Architect Andres Duany specified InnoVida panels in an affordable prototype for Miami's Liberty City neighborhood.
Courtesy DPZ Architect Andres Duany specified InnoVida panels in an affordable prototype for Miami's Liberty City neighborhood.

Who will rebuild Haiti and provide permanent shelter for the ravaged country’s now estimated one million homeless people? InnoVida, a Miami-based building materials manufacturer, says it can--just not with the standard residential combination of steel, concrete, and wood.

Instead, the company is donating houses made with a product it debuted at last month’s International Builders’ Show (IBS) in Las Vegas: structural insulated panels (SIPs) made of a lightweight fiber composite similar to the material used to make boat hulls, aircraft components, and wind turbine blades. The patented, load-bearing technology is lightweight, waterproof, nonflammable, mold-resistant, and termite-proof. 

The panelized wall and roofing systems also bend with a deflection capacity of 20%, compared to the 5% capacity of your average stick-built home, according to the manufacturer. That translates into a lithe structure that is less prone to crumbling or cracking under severe stress, such as that caused by hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, or tornadoes.

These advantages are why InnoVida has pledged to donate 1,000 of its flat-pack homes--variations of which are already being built in other nature-ravaged parts of the world, including rural China and the Gulf Coast in the United States--to rebuilding efforts in Haiti. According to the Miami Herald, one of several prototypes in the works is a panelized “core house” designed by architect and urban planner Andres Duany. The home sleeps eight and can be expanded over time.

(Duany, who is known for his focus on affordable, sustainable homes and communities, created several prefab cottage concepts for Mississippi and Louisiana in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. He is already working with InnoVida on an affordable housing project in Miami’s “Little Haiti” neighborhood.)

How does InnoVida's product work? Its load-bearing, insulated panels are comprised of structural skins made of high-strength E-glass fiber fabrics, sandwiched around a foam core. The fiber composite material can be used to make exterior and interior walls, beams, columns, profiles, and roofing, since it can be molded into virtually any shape. It can be left raw, or finished with stone, stucco, paint, wallpaper, or other coverings.

The substance used to connect and seal joints between panels is a liquid derivation of the same riber composite material that dries hard to create a monolithic shell, explains Mario Sanchez, vice president of construction operations at InnoVida.

Standard panels are available in a range of shapes and sizes (the largest being 19’6” x 8’3”) and can be used for structures up to three stories. The prefab process includes cut-outs for windows and doorways, as well as architectural curves and angles.

“These are materials that have been available for more than a decade, but they haven’t entered the construction industry until now,” Sanchez says. 

Could these become the building blocks for a new generation of houses that are durable, affordable, energy efficient, and sustainable? InnoVida hopes so. The panels have an R-value of 5.88 per inch, with a total tested wall R-value of 14.6 for a 2.5-inch panel, or 23.7 for a 4-inch panel. “R-24 gives it an insulating factor greater than a refrigerator, whereas a regular wall has an R-value of 6 to 9,” says Sanchez. 

The other major benefit--particularly where disaster relief is concerned--is that the houses can be built quickly. The average InnoVida house can be built in a quarter of the time it takes to build a conventional house, according to the manufacturer. And because all panels are made to order, the building and manufacturing processes produce very little job site waste, air pollution, or natural resource consumption. Finally, the flat-pack homes can be built with no heavy equipment (forklifts or cranes) and only a few skilled workers.

Sanchez estimates that a 1,250 square foot house could be built for $50,000 to $60,000, depending on the market and site conditions.

Founded in 2005, Innovida has operations in Germany, Africa, India, South America, and the Middle East. It plans to build 10 factories in the United States.

Jenny Sullivan is a senior editor covering architecture and design for BUILDER.

Learn more about markets featured in this article: Miami, FL, Las Vegas, NV.