New S.T.E.P. Wall System Addresses  

Both Environmental & Economic Issues

By Andy Claypole • 
President, Accelerated Building Technologies


Dealers and distributors of environmentally responsible products face added pressures these days. Although the underlying benefits of green products are inherently long-term in nature, many of the dealers' customers – especially contractors – are understandably more concerned with short-term issues. After all, even the most environmentally conscious contractors must first survive their immediate financial crises before they can concentrate on long-term growth.

Fortunately, one technology – a new wall system known as Steel Thermal Efficient Panels, or “S.T.E.P.” – offers both contractors and their distributors a classic opportunity to “do well by doing good.” This innovative new wall system enables contractors to dramatically improve their cost and schedule controls, while helping building owners to achieve significant long-term savings in energy, maintenance, and other costs. Best of all, it does all this in a way that is environmentally responsible – as evidenced by its contribution of LEED® points in as many as four different categories.

Cost Savings & Environmental Benefits Combined
Most structural wall panel systems – such as insulated concrete forms (ICFs), structural insulated panels (SIPs), insulated structural metal panels (ISMPs), and tilt up concrete panels – offer environmental and energy-saving benefits. Unfortunately, most such systems are installed using specialized equipment and specially trained crews. The new S.T.E.P. system, on the other hand, addresses key energy and environmental issues without the drawbacks of other panel systems.

S.T.E.P. system panels are fabricated using a proprietary technology that fuses cold-formed steel framing members and expanded polystyrene (EPS) insulation. Thus, framing, insulation, and sheathing are all contained in a single system – and installed in a single step. The panels generally are fabricated in four-foot widths, with two specially shaped steel studs spaced at 24 inches on center.

Thermal slots in the studs optimize structural and thermal performance, and the panels themselves lock together to minimize air intrusion and insulation gaps. Window and door openings are pre-cut, and pre-cut cavities simplify the installation of electrical, plumbing, and mechanical systems.

By combining framing, insulation and sheathing into a single process, S.T.E.P. panels can reduce labor costs by up to 50 percent over conventional stick framing, 85 percent over tilt-up, and 88 percent over concrete block construction techniques. Similarly, the construction cycle for wall construction can be reduced by as much as 66 percent when compared to standard stud wall construction, and as much as 73 percent over concrete block wall construction.

In many applications, the entire building envelope can be completed in a matter of a few days, with no on-site cutting, drilling or welding required. And, because all components are factory fabricated to precise requirements, the amount of on-site waste is reduced dramatically.

Since a 4-by-8 foot S.T.E.P. panel weighs less than 50 pounds, cranes and other specialized equipment generally are not needed. The factory-cut panels also create a more exact building envelope, enabling more accurate installation of doors and windows, while still offering maximum design flexibility.

The panels can be used both as structural components and as curtain walls or in-fill, and can be finished in virtually any exterior cladding material. Because of this flexibility, the S.T.E.P. system is well-suited to a variety of design situations in both residential and commercial applications. S.T.E.P. systems also offer excellent sound absorbing qualities, and are increasingly popular in commercial installations where noise reduction is a critical concern.

S.T.E.P. Energy Efficiency
In addition to helping builders achieve significant and immediate cost savings and construction efficiencies, S.T.E.P. systems also provide significant long-term environmental benefits, particularly in terms of energy efficiency.

By fusing framing members and insulation together into a continuous system, S.T.E.P. panels overcome many common problems such as thermal bridging, insulation gaps and sagging, and irregularities in the installation of conventional framing and insulation. Slots in S.T.E.P. framing members allow insulation to mold through the steel, which further reduces heat transference, blocks air intrusion, and adds thermal resistance. The system's locking joints also offer better insulation performance, and superior resistance to air infiltration.

Issues associated with moisture absorption are also avoided, since the steel framing is obviously not absorbent, and the EPS insulation is a non-porous material that also resists mold, mildew and insects, in addition to inhibiting moisture intrusion.

The Green Choice
The S.T.E.P. system's steel framing members are made of recycled steel and are themselves recyclable. The EPS foam insulation does not shrink, settle, emit harmful gases, or contribute to diminished air quality. As a result of these factors, and the significant reduction of jobsite waste, the S.T.E.P. wall system can contribute to LEED® points.

Small wonder, then, that savvy contractors – and the distributors who sell to them – are finding the S.T.E.P. wall panel system to be an innovative and effective answer to both the environmental and economic challenges they are facing these days.

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