Most of what's left of Pulte Homes' Manassas, Va., experiment to produce all the major structural components of houses is being loaded and hauled to New Braunfels, Texas, where it will become part of Andover Capital Group's plan to grow its whole-house structural insulated panel (SIP) business.

Andover Capital's subsidiary EH Systems Holdings has bought almost everything in Pulte's plant, which closed last March, including manufacturing equipment capable of producing giant sections of SIPS, open-web floor truss assembly systems, preassembled flooring equipment, and metal stud forming and wall panel machinery. Andover even bought the factory's office equipment, says president Mac McDonald. The only thing left behind will be the equipment Pulte used to create preformed basement foundations. DevonWorth Homes, EH Systems' building subsidiary, doesn't need that because it builds houses on slabs, not basement foundations. Terms of the sale were not released.

EH Holdings is using the SIPs, a sandwich of oriented strand board with polystyrene in the middle, to build both the walls and the roofs of homes, creating houses it says are extremely energy efficient. The wall systems developed by Pulte will be married to EH Systems specialized SIP roofing system. The result will be a house that is strong, energy efficient, and that can be assembled faster and with less on-site labor, according to McDonald.

The company provides SIPs for both its own home building operation as well as for other builders. The new equipment is expected to quadruple the company's capacity. With the additional construction capacity coupled with a larger factory, the company will have plenty of excess capacity to meet the needs of its own building operations in the Austin area and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, as well as that of other home builders, McDonald said.

The equipment will also allow EH to increase its panel size from a maximum of four feet wide and 24 feet long to single panels that are nine feet wide and 24 feet long and wall sections as long as 32 feet. "The larger panels will provide our current customers with a more versatile product and will allow us to expand into other markets segments such as institutional, government, commercial and, multifamily construction," McDonald said.

"What we are saying to builders we are selling panels to is, not only is this good from the green building standpoint, but it also falls to the bottom line for a builder," McDonald added. "A builder who uses a SIP framing process saves cycle time. It saves labor costs."

The goal is to have all the equipment moved and installed within four months and everything up and running within six. While SIP construction now makes up only about 1 percent of total construction, McDonald said he is hopeful he can double that now.

"Pulte is the only one who dedicated a lot of resources to building from SIPs," said McDonald. "We certainly think they were doing the right thing and heading down the right production path to do this...We are just happy that we are able to work with them because they are a fine company. I think we are very happy, and I think they were satisfied with the transaction."

Pulte was happy with the homes it was constructing out of the factory components from Manassas. "We built great homes, great components," Mark Marymee, Pulte's director of corporate communications, said shortly after the plant closed. "These weren't just cookie-cutter floor plans. We were able to take pretty much any floor plan that people could buy in Northern Virginia and put it in the computer and build the components."

But, in the end, those houses were more expensive for Pulte to build than stick-built houses were. "What you are striving for is volume," Marymee explained. And before the plant reached full production, the market turned south. "And here we are with a plant with a lot equipment and people in it and that just doesn't work when market conditions change the way that they did."

Yet McDonald is confident he can make the model work. He has computed that SIP construction makes economical sense as far as 500 miles away from the factory.