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New Wall System Technologies Help One Church Maximize Its Construction Budget
By: Jeff Peskowitz

A slow economy affects churches just as it does all other organizations, and it can be particularly tough on a congregation’s building fund. So, getting more for each construction dollar is a paramount concern. Achieving this involves not only reducing the immediate cost of construction through on-site efficiency, but also ensuring that the building that is ultimately erected provides greater value in the long run.

One solution that addresses both of these priorities can be found in an unexpected place: within the walls of the building itself. The ideal building envelope technology is a system that is faster and more efficient to construct, and also offers improved energy efficiency and sustainability in the long term.

Looking beyond traditional “bricks and mortar” or concrete masonry unit (CMU) construction, there are five main types of pre-engineered wall panel systems that typically could be used in contemporary church construction projects. These include insulated concrete forms (ICFs), structural insulated panels (SIPs), insulated structural metal panels (ISMPs), tilt-up concrete panels (both pre-cast and poured on site), and steel thermal efficient panels (S.T.E.P.).  

Some of these structural wall systems (such as ICFs, SIPs and tilt-up panels) offer environmental and energy-saving benefits, but require highly skilled crews and specialized equipment to install. Others, such as ISMPs, help shorten construction time and offer good energy efficiency, but pose difficult problems for electrical, plumbing, mechanical, and interior finish trades.

The newest system, S.T.E.P., effectively addresses the various issues without the drawbacks often associated with other panel systems. S.T.E.P. systems employ a panel that is fabricated with a proprietary technology, which fuses cold-formed steel framing members and expanded polystyrene (EPS) into pre-engineered panels.  

S.T.E.P. system panels enable greatly improved onsite construction efficiency because they combine framing, batt insulation, and continuous rigid insulation into a single system, which is installed in a single step. They also offer greater value in the long run and make it possible to respond to today’s more demanding new energy performance requirements.

Cutting Construction Time
For members of the True Life Ministries congregation in Racine, Wisconsin, the use of a S.T.E.P. wall system provided an important, and immediate, benefit—it enabled them to move in sooner. Their new 39,000-square-foot building houses the congregation’s sanctuary, as well as 11 new offices, a bookstore, daycare rooms, youth room, and other facilities. Using a S.T.E.P. system enabled the congregation to shave many weeks off the 18-month construction schedule.
“I was impressed with the way the panels went up so fast,” said Ronald Bogard, superintendent of construction for True Life Ministries. “We were able to cut our construction time significantly.”
In many applications, the construction cycle for wall construction can be reduced by as much as 66 percent over other conventional framing systems, according to RS Means Construction Cost Data.
In addition, the S.T.E.P. wall system was also considerably less expensive – an important consideration in any project.
S.T.E.P. panels generally are fabricated in four-foot widths, with two specially shaped steel studs spaced at 24 inches on center. Thermal slots in the studs optimize structural and thermal performance, and the panels themselves lock together to minimize air intrusion and insulation gaps. 
A S.T.E.P. system can be used in both structural and curtain-wall applications, which is how the panels were used on the True Life Ministries building, in combination with steel girders. In either case, window and door openings are pre-cut, with an open cavity that simplify the installation of electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems.

Long-Term Value
While construction cost and speed were the factors that initially attracted True Life Ministries to the S.T.E.P. system, the energy savings provided by the panels will ultimately prove to be of even greater long-term value, while also enabling the building to comply with today’s new, more stringent code requirements, such as the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers’ ASHRAE 90.1-2007 energy standard.
This version of the ASHRAE standard specifies a full 30 percent increase in required R-values over the 2004 standard. Other recently upgraded energy efficiency standards include updates to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) and state codes such as California’s Title 24, all of which are calling for increases in energy savings.
In the climate zones that make up the majority of the United States, the latest ASHRAE commercial thermal performance requirements for exterior above-grade walls with steel framing call for an R-13 product plus 7.5 inches of continuous insulation, producing a U-factor requirement of .064. (U-factor is a more comprehensive measure of total heat transfer through one square foot of the total wall assembly.)
S.T.E.P. wall systems not only meet this new standard, they easily exceed it. Because the EPS foam insulation is fused seamlessly into each panel, gaps, sagging, and installation errors are eliminated. Thermal slots in the stud optimize structural and thermal performance, and the panels themselves lock together to minimize air intrusion and eliminate insulation gaps.
As a result, S.T.E.P. wall systems offer the opportunity for exceptional energy savings. Further, because all components are factory fabricated to precise requirements, the amount of on-site waste is reduced dramatically. In addition, S.T.E.P. systems’ steel framing members are made of recycled steel and are themselves recyclable. As a result, a S.T.E.P. wall system can contribute points to as many as four LEED categories.
Today, as congregations struggle to plan for long-term growth while still coping with the reality of the current economic slowdown, greater building efficiency – in both the short and long term – is a must. Fortunately, today’s new S.T.E.P. wall systems offer a solution that addresses these concerns, while also helping them move into needed new facilities more quickly.

Jeff Peskowitz is the director of distribution sales and marketing for Accelerated Building Technologies, www.accbt.com.


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