Navigating uncharted waters

When Hurricane Isabel, the only Category 5 hurricane of the 2003 Atlantic hurricane season, made landfall on September 18, 2003, just south of Cape Hatteras, N.C., as a Category 2, it left an official damage estimate of $3.37 billion. Most of the damage was located in Virginia. Among those in Virginia suffering damage was the York River Yacht Haven, a marina and ship store that had existed since the 1920s.000_0017.jpg

It had originally served as a service building for railway boat lifts and was converted in the 1980s to a ship store that conveniently backed up to a restaurant. Boaters who dock at the marina rely on the store for its convenience and full stock of ropes, pulleys, boat fittings, and virtually anything and everything they would need to maintain their boats.

Isabel didn’t destroy the store, but it did do major damage to the pilings that supported the establishment. In fact, the pilings that were driven into the York River were so destabilized that the store was rendered uninhabitable and was shut down. When it reopened 2-1/2 years later, in 2006, it had undergone a thorough redesign and was unrecognizable to its many customers.

Rebuilding from the dock up
During the time it was closed, the owner removed the old pilings, which were driven 40 feet into the riverbed, and installed new ones, then put down floor joists. With that work complete, he called upon Gloucester, Va.-based Courthouse Construction in December 2005 to build up the store from there.

The plans given Courthouse reflected an entirely new store that was 30 percent larger than the original one at 48 feet wide by 61 feet long with a 12-foot eave and a 9-foot covered porch on three sides of the building. “We started over from scratch,” remembers Dylan Eastman, estimator at000_0031.jpg Courthouse Construction. “The old store had some interior rooms but the new one is just one wide open room that would be equipped with retail racks and shelving along with a check-out counter and refreshment area.”

An entirely new design opened the doors to numerous possibilities and early on, the three parties involved — the owner, Courthouse Construction, and Hampton Roads Engineering — discussed the pros and cons of various construction methods. They looked at timber-type wood construction as well as using steel for the building skeleton, all while taking into consideration that the plans called for a cathedral ceiling so that the owner could display very large items overhead.

Charting unknown waters
In the end, it wasn’t wood or steel, but structural insulated panels that were chosen for the job. Courthouse Construction, pros at wood and steel construction, had never used SIPs before but the benefits outweighed any hesitation at trying something new. “By choosing SIPs we eliminated a lot of building components we would have had with other construction types,” says Eastman. “The structural panels got us the walls we needed plus a vaulted ceiling and because the panel is also the insulation, we didn’t have to put sheathing on the wood and then add insulation to the ceiling, which we would have had to do with wood.

“This time savings would allow us to finish faster and SIPs would give us the thermal characteristics we needed with the vaulted ceiling. It was a better system all around and it cost considerably less than other types of construction,” says Eastman, figuring that SIPs were at least 30 percent less expensive than steel construction on the project.

The learning curve
Courthouse bought the SIPs from R-Control, out of Winchester, Va., which helped them overcome any installation problems they encountered as SIP rookies. “They have a great installation and design manual that we used when designing this building,” Eastman says. “We got all the team members up to speed and familiarized them with the panels so that when it came time to install them, there wouldn’t be any questions. R-Control’s manual was invaluable.”

Eastman acknowledges that there was a small learning curve but says that everyone was able to accommodate the different details very easily. “All the pieces fit together perfectly and the finished product looks similar to wood construction, but totally different than steel,” says Eastman. “If we had used steel, there would have been exposed columns running down to the floor that we would have had to wrap. Now, the owner doesn’t have to worry about working around any columns. He has an unobstructed space and his racking system isn’t impeded by anything.”

As it turned out, using SIPs was easier than anyone anticipated. “We thought there would be hiccups along the way, but everything went more smoothly than we thought and that gave us the confidence to use panels on other projects,” he notes.100_1546.jpg

The biggest challenge, by far, had to do with the fact that the team had to work over water. Had this been a typical job, they would have brought lifts out to the jobsite to hoist trusses into place. Instead, they had to rent a 220-foot crane to swing the panels into place. “They are pretty light, weighing only 190 pounds, so we could have even carried them, but working on the dock made that difficult, too,” Eastman says.

SIPs save time, labor and energy
As predicted, using the panels sped up the job, shaving two weeks off the construction time, which made the owner happy since he wanted to reopen the store for the 2006 season. “Since we started in the winter, it was crucial that we get the building dried in as quickly as possible so we didn’t get rain or snow inside that would damage the wood that was already there,” Eastman says.

Because the job took less time, it also reduced the man hours needed to complete the building and while Eastman doesn’t have an accurate figure on energy savings, he knows that the panels are performing well in that area, too. “Let’s just say that the owner salvaged the HVAC system from the old building, and it is performing better in the new store, even though it is 30 percent larger. Having that continuous R-value really saves energy,” Eastman says.100_1307.jpg

In fact, the owner reported that after the first big frost of the year, he pulled up to the store, which sits alongside two other buildings, both of which are older. They were frost-free, while the new store was still covered in frost. Says Eastman, “He is just tickled to death with how it is performing.”

Apparently, so is Courthouse Construction. The company has since sold another job, a church in Portsmouth, Va., on using SIPs. Here again, the plans called for a high, vaulted ceiling, so knowing that heating and cooling would be a problem, Courthouse decided that using insulated panels would be the perfect choice.

“We didn’t have to use the other job to convince the customer that SIPs were best here. Our experience with them and having completed a job without any problems made it that much more obvious that we’d use SIPs to complete this project,” reports Eastman. “Until you use something, you’re hesitant about it. In construction, you’ve got money and quality you’re trying to meet and if one falls through you’ve got problems for the owner or the construction company. So having completed that one project without any problems at all, we didn’t have any hesitation about using SIPs on other projects going forward.”

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