Collaboration Yields U.S. Patent for Green Building Materials

University of Colorado Denver (CU) professor and architect Julee Herdt, in collaboration with John Hunt of the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), and Kellen Schauermann, architect, CU alumnus and research assistant, recently received a patent for environmental construction materials.

BioSIPs structural panels for wall, floor, and roof constructions.

The patent includes software and material science for converting 100 percent waste fibers, such as post-consumer wastepaper, agriculture residues, flowers, hemp, wood scraps, noxious weeds, dead trees, and other unwanted cellulose, into high-strength construction boards.  Using the technology, these dense yet lightweight and strong boards are bent and flexed into a virtually limitless array of shapes, from flat to complex, for making energy-efficient, non-off-gassing building materials, and buildings. The software also allows for associated manufacturing, economic, and recycling scenarios to be studied while the waste fiber eco-products are being designed. Continue reading

High-Rise Wood Buildings: Interactive Map Shows Construction Around the World

It’s safe to say we have a thing for tall wood buildings here at the Forest Products Laboratory.

Dalston Lane is a 121-home development set to open in London this summer.

Dalston Lane is a 121-home development set to open in London this summer.

Case in point: We study what happens to their moisture content during construction, look at how they perform in earthquakes, test fire retardant treatments for their components, host workshops about them and post the presentations for all the world to see, and even sponsor large events, like the Mass Timber Conference happening in Portland, Oregon, this week!

With all that in mind, you can imagine our excitement when published an interactive map (swoon!) of all the wooden high-rises in the world, some completed, others under construction or in concept. Scroll through the list or click a number on the map to read about the buildings’ features, see photos and drawings, and find out more via website links.

Even if you’re not quite as obsessed with wood as we are, we guarantee you won’t be disappointed with this cyber-trip around the world to see some truly stunning architecture.

FPL Partner Procures Patent: Better Building With BioSIPS

Whether serving as a bookshelf, tabletop, or wall panel, the composite board is a ubiquitous construction material found in furniture and homes alike. Traditional composite boards use mankind’s most trusted building resource, wood, as a base — but a new patented process using waste products stands to revolutionize the familiar building material, making it even more sustainable and environmentally friendly.


BioSIPS use low-value recycled material to make high-value structural materials.

Julee Herdt, a professor at the University of Colorado – Denver, and Kellen Schauermann, a former graduate student, were recently awarded a patent for their Bio-Structural Insulated Panels (BioSIPS) system. BioSIPS are structural boards comprised of waste material such as recycled paper, noxious weeds, industrial hemp, and forest debris.

Herdt, the CEO and president of BioSIPS Inc., hopes that her product will help ease the environmental and energy concerns of tomorrow.

Although wood-based Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) have been around for some time, Herdt’s BioSIPS, made from 100% recycled material, could replace their conventional wood counterparts. BioSIPS wall, floor, and roof panels even surpass conventional SIPS in some strength-testing areas (especially compressive and transverse loading) as well as exhibit superior thermal characteristics — which is important, as thermally-efficient structures go hand-in-hand with decreased energy usage.

Herdt’s accomplishment comes on the heels of a long legacy of research and collaboration with the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL). In 1995, she was part of a project that researched and tested GRIDCORE (FPL’s Spaceboard) panels — three-dimensional, molded structural panels comprised of recycled corrugated containers, old newsprint, and kenaf, a plant native to southern Asia. The name “spaceboard” referred to the spaces afforded by the waffle-like design of the GRIDCORE panels, which allowed for increased strength and decreased weight and material usage.

Nearly 20 years later, BioSIPS, like GRIDCORE panels before them, carry on the tradition of turning society’s low-grade waste into high-value products that have proven utility in real-world construction projects. Along with her personal office, Herdt and her team built entire houses with BioSIPS, winning first prize at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon in 2002 and 2005.


Herdt, Schauermann and Hunt await another patent for new methods of creating complex three-dimensional shapes with fiber boards.

Herdt and Schauermann, along with FPL Research General Engineer John Hunt, are awaiting the award of a second patent, Cut-Fold Shape Technology for Engineered Molded Fiber Boards, which relates to a new process of folding fiber boards into three-dimensional shapes to maximize their utility and strength.

In a world of increased environmental awareness, BioSIPS promise to offer designers, engineers, and industry professionals new ways to build strong, energy-efficient structures and provide another avenue for society to make better use of its waste products. Through technologies like these, we will better be able to tackle the construction challenges of tomorrow in an environmentally responsible way.



Insulation Guide Hopes to Comfort Engineers and Occupants Alike

If you haven’t been on a construction site lately, the word “insulation” will bring to mind one thing: long rolls of paper-backed pink fiberglass. This decades-old mainstay of residential construction is used in over 90% of homes in the United States, but it is not the only, nor the most efficient, type of insulation.

As the demand for high-efficiency building materials increases, engineers and contractors are looking for new ways of keeping the occupants of tomorrow’s buildings comfortable, and the existing buildings of today compliant with increasingly demanding codes.

One possible solution? High-efficiency foam insulation and wood structural panels. The problem in implementing these new technologies? The unknown.

A computer illustration of a 2x6 wall framing package.

A computer illustration of a 2×6 wall framing package.

Changes in building codes mean that existing buildings looking to improve their R-Value (a measure of an insulation’s efficiency) are left with two options: increase the cavity insulation, or add exterior insulation. Despite its ease of use and high performance, only 10% of homes use exterior rigid foam and insulated wood structural panels. Implementation of these new materials are limited by a lack of specific performance details and concerns over long-term moisture performance and hazard resistance.

The Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) hopes to answer some of these questions, and help bring high R-Value exterior foam and insulated wood structural panels into the mainstream. In cooperation with the Department of Energy’s Building America program and Home Innovation Research Labs, FPL researchers are working to assemble a Builder’s Guide to support a wider adoption of energy-efficient wall systems in residential construction.

The first edition will focus on two primary wall systems: 2×6 walls with optimized framing and 2×4 walls with exterior foam insulation. These two wall systems represent the best of adaptable, mainstream, energy-efficient options that use standard materials and require a minimal learning curve.

The guide, geared toward industry professionals, should be available in early 2016, and will contain advice for builders that can be readily implemented in the field using available methods and materials. The publication will cover everything from minimum code requirements and best practices, to 3-D graphics showing various construction options.

With this new guide, builders and engineers will have peace of mind about the performance of these new technologies and be armed with the knowledge to make informed decisions about these new insulation systems. Together, they will keep us all warmer in the winter, cooler in the summer, and reduce our energy requirements for the decades ahead.

For more information, please see the FPL Research in Progress publication Builder’s Guide to Energy-Efficient and Durable Wood-Frame Walls.

Inside View House Teaches Energy-Efficient Construction Practices

The following is a press release from APA – The Engineered Wood Association:

A new home under construction in suburban Chicago has become a learning tool for builders, architects, and code officials to experience and observe how efficient framing practices can conserve energy, speed construction, and reduce utility bills. The Inside View Project, a demonstration house by Beechen & Dill Homes, provides a hands-on look at straightforward energy-efficient construction techniques that can be easily replicated in nearly any house around the country.

The Inside View Project provides a look at energy-efficient construction techniques. (Photo courtesy of APA.)

The Inside View Project provides a look at energy-efficient construction techniques. (Photo courtesy of APA.)

Co-sponsored by the USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory and APA – The Engineered Wood Association, the Inside View home features advanced framing practices such as 24-inch on-center spacing and corners and headers that provide more space for cavity insulation. The robust floor system also features 24-inch on-center spacing, allowing for ductwork runs while eliminating about one-third of the required joists and subsequently requiring one-third less labor and adhesive. Higher-series, deeper 14-inch I-joists allowed the builder to avoid double joists and, in combination with an upgraded 7/8-inch OSB subfloor, resulted in a stiff floor system despite the wider spacing.

“We’re always striving to be on the cutting edge. We were the first in the area to build energy-efficient homes and to guarantee energy bills; now it’s industry standard,” said Ed Kubiak, director of construction for Beechen & Dill. “With prices going up and labor harder to find, techniques such as these that reduce energy use while making more efficient use of materials and allowing for more efficient construction are the direction the industry needs to be going.”

Beechen & Dill opened up the Inside View house to building pros during a series of open houses July 28 and 30. Visitors had the opportunity to tour the house under construction, with walls and floors left exposed for easy access to viewing and learning about these framing techniques.

“It’s good to be in a house that’s not dry-walled, yet, to be able to see and learn more about the techniques that they’ve been talking about,” said Karen James, community development director for the Village of Shorewood, who attended with several code officials from the nearby town.

“It was a great idea to do this, especially to this extent,” said architect Bruce Obora of Chicago-based Obora & Associates, noting that his firm has designed one home using some advanced framing techniques but is continuing to research the methods in anticipation of additional projects in the future.

The Inside View home, located at 15328 S. Oak Run Ct. in Lockport, is one of 16 houses in the final phase of Beechen & Dill’s Creekside Estates development. The two-story, 2,880-square-foot house includes four bedrooms and two-and-a-half baths, along with a two-story family room, full basement, and three-car garage. As part of a partnership with the Environments for Living program, all of Beechen & Dill’s homes carry an energy bill guarantee, assuring potential buyers of long-term operational costs.

“Energy-efficient 2×6 framing can reap significant monetary savings for homeowners throughout the life of their home, while also helping the builder save on installation time and save costs in meeting the energy code. It’s a win-win,” said Tom Kositzky, director of field services for APA. “What’s more, these techniques are not difficult to implement or understand; once designers, builders, and code officials get familiar with the practices, they can easily become a regular part of their routine.”

“Education is key to furthering the adoption of energy-efficient building techniques. The Inside View Project gives us an excellent learning lab where Beechen & Dill can share ideas and techniques with other design/build professionals in the Chicago area,” added Mike Ritter, assistant director of the USDA Forest Service, Forest Products Laboratory.

For more details on the project, visit