And, a hallmark of that new incarnation is the company’s manufacturing of energy efficient structural insulated panels, also known as SIPs. These insulated wall and roof panels, which are made from plywood and polystyrene foam, carry high insulation values. They are used in residential, agricultural and light commercial structures, and will be a large component of the $8.5 million Lake Tunnel Solar Village project proposed for the city of Geneva.
EPS Buildings, an employee-owned company headquartered in Iowa, purchased another manufacturing facility in Missouri in 2010, then added Fingerlakes Construction to its portfolio in 2013. Kirt Burghdorf, general manager of the Clyde plant, said EPS was looking to expand its business to the East Coast, and Fingerlakes Construction already had a manufacturing facility on site where it was making roof trusses, roofing and siding.
Burghdorf relayed that, in the early 1990s, Fingerlakes Construction — it was owned by Robert Brinsky at the time — started producing roof trusses as a way to improve the quality and availability of them for its projects.
“We didn’t want to wait around for orders to be filled,” Burghdorf said, adding the company eventually started making building columns and metal roofing and siding as well.
EPS wanted to add the production of insulated panels to the Clyde plant, which began in 2014, a year after the company purchased Fingerlakes Construction. The 93,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Clyde has five separate buildings; one formerly used as storage was retrofitted for SIP panel production. The other buildings house the truss plant; roll forming plant (where metal siding and roofing are produced); offices; and storage space for accessories and hardware.
In addition to creating the SIP manufacturing space, EPS invested heavily in other manufacturing tools and machines in Clyde to increase efficiency. Today, only the construction end of the business operates under the Fingerlakes Construction name, while the rest of the work at the Old Route 31 facility falls under the EPS umbrella.
“(Former owner) Bob Brinsky was concerned about leaving his employees in good hands, but I think he did a good job with that,” Burghdorf said.
Today, there are about 50 employees who work in Clyde. There are jobs in engineering, manufacturing, sales, purchasing and accounting. EPS also has sales employees in Western New York, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire; the branch aims to cover the East Coast. Burghdorf said EPS has sold products in Maine, and on one day last week was delivering a house in Florida.
About 75 percent of its sales are in the post-frame sector for agricultural and light commercial buildings. The other 25 percent are in residential SIP homes, a sector the company is trying to grow as more people become cognizant and committed to energy efficiency. Burghdorf said SIP panel homes cost about 10 percent more than conventionally framed homes, but the energy savings cover those higher costs in about 5-7 years.
According to the company’s website, SIP systems can be used in new homes, commercial buildings, workshops and agricultural storage buildings. They’re 15 times more airtight than conventional construction. The panels that are produced (foam glued to two pieces of plywood, like a sandwich) serve as interlocking blocks and fit together to form walls and structures.
Gone are the days of wall studs every few feet. Homeowners can still custom-design their homes with SIP panels.
“It’s a lot tighter house. Plus, it’s panelized, so it’s a lot easier to assemble,” Burghdorf explained, noting that’s a plus in today’s construction industry where the labor market is tight.
In addition, he said energy codes are becoming more difficult to meet, but buildings with SIP panels “meet them easily.”
EPS’ philosophy is to sell pre-engineered building packages to contractors who then erect the buildings. The company can design the building, make its components, and let the contractor focus on assembling it.
“This is a one-stop shop,” he said. “Each project is kind of new. The bulk of our business is customizing to what the owner needs. We try to manufacture as much as we can for (the contractors) to reduce some of their field work.”
Ryan Wallace, CEO of SmallGrid, the company planning to build a solar village in Geneva, said all of the wall and roof panels will be purchased from EPS.
“We came to know about this EPS product just doing research into the best methodology to create a zero-energy home, then delightfully found they were in our backyard, and furthermore were excited to know they were associated with Fingerlakes Construction,” Wallace said. “The value from our standpoint is that they are a large national company with a lot of engineering and manufacturing prowess, and then they have this local presence.”
Wallace has visited the Clyde plant and hopes SmallGrid’s association with EPS will help it grow its residential sector.
Using the SIP panels is critical to the project, Wallace explained. In conventional construction — even with good insulation — cold air can still penetrate wooden 2-by-6s.
“What’s kind of cool about it is what it allows us to do: It allows us to shrink the size of our heat pump, and what that means is that the solar panels on the roof are enough to heat your home,” Wallace explained. “ ... We could not do what we’re doing without the EPS panels as our walls.”