Addendum: Sept 3, 2010:
A 7.4 magnitude Earthquake struck just miles west of Christchurch, NZ at just after 4:35am this morning.
Many who read this blog know that we have many, many friends, in New Zealand.
Please know that our hearts and prayers are with you, as you begin to recover from the earthquake.
If there is anything that we can do to assist you, know that you have but to ask.
And now back to our regularly scheduled program:
It must be that time of year again…
I don’t know if it’s something in the water, or a lack of oxygen at some elevations, or what but…
I’m getting asked “that” question again;
“Ronin, why can’t I just use that Ceramic Paint?”
At the risk of repeating myself over and over again…
In the beginning, there was Corten Steel.
He (or “She” – Hey, I’m “kinda” open-minded) who wielded that cosmic plasma cutter made clear that they were building a box so tough, that not even lesser gawds could harm it.
And then, them that was created in their image were walking up a road one day, saw one sitting out in the open, and said;
“Why looky there, Martha! It’s our next house! Go fetch the mules!”
And then, with a thunderclap that sounded exactly like the pop a torch makes when you put the igniter to it… ISBU Housing was born.
It didn’t take long for old Jed and Martha to figure out something was amiss. As the sun came up to warm the earth, that box started them to sweatin like a kid dancing for a happy meal.
(I know, because I was ONE of those kids, once.) 🙂
And then, like a bumblebee hitting the windshield it struck them.
Whilst they were each sitting in their galvanized watering troughs, trying to stay cool and not die from the heat… (Don’t you laugh! I have one in my front yard, as I type this!) they mumbled to each other;
“Lambikins… we gotta make us some changes around here.”
And the need for insulation was born.
We’re seeing ISBU homes depicted everywhere, nowadays. It’s not just the subject of the Sci-Fi Channel, it’s a topic that is raging on green cable networks globally.
We’re told that they are piled to the sky, blocking out the sun. Mountains of glorious non-corrosive metal shaped like Lego’s.
Big Steel Boxes that are cheap, strong, and “Tonka tough”.
And some of us WANT them with a passion that we usually only save for our wives and significant others. I’m talking “deadly sins” kinda Lust here…
And the biggest single limitation to using a steel box as a home, is that it resembles the steel box you already have in your kitchen. If you apply heat to either of them, they become ovens.
One of the problems to overcome when dealing with steel ISBU (Intermodal Steel Building Unit) shipping containers is insulation (or the lack theroef). You’re talking about a small-ish (308 square foot – approx) rectangular box that was designed to haul produced goods, and not designed to provide shelter to your tribe.
Opponents of ISBU construction will tell you that the inside dimensions aren’t very big, and if you furr/fir (take your pick) it out so that you can insulate them, you’ve just made a small box even smaller.
However… if you’re a smart person (and you really think it through) you figure out that the insulation actually goes on the OUTSIDE of the box. This has it’s drawbacks too, because now you can’t do that “Max Max – Armageddon Housing” thing that we’re all so fond of.
C’mon – the fact that you know all that exposed corrugated goodness would give your neighbor an aneurysm is a part of the joy, isn’t it?
No? Um… It must be just me, then… Sorry… 😉
Enter – Ceramic Insulation.
I get asked about these %&$%#@!! “miracle coatings” at least twenty times a week.
Seriously. I’ve actually started threatening people with “blog exile” if they continue to bring the topic up, that’s how often I get asked this… 😉
Ceramic insulation is a spray or paint-on coating system that manufacturers claim was “developed by NASA” to address “all three modes of heat transfer- Radiated, convected and conducted.”
And therein lies the biggest problem. Everything I ever learned as a trained architect, or witnessed in 30 plus years tells me that there is no free lunch, and that these claims are impossible to achieve.
Manufacturers like SPI Coatings (the manufacturer of SuperTherm, the most highly touted Ceramic Insulative Coating concoction) will tell you that their product “consists of a specially tuned compound of 4-different ceramics thermo-dynamically tuned to cover the IR, UV, & Visible Light Spectrum, the Thermal Spectrum from -40°-F to 450°-F; as well as 68% of the Sound Spectrum! SUPERTHERM ® is a Thermal Barrier NOT a Thermal Absorbent! It stops the thermal vibration continuance by its ultra low density.”
People at SPI will tell you that R-Values, the standard measure of insulation are just fairy tale numbers that don’t mean anything. Hmmm… that runs contrary to everything that I’ve even been taught, and essentially tosses an entire principal of building and construction in the trash can.
We’ve all seen the Youtube footage of Dave Cross (a builder who is now the head of SG Blocks.com and a guy that I consider an ” ISBU friend” of mine) handing Bob Vila a piece of Supertherm treated metal after he’d hit it with a blowtorch. Bob holds it with his bare fingers, amazed. Proves that Supertherm works. right?
Wrong. It proves that SPI came up with a good “flim-flam” demonstration to help sell their snake oil a gallon at a time. I think that it even fooled Dave for a while. I used to kid him about it when I talked to him… Just to rub it in…
Okay, so I’m like that… 🙂
Peter DeMaria, another architect (whom I respect a great deal, but disagree with about this topic), built what has become the most photographed home in the history of ISBU housing, his Redondo Beach, CA house. This 3200 square foot home uses Supertherm as insulation. He’s sure it works, or he wouldn’t have used it. However, that house is in Southern California. not Southern Montana. Los Angeles stays above 60 degrees most of the year, day or night. Move that house to someplace where there is “harsher weather” and I’m betting everything I have or will ever own, that you’re gonna need to re-insulate, pronto.
Surely, SPI has proven that this stuff works, to the guys that make it possible for the rest of us to use it, right?
Um… after they tested it, the EPA (the Environmental Protection Agency) said;
“The EPA does not recommend paints and coatings be used in place of traditional bulk insulation. We haven’t seen any independent studies which can verify their insulating qualities.”
I’m a big fan of Alex Wilson.
Who’s that, you ask?
For more than 30 years, Alex Wilson has been the most trusted voice on energy efficiency and environmentally responsible design and construction. He founded BuildingGreen in 1985 and launched Environmental Building News (EBN) in 1992 as the first North American publication focused on green building. He built the reputation, resources, and staff that today makes BuildingGreen, the leading information company on green building, publishing not only EBN, but also the GreenSpec Directory, BuildingGreen.com, and LEEDuser, as well as providing consulting for a variety of companies for whom sustainable design is a core value.
HE has an opinion about “SuperTherm”, too;
“To say that there is a lot of hype about insulating paints and radiant barrier coatings is an understatement.
The Internet is rife with claims of paints that dramatically reduce heat transfer—usually based on some technological magic spun off from NASA. While these products may have some relevance in the extreme conditions of outer space, manufacturers of paints containing “ceramic beads” or “sodium borosilicate microspheres” are making claims that defy the laws of physics—and independent test results—when they claim they can save significant energy in buildings.”
Okay, so basically what he says is that to achieve their claims, SuperTherm would have to defy the laws of physics. And he makes it clear that independent test results don’t back up manufacturer claims, either. GULP!
As a trained architect with another degree in “test tubes and other junk that will kill you if you look at it twice without smiling…” I really make it a point to avoid using products that make outrageous claims that contradict science, cost outrageous amounts of money (I’m told that it’s up to $700 a gallon), are only hawked by people PAID to hawk them, products that supposedly negate everything that we were ever taught about construction (or physics) without being able to PROVE beyond a shadow of a doubt WHY in our right minds, we should actually do that….
Okay, okay… you get it. I’ve tried it. I’ve tested it (albeit in what some have deemed a rather “unscientific way”). I’ve used white paint too. Similar results, when it comes to insulating an ISBU. Neither one really works in the conditions that they were exposed to, but both do “similarly” well. Hmmmmmm…. again.
Look, I WANT this to work. Honest. If it did, it’d be a huge boon to ISBU builders.
Insulation is one of the HARDEST parts of getting ISBU homes built.
If I could find some miracle coating that could be applied in a business card thickness, that would take the place of inches or even a foot of insulation, don’t you think I’d be doing it? I’ve been working on these boxes since 1977. TONS of them.
It would revolutionize home building. You wouldn’t just use it on ISBU homes, you’d use it on all those old homes in America that can’t be insulated any other way, but by “repainting them.” You’d even apply it to cars and aircraft to take the place of insulation!
Why aren’t they doing that?
Um… because it doesn’t replace the need for insulation. That’s why.
Until someone can prove to me that ceramic coatings will work in every zip code in the US of A and take the place of insulation (with a set of tests recognized by the industry, tests that I can duplicate MYSELF), I won’t use the product, and if I’m working with you on YOUR home or building, I won’t let YOU, either.
I have too much love for my family, and even yours (which is saying something because I don’t even KNOW most of you, yet…) to put them at risk, based on snake oil spec sheets that are bandied about by “pie in the sky” internet websites.
And if you want to have a good laugh, take a look at some of the Ceramic Coating websites. Can you say; “Shoddy?”
Incidentally, myself and several other architects, engineers, and even builders have invited SPI and several other manufactures to rebut our claims on our websites, in an unedited fashion, so they can prove we’re wrong.
WE want them (at least I do) to be right. We just can’t figure out how it could be possible. and the scientists that we’re consulting can’t prove it, either.
My site, for example is one of the biggest “content based” blogs on ISBU construction on the Internet. I’ve gotten almost 300,000 views thru wordpress servers (where my blog “lives”) alone, this year, and about triple that in syndication.
And I’m talking about a “niche topic.” Let’s face it, how many people Google “DIY ISBU Homes”?
It’s been almost two years. No takers. And we’ve asked repeatedly. In fact, they no longer even respond to our email.
Now take all this a step further. If I can use pre-made steel boxes to frame my home, I can put them together to make large spaces, and even cut my labor costs, if I use a good design to start with.
And we won’t talk about repurposing, recycling or even resurrecting old unwanted materials to make it work cost effectively… will we? 😉
Wait, I just did. Oops.
While I’m preparing for a revolution, it has nothing to do with insulation. Except to insulate my family from it.
PS. I get asked this question so often that I’m going to run this post for the last time, and then I’m going to make it a permanent “page.”