Foam, sweet home - East Valley Tribune: Phoenix & The Valley Of The Sun

Foam, sweet home

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Posted: Saturday, August 20, 2005 6:25 am | Updated: 7:35 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Seeds of a far-reaching revolution have been planted on a quiet street at the edge of Scottsdale.

That’s the claim of the builders of a house of foam — its walls constructed largely of the same kind of material used for coffee cups and fastfood containers.

The 3,300-square -foot home in the Hidden Hills community close to Scottsdale’s boundary with Fountain Hills marks a major technological leap forward for environmentally sensitive construction, said engineer and inventor Nasser Saebi.

Its combination of energy efficiency, structural solidity, resource conservation and low construction costs heralds a radical change in the way homes and communities around the world can be designed and built, Saebi said.

The house was ceremoniously unveiled Friday by officials of Strata International Group Inc., a Valley-based company that designs and licenses construction technologies.

Its crown jewel of building methods is the one Saebi developed using polystyrene — commonly known by the brand name Styrofoam.

He has patented a technique that binds the lightweight foam and a glass fiber-reinforced concrete.

The fusion of the materials offers enough strength and durability to construct a house like the one in Hidden Hills without using any standard framing or reinforcement — wood, steel or otherwise — and without a single nail, bolt or screw.

The insulation provided by the composite materials should be effective enough that the house can be heated or cooled using about half the energy it takes for a home built with conventional materials, Strata International officials said.

The company asserts its foam house also can be made more resistant to fire, mold and pests than typical homes, and better able to withstand such hazards as earthquakes or violent wind storms.

If the construction method is applied on a large scale, the price of the houses would drop to less than those built with conventional materials, company officials said.

Scottsdale is giving the Hidden Hills house its seal of approval through the city’s Green Building Program, which encourages environmentally friendly development.

Mayor Mary Manross on Friday lauded the project and Strata International’s plans to market the technology globally.

"The world doesn’t know it yet, but this really is history in the making," Manross said.

The foam house adds to an array of homes and other buildings in Scottsdale that feature advances in environmental design and energy conservation, she said.

Among them are a hydrogen-powered home, several solar-powered homes and other buildings using straw-bale materials and insulating concrete blocks to achieve better energy efficiency.

Scottsdale is supporting such projects, along with the foam house "because we want to stay in the vanguard of the environmental effort," Manross said.

On the outside, the foam house looks typical. The difference is what’s behind the stucco and wallboard.

The walls consist of 8-inch-thick blocks of polystyrene coated with a quarterinch-thick "skin’ of the fiber concrete, said Tom Hahn, the project architect.

"The layer of concrete is too thin to work just by itself and the foam is too weak to work by itself. But when you bond them together, it’s a marvel," Hahn said. "I hesitate to call it a miracle material. But in a way, it is."

Hahn, who works for Phoenix-based Sol Source Architecture, said he has done projects using almost every other environmentally sensitive, energy-efficient construction method.

The technique used for the foam house "is better by every measure than the others," he said.

Saebi said the method may have its greatest potential for a significant impact in Third World nations.

Foam buildings could be the answer to housing growing populations more affordably, as well as more securely, particularly in regions threatened by extreme climates or prone to earthquakes, he said.

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