Why Should Designers and Builders Consider Panelized Construction for Future Projects?
Foreword by Ian Thompson, Editor
Panelized walls, floors, and even roofs, made in a controlled environment (off-site manufacturing), represent the future for most countries. Yet, these techniques have been around for decades in more progressive countries, where they have successfully established better building practices that produce higher quality, more efficient buildings more cost-effectively.
I get great satisfaction from observing companies like Tag Panels in British Columbia, Canada, doing their thing. Despite their fabrication process being predominantly manual, they generate less waste, are more efficient, and seldom experience delays due to weather. With fewer staff, these companies can create safer and happier working environments. Plus, there are no building materials left sitting on-site getting wet, and there is less site disruption, security, and fabrication issues.
An analogy I often use is, “would you build a car in a field?” So, why should we construct our buildings that way if there is a better alternative?
Enjoy this video hosted by Nathan Kischel as he takes us on an inside tour of Tag Panels’ Canadian factory. Architect David Arnott from Stark Architecture joins Nathan, shedding light on the technical aspects of the process.
From the lumber delivery to the final assembly, this comprehensive tour provides an exclusive look at how Tag Panels produces its high-quality prefabricated building panel systems. Enjoy the video!
Factory Framing Passive House Walls – “Build Original Series” Episode 1
Nathan Kischel’s Building Company – https://purehaus.ca/
Join us as we tune into Episode 1 of our FIRST Build Original Series – “High Performance Canada” with host https://www.instagram.com/nate_kisch/ – Nathan visits job sites around British Columbia to learn how other builders and architects are addressing high performance construction, and the BC Energy Step Code. There are so many innovators across the country, and we hope to see them all detail by detail in this 5 Part Series!
In this Episode, David Arnott from https://www.starkarchitecture.com/ graciously opens his shop doors to show us around https://www.tagpanels.com/ multi-step manufacturing process. David is not only co-founder of TAG Panels, but is also owner and principal of STARK Architecture. His manufacturing process takes a simple approach to providing local builders with an off the shelf Step Code compliant product! Tag Panels provides prefab and sustainable building panels for Step Code and Passive House Projects.
I’ve got a really fun episode for you. This is the first of hopefully many, a Build original series: High Performance Canada. That’s right, we’re going up to British Columbia on this episode. And Builder Nate Cashell from Pure House Developments, on today’s episode, he’s going to tour you through a high-performance building panelized factory. He’s going to be joined by architect David Arnott from Stark Architecture. We’ve got a fantastic episode, and there’s more to come on this. Stay tuned to the end, and I’ll tell you more. Today’s Build Show: High Performance Canada, let’s get going!
The High Performance Canada series is brought to you by 475 High Performance Building Supply. This series is also brought to you by Innotech Windows and Doors. Today on the Build Show, we’re in Squamish, British Columbia, checking out this awesome new company, Tag Panels. They are a high-performance and passive house wall panel manufacturer. Everything’s being done right inside this facility behind me, everything from framing to installation to membrane installs, taping, window waterproofing, it’s all being done here. They’re supplying all kinds of local builders with a high-quality prefabricated building panel system. Let’s go inside and talk to David.
“Hey David, here we are in your awesome 10,000 square foot facility. So why don’t you walk us through what happens here from start to finish?”
“Yeah, absolutely. So this is where the lumber comes into the factory. We bring all the lifts of timbers, two by sixes, two by eights, and PSLs and glue lams. They come in along this wall here. They’re brought into one of two cut stations that we have in this facility. All of the shop drawings for each panel have an exact cut list for each part onto it.”
“Great. One guy sits and cuts every piece of timber for per panel. Once those pieces are cut, they’re then loaded up onto one of the dollies. Those materials are then rolled over to our tables. We have two tables at the moment. It allows us to run two jobs concurrently or normally do one job twice as fast. Wow, okay. The idea being that all the timber that is pre-cut loaded over to the tables, the guys never need to reach or lift for another piece of timber. It’s all pre-cut, it’s always just right there, and they’re just loading it off the dolly onto the table, trying to make it as efficient as possible.”
“Great. And then over here, we have a three-ton gantry crane. This runs the full 75 feet of the workshop. They can frame off these corners here. The panels move down the tables, they’re then flipped with the crane. This is our Gutex, which we use, which is a wood fiber insulation. So this is used as a kind of sarking board, it’s an exterior sheathing. It’s got insulation properties, it’s also vapor open, which is very important. This goes on one side of the panel. The panels are then moved along to the end over here, where we have access for semi-trucks to bring in, where we load the panels on. So you bring your 30-35 foot trailers right into the shop, right underneath the crane.”
“Absolutely. Once the trailer comes in, we load all of the panels onto the trailer, and the trailer goes to the site. What’s important is that the panels are actually built in reverse order because the last one to be built is the first one that’s needed on-site.”
Yeah, so the guy is important. Guys work everything out. Another big piece of this multi-step process is thinking about material mobility. You always have to think about how that panel needs to be moved next. So at the end of their framing process, they’re lacing in these straps in the top plate, out the top plate, so they can always have that panel mobile.
How big is this house? Yes, so this is a house in Burnaby, BC. It’s a 3,000 square foot house. What you’re looking at here is all of the main floor exterior walls and all of the main floor interior walls. On the exterior walls, we have all the framing, the service cavity as well. Service cavity too, so that’s the whole main floor. Yeah, ready to go. Yes, framing insulation and all, air barriers and vapor barriers all installed already. Absolutely. Yeah, so just to take you through the panel, the interior plywood is our vapor retarder.
So this replaces your poly. This gives you shear value as well, right? Gives you shear value as well. It’s a vapor retarder at this thickness. Then we have a 2×8. This is then filled with our cellulose or net-zero jet stream product. So these holes here where we’ve cored out, we put a lance in, we fill the cavity with that insulation, and then we seal it with this Tescon Banner tape. And then the exterior here has the 22 millimeters of Gutex that I was showing you over there.
So this is the exterior. So this is vapor open. Vapor open, yeah. So any moisture trapped in here can actually diffuse and dry to the exterior. Then we wrap in a high-performance membrane, this one being the Proclima Mento, which also breathes outwards. Exactly, and it’s airtight. Yeah, and then on top of that, we attach the strapping. Yes, so one layer of strapping, exterior rain screen on the outside. Yep, so you have two airtight layers because you guys tape the plywood.
The value of this facility really just comes from the fact that we have a framing site right now that’s in an indoor control environment. None of this wood is getting a lick of moisture on it. It’s completely controlled. They have cranes for lifting, they have all their insulation here. So we have a framing site, we have an installation site, and we have an airtightness site all in this beautiful facility.
So we use two types of insulation. We use recycled newspaper and a recycled glass product. Awesome. We’re big into our embodied carbon as well. We don’t want to fill our buildings with plastic. We have a crandall machine here, so this actually takes both types of insulation. It then grinds them up, lofts them along a 150-foot cable pipe here. This is the lance, which we then put into the cavities. It has a clicker on it, so once it reaches its required density, which is super important, it draws out and then we have the required amount of insulation in. So this reads the density of the insulation and then, oh wow, exactly. That’s really cool. It’s a little bit like the gas pump when you’re filling up your car. It clicks once it reaches full.
That’s great. So does it depend on the project which insulation you choose or… Exactly. Every panel is engineered back from an energy model or from the architect or the client, depending on how much R-value they require. Okay, and depending on that and then the thicknesses, we can achieve a higher R-value with the glass wool, so we get a thinner wall. But our preference is to use the recycled newspaper because it’s a full cradle-to-cradle. So this is recycled newspaper from curbside collection. This is what we put into our panels. You can actually see the different colors of ink in there. You can see the letters on it as well. Oh, cool. So it’s a great product, cradle to cradle. It’s recycled and it’s also recyclable after the lifespan of the building. It’s a great product. So when it’s hard packed and dense in the wall, what is this R-value per inch on this one? This is our 3.7 per inch. Not bad. It’s great.
Yeah, very breathable, healthy for your home, vapor diffusion. It’s great. Yeah, it smells like newspaper. Still, yeah, and so you’re able to align with BC Step Code quite easily by just upsizing insulation. You keep your same simple system of the air tightness layers. And, um, then you’re able to achieve certain numbers, yep.
The other key benefit with the prefabrication is the air tightness. Yeah, air tightness is huge in the Step Code, as you know. So when we’re getting up to passive house where it’s just 0.6 air changes and Step 5, which is one air change, requires the contractor to do a lot of additional work. Yep, if you’re trying to tape poly to create that airtight air tightness, it’s very tricky. Our primary airtight layer is our plywood, so you’re taping sheets of plywood to tape sheets of plywood. Yeah, it’s the seal. It’s just so much tighter. So you’re seeing walls here, but we do all of the floors and the roofs. So these are floor panels. So this is your typical TGI floor that everyone in BC and Canada is familiar with.
There’s your top layer. So this is a rim board, yeah, PSL rim board here. And then you’re right, what we’re doing is we’re pre-hanging all of the joists. So this thing gets loaded onto the LVL that’s on site. So if you have an ICF foundation, you’ve installed your ledger, these floor panels just get dropped in and they get nailed off as you go. Okay, so you know as well as I do that when you’re a general contractor, if you’re sight framing, the amount of trouble and hassle to try and hang these in the rain and the inclement weather and to get everything plumb, it’s typically it’s one guy working all day on hangers, exactly right. Yeah, whereas these panels will go in in 20 minutes.
Dropped, all this done on a computer modeling software beforehand, which is amazing. Exactly. Um, and we’re gonna go check that out next, right? Yep. So David, if you could just walk me through the process of uh, drawings coming from architecture, architectural drawings, through energy modeling, maybe engineering, into your office here where you guys are designing panels. The first step is just to get a set of plans from the architect, usually with some structural information from a structural engineer. We get down to designing and building out every stud, beam, PSL, everything that goes into that model. The software then spits out pricing lists, gives us linear foot of all the timbers, all the joists, so that our pricing can be very accurate.
You get very detailed, just for pricing too, absolutely, yeah. And then these guys start modeling up the rest of those elements, adding the insulation, adding all the hangers, and it’s at that stage that we notice that we find most of the conflicts that exist between the architecture and the structural models. Okay, so it’s these guys’ job to kind of work as a project manager to raise all those conflicts within this model, which is essentially the built house within the model. Yes, and where we find that as a benefit to the contractor is this is the stuff that they’re usually doing on-site. Yeah, they’re cutting down beams because they’re the wrong size or there’s a conflict between a window and a pocket or something like that. Yeah, these guys figure all that out before it goes down to production. All that brain work is happening right here.
So here’s the shop drawing, shop drawing books that come down from the office and right onto the floor. Absolutely, yeah. So the 3D model is created for every house, and then it’s broken up into the panels. So what you’re seeing here is a quick layout showing all the panel connections of a floor, and then this is the floor layout as well, yeah. So the 3D model spits out every single panel, and we have unique information for each panel. This is the cut list that I was referring to, so every panel has exactly the amount of beams, studs, sills required, their exact quantity, the widths, lengths. This is what they work off. They complete this one, and then we move on to the next one.
And I imagine all this data being spit out by the modeling software is really great for pricing too, for when you’re pricing these jobs for your general contractors, right? You’re totally right. And then the other benefit for us is that we can be very lean with our ordering. We can actually define that we’re ordering certain lengths rather than just going out and ordering one like 14 footers. We get eight foots if we need eight foots, we get ten foots if we need ten foots. And what that then causes is our waste bin becomes really marginal, and we’ve got, you know, an entire house usually fits into a couple of garbage cans of offer, really? Yeah, wow, that’s incredible. Yeah, what a fantastic new company, Tag Panels. Really is innovating the local construction market. I’m so happy to have them on my team, and I really can’t wait to see more from these guys in the future. Thanks so much for tuning in. See you guys on the next one.
Wasn’t that fun, guys? A Build Original Series, High-Performance Canada. I thought Nate and David did an amazing job. And guess what? Nate has four more episodes for you to watch. High-Performance Canada is going to be released Tuesday through Friday on my website, buildshownetwork.com.
Here’s how you can sign up to win a t-shirt and get notified. Click on that link below, Tuesday through Friday this week, brand new episodes, four more to go, guys. This is really fun. We got some amazing job sites to show you. And by the way, I want to say a big thanks to our sponsors on this series, 475 High-Performance Building Supply. They’re the ones who brought me my Sanden CO2 heat pump water heater at this house, and my Lamilux skylights. They’ve got all kinds of cool stuff in their catalog. And Innotech Windows, this happens to be my wife’s study, and this is an Innotech. They make some great products. So big thanks to those guys for sponsoring this series. For more info, go to that link in the description. Otherwise, we’ll see you next time on the Build Show.
External Youtube post: Framing Basics: 3 Simple Tips for Framing a Wall