A message from Jim Farley in Montana alerted me to Matt Stein’s new book, When Disaster Strikes. Jim is General Manager of SOS General Store and an expert on preparedness and survival. Jim says, “Besides getting off the power grid, we are very gung-ho about getting off the food grid.” In addition, he has a lot so say about alternative building systems and low-cost shelter. One of the systems that he works with is “prefabricated structural polystyrene panels with a wire mesh called Tridipanels.”
I asked my good friend Bill Ford, who happens to be a professional architect from Arizona, what he thought of this building system. Here is what he had to say:
I looked up tridipanel. I have seen it before; basically styrofoam with wire trusses projecting out from each face of the foam core. When you gunite each face with a minimum 1 1/2” of concrete it gets very strong and keeps the hard shell on both sides for durability and a little thermal mass to the interior. Good system. Expensive around here, so never caught on. More common are structurally insulated panels (SIPS) and a myriad of insulated concrete forms (ICFs). There are many ICF systems available. I am not crazy about SIPS because I don’t like the wafer board skins on the SIPS and I have never been crazy about putting all the mass (concrete) on the inside of the ICF. Durosol would be a preference for an ICF, since instead of foam, they use a natural insulating fiber and concrete mix. I also like Rastra which is pricey, but is considered an ICF. Durosol is used more in Canada. For the money, cinder blocks are still appealing and last forever. I try and stay away from frame because termites love it, but it is cheap. Adobe and rammed earth is always a favorite, but even here, it is expensive. Steel is good, but for residential, you have to be careful about expansion and contraction, i.e., creaking and cracking stucco. A lot of people are looking at architectural grade cement board products for exposed exterior skin over steel. Can work pretty good for inexpensive pre-fabs.
As the mega-crisis deepens and uncertainty builds about the system we rely on, it seems prudent to spend some time learning about how to provide for our own food, shelter, and energy needs.