Continuous Exterior Insulation for a High-Performance Building
John Calacci of Calacci Construction in Iowa City, Iowa is an old-school builder and businessman who values taking matters into his own hands as a means of controlling project success. He founded Calacci Construction in 2008 with the ambition of self-performing as much of contracted scopes of work as possible on the projects his firm undertakes. As a commercial general contractor building office properties, healthcare facilities, municipal buildings, and industrial projects across eastern Iowa, Calacci's hands-on approach means wearing a lot of hats and assuming a lot of responsibility.
On most projects, Calacci Construction places concrete and sets steel and then tackles framing, roofing, insulation, and many of the interior finishes like cabinetry and millwork. They generally only subcontract specialized scopes of work that require more than their internal expertise can accommodate. The primary impetus behind self-performance for Calacci Construction and many other small to mid-sized general contractors around the country is a tighter grip on a project’s intangibles – quality, schedule, safety, cost, and profitability. When the time came for Calacci Construction to construct its new headquarters office complex, an appreciation for long-term efficiency was a driving factor in most of the design and construction decisions.
Atlas Molded Products’ architectural insulation was used in a variety of ways to help create a high R-value thermal barrier across the building’s undulating façade in pursuit of a high-performance envelope.
Calacci Construction’s interest in operational efficiency permeates in every aspect of their work and decision making. Long-term efficiency is a driving influence in how they manage the business. The design and construction of their new 15,800 square foot headquarters building was no exception. Completed in the spring of 2016, the office building is configured on two floors with mechanical systems in the basement. The main operations building is accompanied by an 11,900 square foot workshop building and ample site storage space for equipment, materials, and project staging. Related to the main office building, Calacci was particularly interested in design and construction strategies that would help reduce long-term operating expenses in the face of Iowa’s often hot summers and always very cold winters. In addition to incorporating geothermal heating through a ground source heat pump, the new building also greatly benefits from a high-performance thermal envelope, which helps maintain a constant internal temperature regardless of external conditions.
The new headquarters building was design to blend a glass curtain wall façade with punched window masonry to showcase the firm’s capacity to build both traditional and contemporary forms with equal ease. In a well-executed undulation, long sections of vertical glass curtain wall divide a masonry face that lifts out in some places and dips in elsewhere to give the façade an elegant architectural complexity. The unseen result of this undulation is that behind the façade there were cavity sections that presented as much as 6” of void space in some places and as little as 2” of void in others.
The broader ambition of creating a tight thermal seal around the entire façade required an insulation material that was flexible enough to be easily adapted to area-by-area specifics while still allowing a consistently high R-value thermal barrier to be achieved with relative affordability.
Among several positives associated with Atlas Molded Products selection as the molded polystyrene rigid foam insulation manufacturer for Calacci Construction, proximity was a practical first. Atlas’ Iowa manufacturing facility, just about 30 miles south of Iowa City, in Washington, IA, is one of 16 North American manufacturing facilities that accommodate responsive material lead times for projects around the country. Working with White Cap, the country’s leading distributor of specialty tools and commercial building materials, Calacci Construction purchased 19,200 board feet of pre-scored molded polystyrene rigid foam insulation to achieve a thermal envelope with an overall R-value in the mid-20s according to Calacci’s calculations.
Atlas Molded Products’ rigid foam architectural insulations are designed to give architects and contractors the strength, energy efficiency, and moisture resistance of the highest quality at a cost-conscious price. Atlas’ molded polystyrene insulations come in a range of materials, which provide R-value’s per inch ranging from R3.9 to R4.5 and compressive resistance that begin at 10 psi and go up to 60 psi. While other types of rigid foam insulations use HFC gases in the manufacturing process, which off-gas and cause R-values to decrease over time, molded polystyrene insulation from Atlas provides a stable R-value that remains constant for the life of the product.
To meet the Building Code criteria, walls have to be insulated to provide a complete thermal break, meaning Calacci Construction's building required a masonry cavity insulation. By purchasing the pre-scored version of the product, Calacci’s team of self-installers was easily able to fill in all of the building’s many void variations by simply bending the insulation board along the perforations and snapping it into any of many possible widths. Where further customization is required to fit around equipment protrusions, builders are also easily able to trim and notch molded polystyrene using hand-held hot wire cutters.
While many of the cost-effective sustainability strategies Calacci Construction employed on their project are rather commonplace, there was a use of molded polystyrene that marked a significant innovation. Adjacent to the new office, Calacci constructed an 11,990 square feet shop building that includes 7,000 square feet of space heated by an in-floor radiant heat system. In pursuit of maximizing the thermal benefits of radiant heating, Calacci embedded two inches of molded polystyrene insulation within the building’s cast-in-place perimeter wall. To make a 12”-thick wall four feet up from the foundation, Calacci used two steel rebar grids and center-facing slab boosters to sandwich a layer of insulation into the concrete formwork. This created a thermal break along the perimeter foundation walls that extends four feet above the floor without any caulked joints to maintain, as would be the case with insulated pre-cast panels.
From environmental positives like regionally manufactured building materials to a high-performance thermal envelope across a façade of many variations to the practical pluses of being easy to work with and affordable, molded polystyrene from Atlas Molded Products made a measurable difference for Calacci Construction. Atlas takes pride in being more than just a material resource, but indeed, a genuine building partner in the pursuit of right-fit solutions to many of construction's inherent complexities. Whether you are an old-school, do-it-yourself contractor like Calacci Construction, or a true construction manager who delegates virtually every scope of work, Atlas Molded Products’ complete line of molded polystyrene building insulation materials can help you get it done faster, easier, and at the exceptional quality you demand and expect.