If you were going to build a model of a highly energy-efficient house, you probably would not choose to do so in Paterson, N.J., a rust-belt city near the Passaic River that owes its existence to a large waterfall that none other than Alexander Hamilton exploited for mechanical power. Paterson's waterfall, the second largest in the eastern United States, and its history as the silk capital of the world and the seat of the anarchist movement of the early 20th century, make it a very interesting place.

For BASF, the German chemical conglomerate, Paterson presented an opportunity. It wanted to undertake a project to show off its Styropor expandable polystyrene resin, which can insulate anything to whatever degree is desired in energy-efficient home construction.

Taking a page from “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” BASF teamed with the city of Paterson, the state of New Jersey, more than 150 suppliers and business partners, and the St. Michael's Housing Corporation, a local Catholic charity, to build a home to be donated to a needy local family with a quadriplegic child. The house, designed by BASF corporate architect Gary DeSantis and in consultation with GRAD Associates of Newark, N.J., would serve as a template for the city's planned 3,000-unit urban renewal project.

This spring, Paterson's mayor José Torres, as well as, officials from the U.S. Departments of Energy and Housing and Urban Development and the state Board of Public Utilities, were all on hand for the unveiling.

The building envelope of this home is where the secret lies. The basement and ground floor were built with insulating ICFs from American PolySteel, and the second floor was built SIPs and concrete sandwich panels from Insulspan and Green Sandwich Technologies, respectively. All use BASF's Styropor as the insulating agent, as well as, an integral part of the structure.

BASF claims this method of construction is far more energy efficient and disaster resilient than traditional stick building and that the modest additional cost of this type of construction can be offset by their relative ease of installation compared with traditional methods of building (see “Comparing Construction Costs,” above).

Bill Gelenites, project superintendent with the primary contractor, Karaeinchak Brothers, of Edison, N.J., says, “I was amazed at how simple it is, and I doubted it the whole way.” KBI is a commercial builder, he says, so making a direct comparison with other types of home construction was not possible. But he believes the cost savings in time labor would more than offset the additional cost of the materials. Plus, there are benefits, including insect and mold resistance and the insulating power of the materials.

“When you put heat in it, it stays in it. It's like a big cooler,” he says.

Then, there is the roof, made of metal by Englert, which is covered with BASF's Ultra-Cool, highly reflective coating. It also incorporates a solar-array photovoltaic system from United Solar Ovonics that is laminated to the roof between standing seams and a Dawn Solar System's solar water preheating system that is installed directly underneath.

The net result is a 2,900 square-foot home that is to achieve a 95.5 Energy Star HERS (Home Energy Rating Systems) score, the highest ever achieved in New Jersey (and about 80 percent more efficient than conventional construction). Moreover, it is being dubbed a “zero-energy home,” meaning that the family who moves in should live virtually free of utility bills.

According to Jack Armstrong, director for building and construction markets for BASF at its U.S. headquarters in Florham Park, N.J., this home is intended to demonstrate that green construction is not only practical, but also advisable in the production home building industry. “It is a strategic objective of ours to come up with a program for big builders,” he says. Currently, BASF works with Pulte Homes in its Michigan SIP-building facility.


Learn more about markets featured in this article: New York, NY.