styrofoam cup that inspired Hebinck's first foray into the green world in the 1980s, a time when the word "green" was more likely to refer to money than the environment. Then, Hebinck, who was a training coordinator for Tenneco Oil Company in Louisiana, burned his tongue on hot coffee he was drinking from a Styrofoam cup. He was struck by the cup's ability to protect the coffee drinker from the heat.
"I thought someone ought to build a house out of this," he remembered.
Others evidently had the same idea. EPS became a principal part of structural insulated panels favored by some green builders for their insulating ability.
Hebinck's panels are smaller than structural insulated panels. Their more compact size makes them more manageable for both professional home builders and handymen, he said. Instead of being sandwiched between fiberboard-type materials, as are the structural insulated panels, they have side slots in which 2-feet-by-6-feet studs fit. Ever conscious of hidden environmental dangers, Hebinck says he wants to avoid products such as fiberboard board containing glue that might create health hazards down the line.
Although the foam is light, it is also strong. Hebinck stood on a block to show it doesn't break under his weight. It is also flame retardant and resistant to pests, mold and mildew.
Homes built with the foam use 35 percent less wood than frame homes, Hebinck noted.
Insulation capacity is considerably greater. According to the ThermoBuilt Web site, the number indicating the resistance to heat passing through the material is 30 for walls and 40 for roofs for Hebinck's product, compared to approximately 13 for walls and 24 for ceilings in non-green construction. The higher the resistance number, the greater the insulation ability.
Hebinck noted he insulates the roof, rather than the ceiling, as is done in conventional Florida construction. Ceiling insulation traps heat in the attic, thereby requiring increased air conditioning. An insulated roof also frees the attic to be used as living space.
The homes are about three percent more expensive than non-green homes, Hebinck said.
Hebinck's kits have become smaller, simpler and easier for the builder since his first green home in Louisiana in 1985.
Hebinck's green shells have been used in more than 300 homes since then. His early designs were featured in "Popular Mechanics" and "Popular Science." Hebinck remembers reading "Popular Science" when growing up in Chickasha, Okla., and Houston, Texas. "Later on, I was in it," the 75-year-old Hebinck smiled.
Pasco/Tampa contractor Bob Kelly has previously worked with Hebinck. Hebinck's products are "extremely effective," Kelly noted. But with petroleum prices on the descent, Kelly is skeptical about the staying power of energy efficiency.
"The price of oil goes down, and everyone forgets about it," he said.
For more information, go to www.ThermoBuilt.com.
Cheryl Bentley can be reached at 727-815-1069 or firstname.lastname@example.org.