The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

May 2011 Joplin tornado

August 31, 2012

Residents use green building techniques to conserve utilities

Hugh Shields wanted to build a house of the future that is comfortable and that his grandchildren could appreciate.

Bob Sheldon looked for something strong and efficient.

Frank Schaffer set his sights on building new houses people could afford even when the utility bills arrive.

Though they all have settled on different construction methods for rebuilding homes they lost in the Joplin tornado, they share one goal: energy efficiency.

Shields and his wife, Ramona, are using structural insulated panels — SIPs — wall construction. The walls come in 6-inch-thick panels that consist of insulating foam sandwiched between oriented strand board.

Every component, from the extra-tall roof trusses that made room for a thicker blanket of insulation to the concrete floors, was selected for the contribution it could make to heating or cooling the house efficiently.

Shields said he had lived in older houses before that were hard to heat and cool uniformly. He wanted his new house to be comfortable throughout.

“I also wanted to be seen by children as looking ahead,” he said. All of the materials used are sustainable so that the house can be repaired or updated in the future using the same materials, not wasting natural resources. “This is my way of paying it forward,” Shields said.

 Shields, an engineer by profession, has long been interested in energy conservation and sustainability methods.

Faced with rebuilding from the Joplin tornado, he sought out building techniques through the GreenTown Joplin organization.

GreenTown distributes information about energy-efficient and sustainable construction from an office on the second floor of Suzanne’s Natural Foods, 3106 Connecticut Ave. The group also makes information available on a Facebook page and at

Catherine Hart, general manager of GreenTown, said the organization has been holding seminars for residents to see the options for energy-efficient construction. Those methods in the past have been regarded as materials hard to obtain and expensive. But no more, she said.

“It makes it easier for them to move forward once they realize it doesn’t have to be difficult” with green building, if they are made aware of the options, she said. “They can see it makes a lot of sense.”

Across town, a recent open house at the home of Bob and Julie Sheldon, 2017 S. Florida Ave., drew a couple of hundred people interested in seeing the two-story Victorian-inspired house being constructed of ARXX insulated concrete foam block.

Sheldon said the main reason the couple chose ICF is for the strength of the concrete-filled foam block in standing up to windstorms. “After seeing what the tornado did to traditional houses, I looked for something else. I felt this was a safer way to go to, plus a way to protect valuable items or things you might want to save,” he said. A safe room is built into the house with the ICF block.

The energy savings that ICF provides because of its 6-inch thick construction “was the ultimate factor in the decision to do this,” Sheldon said.

He said the walls offer an insulating value of R-50 and a thermal wicking effect to pull heat into the house in cold months. The 3,000-square-foot home will use a heating and cooling system for a house half that size, he said. He expects his utility bills to be 30 to 40 percent lower than he would otherwise pay.

He will use a natural-gas heating system along with a fireplace, but believes that the house is so insulated that in the event of a heating system failure “it is going to take several days before it’s going to get cool enough to be uncomfortable.”

The Sheldons have high expectations of energy savings because they first built a detached garage from the ICF material. It stayed comfortable without being heated, Sheldon said, and in addition the heavy insulation qualities kept the building quiet, even shutting out the operation of heavy equipment in the lot behind his, he said.

A third type of energy-saving construction will be undertaken by Frank Schaffer, the owner of F.E. Schaffer Construction. He will start rebuilding his house this fall at 2215 W. 27th St. He will build it as a model home to demonstrate Energy Star 3.0 standards.

“Most people’s concept of the Energy Star program is looking at appliances and windows,” Schaffer said, but it also involves construction methods.

“The concept has been around 20 years,” he said. “We’re taking modern building materials and using special framing techniques and high-efficiency equipment.”

The construction method calls for insulated housing to be built around air ducts so that cold and warm air is not lost in the attic. It’s a concept called conditioned airspace.

Schaffer can build the houses in any price range, but he has set a goal of building about 50 in the $115,000 price range in the next five years for people with limited incomes.

He said a house payment is something that people can budget because it is a known amount each month. What makes homeownership a financial challenge for some is meeting unexpected costs.

“Energy is the unexpected cost,” he said. “When it gets hot and you get that utility bill for $200 to $300, that’s an unexpected cost. We should never be over $100 month” on electric bills with the construction techniques and products he advocates, Schaffer said.

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May 2011 Joplin tornado
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