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Building Science

Can This Panelized System Solve Your Enclosure Problems?

The Build Smart system makes it easy to control heat, air, and water

Air sealing a Build SMART wall panel with a sausage gun.
Image Credit: Energy Vanguard

If you want to build a superinsulated, airtight house, you run into some difficulties. How do you deal with the extra thickness of your walls and ceilings when you add all that extra insulation? What’s the best way to ensure you hit your airtightness goal? And how do you do all that while keeping the process manageable and the cost affordable?

The new Build SMART panelized system has some answers.

I saw it in Philadelphia, twice

At the 2016 North American Passive House Conference in Philadelphia this past September, Adam Cohen presented on his new panelized building system. His goal, he said, was to develop a way to make it easier to achieve Passive House level building enclosures. He also wanted to make it affordable. Over the past few years, he tried out his ideas and found a system that worked. Cohen then partnered with Prosoco to take it to market it and make it scalable. Thus was born Build SMART.

Last month I took another little trip to Philadelphia to see the Build SMART system being installed. Rob Leonard, who’s been working with Cohen for 15 years and is the field technical manager for Build SMART, met me ahead of time and gave me some background on the company and briefed me on the project I would be visiting.

The next day, Rob and I met up with Tim McDonald, a builder, architect, and Certified Passive House Consultant. The two were giving a tour of McDonald’s project and the Build SMART system. McDonald is building a really neat four-story apartment building in the heart of Philly. The project is going to be Passive House certified and was well underway. They had the first three floors already done and were about to start the fourth floor.

Here’s a little…

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  1. User avater
    Ethan ; Climate Zone 5A ; ~6000HDD | | #1

    Sketchup and Revit
    One great thing that Build Smart does is provide Sketchup and Revit modules for designers to play with. This is a great way for anyone to see what they can come up with using these basic components.

  2. Charlie Sullivan | | #2

    I agree that having windows pre installed is a big deal. Otherwise, I wonder why they chose to add additional framing to a SIPS panel.

  3. User avater
    Reid Baldwin | | #3

    Charlie, The framing appears to provide all of the structural support of the upper floors. I think that makes floor construction and installation of electrical much closer to standard construction practice than with SIPS. My guess is that they think of it more as a framed wall with exterior insulation and the outer ZIP panel is the extra thing.

  4. User avater GBA Editor
    Allison A. Bailes III, PhD | | #4

    Response to Charlie Sullivan & Reid Baldwin
    Reid is correct. The framed part of the wall is structural. What looks like a structural insulated panel on the exterior is really just nailbase providing exterior insulation. The interior framing can be filled with insulation and also provides a familiar form for electricians and the other trades.

  5. Malcolm Taylor | | #5

    Reid and Allison
    If the framing is essentially a conventional load-bearing wall, how have they managed to use a 24" spacing and a single top plate? Once the panels are erected do you add another plate?

    i see from the photos they appear to add plates to the bottom of the wall before standing the panels. Any insights as to what's going on?

  6. User avater GBA Editor
    Allison A. Bailes III, PhD | | #6

    Framing details

    That's a great question. I didn't ask them about that while I was there, but I just noticed in one of my photos this morning that the panels come with a single top plate. The builder adds the second top plate in the field to tie in the T-walls.

    I'm not sure why they added the extra bottom plates. I believe that was specific to this job and not a requirement for the Build SMART system.

  7. Robert Leliaert | | #7

    Sill plate
    The bottom treated sill plate was used to protect the foam j-frame when the raft slab was poured. The 10 mil vapor barrier is turned under it and caulked to form a seal as shown in the installation manual on page 15 and in picture #7 of the photos at the beginning of the article. The installation manual is very helpful to aid the understanding of the system build.

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