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New Panel Systems Resist Fire and Rot

After 31 years of experience as a general contractor, David Shields drafted plans for another business.

Late last year, Shields, chief executive officer of D.A. Shields Construction and a board member with the U.S. Green Building Council’s Pacific Region Council, formed Kwik-Build Panels LLC, with his wife, Evelyn Shields. The business distributes prefabricated panel systems for commercial and residential construction.

Kwik-Panels is a West Coast distributor of ThermaSteel Corp., which manufactures the panels made of expanded polystyrene, a material similar to Styrofoam, bonded to steel sheets.

While it may be a hard sell for the Shields to introduce an alternative product to architects, developers and homebuyers accustomed to wood, the “green aspects” are creating a buzz.

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“It is a wonderful time as far as the public’s conscience for environmentally friendly products,” said Erin Hofberg with ThermaSteel. “With rapid deforestation and the landfill crisis, we are a niche market that is becoming mainstream.”

Stephen Kapp, a technology resource manager with the California Center for Sustainable Energy, said while alternative building products have been slow to catch on, he is seeing an increased usage.

“They have a number of benefits that go beyond stick build,” said Kapp. He cited energy efficiency and use of recycled materials as two of those benefits.

Kapp added disadvantages include dealing with subcontractors and inspectors not familiar with the product.

Shields said he has seen much change in the past three decades of building but not in building materials.

“We have been building the same way for hundreds of years now. We have to look toward technology,” he said.

Raul Thompson, owner of San Diego-based Advanced Building Systems, said it is not that wood is a bad choice, it is just that he prefers to build with materials and methods that he called infinitely better on most any measurable level for comparable costs.

Thompson has worked with a dozen prefabricated systems over the past 30 years and has served as a distributor of ThermaSteel for six years.

“Today people are a lot more educated, interested and almost demanding from the marketplace, from the builders, and from the architects that they spec in something more energy efficient, stronger and more environmental,” said Thompson.

He worked on eight residential projects using ThermaSteel in San Diego.

Brian Nicholson, director of design and construction services at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, said ThermaSteel panels were used in the construction of two student residence halls both more than 200,000 square feet in size. Nicholson said the prefabricated panel system was selected because of speed of construction. He added that he would use this system again.

Numerous prefabricated panel systems are used in the United States, including products from Staunton, Va.-based Koreteck, Mooresville, Ind.-based ThermoCore and Irwindale-based Metal Stud Crete. The Shields said they had studied these systems and many more before deciding on ThermaSteel last year.

Evelyn Shields said the risks were simple.

“We asked, ‘Which was the best and more efficient system to use to make construction more efficient, less time consuming and less labor intensive’ and this was it,” said Shields. “The safer and smarter we can build structures, the better.”

Costs for panels are comparable to traditional construction, but require short construction times and less skilled labor to install, said Evelyn Shields.

ThermaSteel systems have been used in more than 60,000 projects in 50 states and 27 countries, including retail, offices, dormitories, apartments, churches and military housing since 1975.

A standard 4-foot by 8-foot panel weights 45 pounds , 80 percent less than similarly sized traditional construction components. These panels can be used for walls, floors and roofs.

In addition to light weight, installation of the panels doesn’t create dust. Moreover, they don’t mold, don’t rot and resist fire and noise, said David Shields. They can withstand hurricanes and earthquakes, he claims.

Door and window openings and chase ways for electrical conduits are built into the panels during manufacturing.

Hofberg said owners of structures built with ThermaSteel panels should realize at least a 30 percent savings in heating and cooling costs.

The Shields launched their Kwik-Build business shortly before October’s wildfires.

At the recent San Diego Rebuilds convention at the California Center for the Arts in Escondido in mid-November, Kwik-Build Panels joined dozens of other architects, attorneys, construction contractors, estimators, experts in local building departments, insurance representatives, tax and lending professionals, the Contractors State Licensing Board of California and the Better Business Bureau to reach out to fire victims.

“We wanted them to know there are options,” said Shields.

Just last month, the Shields introduced Kwik-Build Panels at a fire marshals meeting in Mission Valley. Shields said the attendees were interested in alternative building products that don’t burn.

“I had a number ask for my card because they were planning on building their own homes this spring,” said Shields.

Evelyn Shields said Kwik-Panel’s goal is to have a West Coast plant for panels in the next few years.

Kwik-Build Panels has erected a model structure at its Kearny Mesa office.

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