The Epitome basement foundation system encompasses air and moisture barriers and insulation.
Todd Detwiler The Epitome basement foundation system encompasses air and moisture barriers and insulation.

Most methods for basement construction include laying block or setting forms and pouring concrete. But some builders are turning to composite panels to speed up construction. A unique foundation wall system by Composite Panel Systems of Eagle River, Wis., allows builders to construct basements in a matter of hours, complete with air and moisture barriers, top plates, and insulation.

Invented by Glenn Schiffmann and introduced in June 2014, the Epitome system includes 9-foot-tall wall panels that are constructed from foam-cored fiberglass composite and come in lengths of up to 24 feet. Panels are light enough to be set using a light-duty crane or a material handler, and are joined by connection flanges, as well as double overlapping top plates. An inherent foam core provides an R-16.5 thermal insulation rating and panels include a built-in fire retardant, so builders won’t have to cover them with drywall to achieve final inspection (although it can be added directly over panels using standard screws designed for metal studs). Once seams are sealed between wall panels using a standard mesh and any liquid-applied sealant that’s rated for below-grade installation, backfilling may be performed immediately, following the installation of a concrete floor and first-floor floor joists.

Jim Russell of Russell Builders in Three Lakes, Wis., used Epitome when he faced a time crunch that prohibited poured concrete. “Within hours we had the foundation set,” he says. “When you’re done, the top plates are dead level.”

In October 2014, the product won the Composites and Advanced Materials Exposition Unsurpassed Innovation Award, followed by nationwide code approval; company officials say approval for seismic areas is forthcoming. In terms of cost, Schiffmann admits builders will pay more for his company’s walls than they would for poured concrete. Homeowners interviewed for this article report they paid a 10% to 15% premium for Epitome, with one citing a total added cost of $9,000.

Those homeowners also say the perks are well worth it—most notably how dry and warm their basements feel, along with the extra square footage they obtained via Epitome’s 7-inch thickness. The system also offsets the costs for additional wall framing, as well as insulation, water and vapor barriers, and top (sill) plates.

Currently offered nationwide on a limited basis, Epitome’s availability is expected to ramp up as distribution is established through a network of component manufacturers.