Reducing Energy Requirements from the Start

Originally published in August 2021 - Clean Energy Storyteller

For many decades now, homebuilders have employed the use of wood or metal framing when constructing the structural framework of a project.  While these traditional methods have their advantages, and while advancements have been made on increasing the performance of stud framed homes, the potential for energy inefficiency, moisture problems and long-term structural and internal issues remain prevalent. Historically, stud frame construction was invented during a time when insulation between studs had not yet existed. Even so, buildings with this framework (including homes) remain as the largest consumers of energy today.

New and innovative building technology suggests that there is a stronger, more energy efficient way to construct buildings, especially homes, using lower skilled labor. For years, homebuilders and product manufacturers have been rethinking how to build a more solid, insulated envelope for the homes we live in. As a result, innovative and high performing companies like Eco-Panels have contributed greatly to building performance matters and energy efficiency strategies. Earlier this year, they were recognized as one of the most innovated companies in the building construction industry by the National Home Builders Association. Noted as having the most advanced structural insulated panel on the market by building scientists working for the United States Department of Energy, North Carolina based Eco-Panels proudly takes the technology lead in modular building panels nationwide and internationally.

Cofounded in 2007 by North Carolina native and former Silicon Valley tech industry executive Charles Leahy and Virginia native William “Ed” Anderson, Eco-Panels offers an advanced structural insulated building solution for creating safer and stronger homes. Their overall mission is to essentially level the playing field between a strong, energy efficient and high-performing home and affordability. According to President and CEO Charles Leahy, they are taking proven and reliable products already on the market and adapting them in new ways to develop technology that can “provide developers, builders, and future homeowners a simple-to-assemble system allowing almost anyone to create the strongest, safest, and most energy-efficient homes on the planet.”

Their simple-to-assemble panel system (inspired by the walk-in cooler industry) has three key components for operation: a) pre-fabricated panels that include a unique single piece corner panel b) integrated cam-locks for securing the panels together (stronger than traditional nailing) and c) a flame retardant organic-based foam core. The corner panel creates a strong wall and provides continuous insulation, eliminating the need for vertical framing (required in building envelope construction). This certainly comes in handy since vertical framing makes insulating corners of a stud-framed wall difficult. The integrated cam-locks offer seamless panel-to-panel connection. The injected foam, made from a custom blend of closed-cell polyurethane, is the only adhesive that bonds together all components of these panels. And according to Leahy, the best thing of all is that very little skill is required for installation. Yes, anybody can use it.

While Eco-Panels provides this alternate solution to home construction that encourages energy efficiency first, Leahy believes that homebuilders and construction companies will also need to shift the way they approach building overall. Leahy imagines that if builders can get away from the way “it’s always been done,” we would see not just more energy-efficient homes being built from the start, but stronger ones too. The proven strength of homes built with Eco-Panels was seen on the island of St. John in the US Virgin Islands. Hurricane Irma, with 200 mph winds, passed through in 2017 and left an eco-tourism development that had approximately 30 to 40 homes with only 8 vacation units—all of which were made with Eco-Panels. Property manager Adrian Davis reported that “4 of the 8 studios are still dry inside after two CAT 5 hurricanes. The other four just has some minor damage…but the structure is sound! Everything else on the property is wrecked [and this] convinces me that they are an amazing product.”

Single-family homes aren’t the only structures benefitting from Eco-Panels. This technology has also been implemented within multi-family housing, affordable living communities, multi-plex movie theaters, government and commercial buildings, greenhouses, tiny homes, mobile medical facilities, and even schools. While commercial buildings experience many benefits of using Eco-Panels, the affordability of this product equally offers people from all income levels the opportunity to have an energy efficient home. Energy efficiency investments are often a privilege reserved for homeowners with higher levels of income, but Leahy believes that “having a strong and super energy-efficient home should be a basic human right.” In fact, many customers of Eco-Panels have reported monthly savings varying from $50 to almost $500, ultimately saving them large sums of money each year and giving them an overall better in-home experience.

Video by The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE)

As a technologist with a skill for innovative solutions, Leahy is incredibly dedicated to advancing Eco-Panels’ products and presenting new ways to reduce carbon emissions in the building construction field. A new emerging piece of technology, the EPIC Block, is an architectural insulated building block that is made of 70% less concrete, but still interlocks tightly and bonds with adhesive instead of mortar. It is structurally sound, weather resistant, and easy to install—meaning no required skillset is necessary to implement, just like with the Eco-Panels. “The best thing about this block is we are providing the structure and the safety and durability of concrete, but without much of the actual concrete,” says Leahy. “Concrete is one of the most carbon intensive building products known to man, and if we can reduce the embodied carbon impact of a concrete wall by 70% while increasing its energy efficiency by over 400%—that’s a pretty big deal.” This product is still under development but hopes to surface into the market once testing has been completed.

Overall, Eco-Panels and their state-of-the-art insulated panel system and emerging technologies brings forth a new vision for building performance, especially regarding residential homes. North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association is proud to welcome Eco-Panels and all former NCBPA members to our organization. We look forward to serving each of you and pushing forward energy efficiency and building performance matters. Should anyone be building a new home, or know someone who is considering new construction, we invite them to check out the amazing work of our business member Eco-Panels. For a deep dive on their products, visit the website or contact them directly at

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