As contractors, architects and building owners focus on energy efficiency, they may often overlook a critical factor that affects not only energy consumption but the long-term durability of a building: moisture. Failure to properly control moisture - and the structural problems, mold and other complications that result - is one of the most significant risks that building owners face.
Fortunately, recent advances in wall panel systems offer greatly improved defenses against moisture and its related problems. For example, an innovative new approach, the accel-E™ Steel Thermal Efficient Panel (STEP) wall system, replaces traditional framing, insulation and sheathing components with strong, energy-efficient insulating panels that offer outstanding protection against the effects of moisture, according to Andy Claypole, president of Accelerated Building Technologies, which developed and markets the system.
"Moisture is a major cause of serious building envelope problems, in addition to contributing to lower energy efficiency," said Claypole. He pointed out that, in addition to lower R-values, moisture also contributes to material deterioration, mold and higher demand on HVAC systems.
"Moisture-related issues are also a major liability concern," he added, noting that problems with moisture intrusion and mold have led to multi-million dollar damage claims against some contractors. Some industry information suggests that in some areas of the country over 80 percent of warranty/callback expenses are associated with moisture-related problems. Elevated moisture content in wood structures can also contribute to swelling, twisting and shrinkage as it undergoes recurring stages of absorption and drying.
"Fortunately, the accel-E™ STEP system helps builders avoid these concerns," Claypole said. The panels are manufactured using a proprietary production technology that fuses steel framing components and expandable polystyrene (EPS) together to create energy efficient, lightweight, strong, easy-to-install panels.
"The non-porous materials in the accel-E™ system are not susceptible to capillary action," Claypole said. "In addition, because of their superior insulating properties, the wall cavity is less prone to condensation."
The accel-E™ STEP system also offers excellent insulation and acoustic performance, as well as lower on-site labor costs, streamlined construction scheduling, reduced waste, and overall improved building quality.
"The result is a monolithic energy efficient thermal envelope," said Claypole. "In addition to reducing both heating and cooling costs, the system is not susceptible to the problems associated with moisture infiltration and condensation within the wall cavity."
The accel-E™ panels are made from recycled materials and are also 100 percent recyclable. Because of these environmental characteristics, accel-E™ panels contribute points toward qualifying for the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED® rating system.
Window and door openings are precut for quick on-site installation, and the open cavity on the panel interior offers space for electrical and plumbing components. The simple installation process further shortens the construction cycle, and enables contractors to reduce both the size and required skill levels of their on-site construction crews.
"The accel-E™ STEP system is a fast building technology that not only offers a stronger, more energy-efficient wall that is cost-effective to build and maintain, it also helps avoid the long-term structural problems that can result from high moisture content in traditional framing materials," Claypole concluded.
The accel-E™ panels are fabricated in a variety of thicknesses, ranging from 5½ to 8 inches, depending on individual project requirements. Panels can be any height up to 48 feet. The materials used in the panels are fire resistant, and also resist mold, mildew, termites and other insects.