The home of the future

Robin Trenda

Photo By Josh Indar

Robin Trenda is a Chico contractor building an ecologically friendly house for some clients who wanted their home to have a smaller impact on the earth. The owners wanted it to be energy efficient, use as little wood as possible and be free from the harmful chemicals found in traditional construction. Trenda said all the materials used in the home are from suppliers within 100 miles and that, down to the recycled cotton insulation in some of the inner walls, almost everything in the home is toxin-free. This is only the second such home built in Chico, Trenda said.

So this is an energy-efficient house?

Yes, extremely. We’re using a new technology in building construction called SIP—structurally insulated panels. Essentially what it is [is] ETS foam sandwiched with OSB plywood on the inside and outside. It creates a really tight building because there’s no gaps in the wall cavities at all. Once it gets sealed … it’s a very tight building, extremely quiet and energy efficient.

There are no studs?

Well, there are on the interior walls [and] around the windows. But if it’s less than four feet the structure is strong enough … that’s the other advantage. You get an extremely strong building. The shear value is incredible because you’re sheared on the inside and out. In this type of wall you don’t call it a stud, you call it a spline. When you join two panels together … you have two pieces of lumber together. So you don’t have studs in the traditional sense. It’s an incredibly rigid building.

How’s the cost?

Well, I’ll find out more when I’m done with this one. This is much more popular in the mountains, Tahoe, Grass Valley, places like that. In this building, you’ve got your panel, which is your ceiling and your roof at the same time, so there’s a huge advantage anywhere you want to do a vaulted ceiling. I don’t know if it’s 10 percent more, 15 percent more, 20 percent—I’m not exactly sure yet. But I think they probably figure 10 to 15 percent on the framing costs.

The other reason this is gaining popularity is that it’s very low in wood use. The only wood in it is the OSB panel, which can be any kind of scrap—it’s just chipboard, so you don’t have to cut down a whole forest to build a house.

And then the heating cost should be less …

Oh, you’ll save a bunch. It’ll pay for itself in 12 years, maybe 10, something like that, at current prices, which, you know it’s going to up. After that, you’ve got an incredibly efficient, quiet house.