New panelized homes attract the energy-conscious
There are two adjacent panelized residences on Douglas Road in Punta Gorda. BARBARA BOXLEITNER/FLORIDA WEEKLY
Panelized homes and buildings continue to gain popularity as the green movement sweeps across the country.
New Panel Homes Inc. in Englewood is among the companies bringing this energy-efficient panelized structure to the forefront. Brian and Jeanne Bishop founded New Panel Homes, which does residential and commercial construction, after previously founding Home Front Inc., with which it is no longer connected.
In its May issue, Reader’s Digest magazine cited New Panel Homes in its list of 25 ideas, inventions and gadgets to improve life. The magazine quoted Mr. Bishop and Rob Andrys of Robert A. Andrys Architects Inc., a Lee Countybased independent contractor who has created one of New Panel Homes’ design collections.
“Reader’s Digest gave us international exposure,” Mr. Bishop said. “On a daily basis, we’re getting calls from the West to the Midwest. Our work is primarily in Florida, Georgia and southern states, the Caribbean, Haiti and South America.”
Mr. Bishop is considered a pioneer in panelized home construction. “When I started this in 1999, there was very little interest in having an energy-efficient home,” he said.
Mr. Bishop said the home construction industry had been relying on products and designs that were old. As the housing market failed, it started to re-emerge with “a leaner and smarter” house. “It was a complete retool,” he said. “If you don’t retool every few years, you’re behind.”
Now as head of another prosperous company, he continues to expand his portfolio with projects that are being recognized by industry leaders. His panelized method was used in the Habitat for Humanity homes on Central Avenue in Sarasota. The project was honored with an Aurora Grand Award in the Green Construction category in 2009. The Aurora Award is the design competition of the Southeast Building Conference.
The National Association of Home Builders indicates that, “From saving time to controlling costs and quality, reducing construction material waste and more, it’s no wonder that more and more home builders and buyers are choosing panelized home construction.”
Jennifer Goodman is senior editor for EcoHome magazine, a Hanley-Wood publication devoted to green building. She writes, “A study comparing the construction of identical houses, one site-built with conventional framing, the other panelized, found that the panelized project saved 253 hours of labor and $4,560 in labor costs.”
New Panel buildings are certified green according to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, Florida Green Building Coalition or other standards. The pre-fabricated buildings use structural insulated panels for the walls and roof — as opposed to traditional studs and plywood — joined by a high-tech connection system. Because of its design, Mr. Bishop said the home does not have “a thousand little parts” like the conventional home does. Mr. Bishop’s prefab homes are designed to have 300 or fewer parts, rather than the 4,500 parts he said an average house has.
The structural insulated panels are made from a thick layer of polystyrene or polyurethane between two layers of James Hardie cement board. The materials and design make the homes hurricane resistant. “The Hardie Board won’t rot, burn or deteriorate,” Mr. Andrys said. “It’s better quality. It’s 21st century technology.”
Mr. Bishop’s designs can reduce energy costs by 50 percent and construction costs by 15 percent. He said the average peak energy bill is about $50 a month, which translates to a savings of about $40,000 over 30 years. “The cumulative effect of waste is just profound,” he said.
Mr. Bishop is driven by a desire to save resources for current and future generations. “Everything we do is about consumption,” he said. “We’re going to be caught short. The best we can do is to conserve now.”
The New Panel online site suggests that home seekers can purchase building kits featuring New Panel stock designs or one of the company’s architects can design and build a custom structure. The company also helps convert traditional designs into panelized ones.
Homes don’t have the grand square footage found in more traditional construction. For example, a Peace River Shores home Mr. Bishop designed has 700 square feet. “They haven’t learned yet that a couple can live well in a 1,000 square foot home (rather) than in a 1,500 square feet poorly designed one,” he said.
This design philosophy is apparent from a street view of homes, some of which have a simple front with an enclosed porch. Homes like this, including neighboring ones, can be seen along Douglas Road, near Kings Highway in Punta Gorda.
“They’re affordable, simple homes,” Mr. Andrys said about New Panel Homes. “The retirees are really liking the two-bedroom and three-bedroom homes. They’re energy-efficient, so they won’t end up spending all their retirement money.”
New Panel Homes offers collections by Mr. Andrys and architects Ed Binkley and Bruce Tolar. Mr. Bishop called Mr. Andrys an “expert at institutional housing” because of his designs for charity projects. Mr. Andrys has designed the Freedom House for the green Casa San Juan Bosco community in Arcadia, where low-income farm workers and dependents can have affordable, subsidized housing.
Mr. Bishop said Mr. Binkley is “an expert at small house design.” Mr. Binkley, president of Ed Binkley Design in Oviedo, has created a modern onebedroom plan of 528 square feet and a traditional two-bedroom plan of 600 square feet.
And Mr. Tolar is an “expert at southern traditional design and cottage design,” Mr. Bishop said. Mr. Tolar’s architectural and planning firm on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, Architect Bruce B. Tolar P.A., was integral in the recovery from Hurricane Katrina because his Katrina Cottage concept was the foundation for Cottage Square in Ocean Springs, Miss. His blueprints range from 1,230 square feet for a three-bedroom, two-bathroom model to 1,845 square feet for a threebedroom, three-bathroom home.
Unlike modular homes, which are mostly complete when they are delivered to a site, panelized homes are built in panels assembled on site. “You can put the whole house together in a week,” Mr. Andrys said.
Because panels are prefabricated, experts cite little construction waste when the panels are being put together on site and little disturbance to the building site.
Mr. Bishop believes there is no demographic for the product. “Everybody needs energy-efficient dwellings that are durable and meet the green standards,” he said. “Everybody benefits.”
Costs vary depending on the size of home, but it has been reported that a 1,200-square foot home would cost about $110,000, including the lot price. ¦