Post-frame in his blood, SIPs in his portfolio

Dennis Lee has indisputable credentials as a rural builder. He grew up in the trade, working in his father’s post-frame business, Robert E. Lee Buildings in Yorkville, Ill. At 17 he was named “World’s Best Rural Construction Foreman” by Farm Building News, Rural Builder’s predecessor magazine. Lee’s company, Dixie Building Systems in Kuttawa, Ky., is currently a dealer for Stockade Buildings and a National Frame Builders Association member, and Lee is trying to put together a Kentucky state frame builder chapter.
But four years ago, Lee found a new line: selling and erecting SIP panels, most recently as a distributor for General Panel Corp. in Johnson City, Tenn. “It’s a nice little niche,” he says, “It can be twice as profitable as post-frame.”
Not that he’s abandoned the system he grew up with. In fact, he’s trying to join the two systems whenever he can.
Lee got into SIPs after a stint with modular home builder Wausau Homes. “I got hooked on panelized construction,” he notes. He worked as a sales rep for a SIPs maker for a few years before starting his own business distributing the panels.
Half of Dixie’s business is straight post-frame, and half straight SIPs, mostly residential. He’ll sell panels, offer design assistance on panel layout, and travel far from his base to help train builders on their first SIP project. He’ll also erect panels as a subcontractor.
But every so often he gets to try a post-frame project with SIPs. One of his first was with Detlef Juerss of Steinbau Construction in Pleasant Valley, N.Y. Lee helped Juerss to use SIPs on a roof a few years back, then in 2001 helped him design a two-story 36-ft. by 50-ft. post-frame garage and family rec center with the panels.
Steinbau first erected the nail-laminated 3-ply 2×6 posts in the ground, 10 ft. on center. Lee’s crew used a crane to slide the 6-1/2-in. SIP panels onto the posts. The 1/2-in. of leeway between posts was filled after placement with injected foam.
Steinbau then built a floor system on the first-floor walls with I-joists and plywood. The second floor was built like a more conventional SIP structure, with wall panels coming off a 2×6 plate fastened to the deck. A ridge beam was mounted on columns placed in the end walls, and the roof was decked with 8-1/4-in. SIP panels.
Juerss submitted the project to the NFBA for its 2001 Building of the Year award, and it won the “Suburban/ Garages” category.
Lee helped another contractor with a post-frame project, a 40x60x16 insulated shop. It was built off a foundation, with 6-1/2-in. 4-ft. by 16-ft. SIP panels slid down over 2-ply 2×6 posts spaced 4 ft. o.c. One ply of the post extended past the top of the wall next to the heel of the truss and was through-bolted.
“I used the same detail on a church project in Kentucky,” Lee notes.
Lee also designed and built a post-frame house and horse barn combination near Wickliff, Ky., using SIPs on the residential portion. Laminated columns were set 12 ft. o.c. in the ground, and SIPs panels slid onto them. Lee used pressure-treated splashboards and bottom plate at the bottom of the panels. Traditional trusses and blow-in insulation finished off the roof and ceiling.
Lee’s currently supplying SIP panels for the roof on a 32,000 sq. ft. project in Evansville, Ind., that have the ceiling material, cedar T-111, laminated directly to the panel.
Lee concedes that SIPs are more commonly used in residential construction, but feels they match up well with post-frame methods.
“You have to have some equipment” to lift the panels onto the posts, he concedes. But the panels are more bulky than heavy — about 650 lbs. for a full-sized 8-ft. by 24-ft. panel — so it can be as simple as a boom on a skid steer.
“I think this is going to be a great business,” he says. “There are a lot of builders who are reluctant to use new materials. But the younger ones, they get it.”

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