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Steel Wall and Roof Panels

November 19, 2008

The wall and roof system of this house has been the driving idea behind the design from the very beginning.  I had come across two houses in California that had been designed by two different architects that had utilized insulated steel panels for the walls, and I was intrigued by the idea that I could use mass produced, factory built wall panels that arrive on site already painted, finished and ready to bolt onto the structure (Lundberg Design). Add to this assembly process the feature that these panels provide a super-insulated wall and roof system, and I knew this was what I wanted to use for this house.

First I found a company in Park City Utah that specialized in steel panel construction and I had many interesting conversations with them and one of their partner architects Anderson Anderson .  Eventually, I decided that they were too far away and a little less flexible than I wanted for my house design, so I decided I’d have to cobble together my own team here in Massachusetts.

I started with Centria  – they have a beautiful panel line, and they had recently been certified as cradle to cradle by MBDC (Bill McDonough’s company ), but they turned out not to be set up for small projects like this.  They prefer hundreds of thousands of square feet per order, and when I finally got a price from them, it was three times as high as the sales guy had predicted.

There are several panel making companies, and a few that specialize in the very thick panels that I needed to fulfill my super-insulated goals.  These panels are usually used for food storage or freezer buildings, and are not detailed for aesthetics.  This has turned out to be one of the major design challenges I faced: how to make a building look and feel residential while using very industrial materials and trim.

For a while I was stuck.  Centria offered the best look, but was very pricey and didn’t make the very thick panels.  Some of the other companies made thick panels but only offered them in finishes that I was afraid would make the building look like a self storage facility.  In the end, I found a company that offered what I wanted: a five inch thick wall panel, rated at R-41, with a flat finish and a good choice of colors.  It turns out that Alum Shield, a division of Metecno,  which was recently acquired by Kingspan, was my solution.   These steel panel companies are huge, and very international.  My order, of course, was out of the ordinary and caused no end of problems down in Florida.  I wanted a flat finish on a freezer building panel and I wanted a custom color and then, because they told me that the flat finish might cause problems, so I ordered heavier gauge steel for the exterior skin.  They ordered the wrong gauge steel, then they lost the barrel of paint, then, I don’t know what happened then, but order arrived six weeks late.  But it did arrive!

Unloading Steel Panels

Unloading Steel Panels

One of the issues that affected the cost and time required for assembly was that when steel panel buildings are typically erected, they put all the panels up first and cut holes for the windows and doors later.  A freezer building might have a couple of doors and no windows, so this makes sense.  But my house design calls for fully 25% of the wall area to be doors and windows, so cutting out and throwing away 1,000 square feet of panels would be a huge waste of  material and money.  As a result, we needed to change the standard process of attaching panels and cut the panels before they got attached.  This meant pre-planning and carefully numbering all the panels before getting started.

Numbered Panels

Numbered Panels

We designed the width and placement of the windows to work on the grid line created by the panel seams, which, when you allow for caulk, is 42 and one eighth inches.  Needless to say, we had to tinker with this as the framing went up.

Checking Layout with Sample Panel

Checking Layout with Sample Panel

With a game plan and field measurements, we were finally ready to unwrap the presents from Florida.

Cutting Bundles Open

Cutting Bundles Open

Each window or door opening requires a short panel below, inbetween and above.  Erection Specialists bought a brand new specialized saw just for this job, and they were eager to put it to work.  It is an cross between a circular saw and a chain saw, and the CD-ROM that came with it shows it is designed specifically for cutting steel panels like these.

Putting the new saw to work

Putting the new saw to work

The first day didn’t go as well as planned.  First, there was a problem with the screws (self tapping instead of self drilling), then a problem with the drill bit, then the wrong drill driver.  And finally, the new saw busted.  At the end of that day, all we had managed to accomplish was to affix one panel.  And that one panel was tied to the structure with rope.

Mixing Old Technology with New

Mixing Old Technology with New

Fortunately, the next day went much better.  We had the right screws the right drills and a replacement saw, which had been shipped overnight from somewhere far away.  Dave Keane, master carpenter and president of “By Others” construction worked with his assistant Tim to put the windows into the openings as the walls went up.  By the end of the second day, we had one wall, untrimmed, but looking fantastic.  For the very first time, we got to see how the wall panels looked, in place, and with the windows.

First Wall w/ Windows

First Wall w/ Windows

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Stephanie permalink
    November 19, 2008 7:22 pm

    Sorry about all the headaches, but the wall looks fantastic!

  2. steve. esi. permalink
    November 27, 2008 6:53 pm

    it is grate to be involved on this project.

  3. steve.erection specialsts.esi permalink
    December 7, 2008 4:37 pm

    beig a worker on this project has not given me the time to really look at the beauty of this home. iv worked on homes from the tops of the foundations 2 the tops of there roofs. knowin the concept of this homes idear, in the long run this home could most likely have paid 4 itself. havein compleated most of the roof panels sat. it looks awsome. grate idear bill. hope 2 work on others… think of homes constucted like this in places like plum island. where homes are getting washed away from mother nature.

  4. Bob permalink
    March 10, 2009 9:26 am

    Hi we are building sip homes in Australia and are looking for a suitable saw for cutting the steel panels can you recommend the one you have used and if so can you let me know the make, model, supplier details etc

    • steve, permalink
      January 13, 2010 6:06 pm

      bob, im steve. i cut 95% of these panels,the saw we started with was not the saw we finishd with. it was over priced, & useless after cuting a few panals. the blade becam very dull after the few cuts, did not cut antmore. & cost $100’s to buy a new one.your best bet is2 use a large skill saw with a meatal cutting blade. u can also revers a woodblade. you must be extreamly carefull when doing this! as its meatal u are cutting… but with proper safty gloves & aproved facegard this is what iv experenced 2 be the easiest & most productive way of cutting these panels out in the field.

  5. June 11, 2010 3:15 pm

    Looks like your doing a good job with this blog.

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