Shirey Contracting

The roots of green remodeling run deep at 25-year-old Shirey Contracting in Issaquah, Wash., a Seattle suburb.

December 31, 2002


Shirey Contracting owners Donna Bade Shirey (top right) and her husband, Riley Shirey, are joined by Kelly Jackson (front row), Tracy Maynock (top left), Kelly Lems and Carolyn Thomas. Photo: Gregg Krogstad

The roots of green remodeling run deep at 25-year-old Shirey Contracting in Issaquah, Wash., a Seattle suburb. For 14 years, the remodeling firm has been using advanced building techniques and materials to conserve natural resources, preserve indoor air quality, lower utility bills and build better houses.

President Donna Bade Shirey, CGR, CAPS, and her husband, vice president Riley Shirey, who own the firm, have been instrumental in developing the Built Green program of their local builders association. This year the company completed the program's first three-star (the highest rating possible) remodeling project, and Donna became chair of the Built Green department of the association's new "university."

Structural insulated panels: Shirey says her company's biggest contribution to green remodeling is its use and advocacy of structural insulated panels (SIPs). She cites several advantages to SIPs: 1) ease of installation, which means relatively unskilled laborers can work with them and the building process moves more rapidly; 2) energy efficiency and reduced heating and cooling costs; and 3) reduced waste on the job site.

Shirey uses SIPs made of 5 5/8 inches of expanded polystyrene sandwiched between two pieces of 7/16-inch-thick oriented strand board. They can serve for walls, floors or roofs, and using them eliminates the need for framing and insulation.

Shirey Contracting sends project designs to the manufacturer, which determines what panels are needed and custom-cuts them at the factory, including framing for rough openings. The factory numbers the SIPs and sends them to Shirey's job site along with layouts and elevations that explain where to start.

"All our laborers can put it together," says Donna Shirey. "Basic skills are required. You have to be able to use a nail gun and a level." Because of the ease, she says, work goes faster. "When you're putting a second-story addition on an existing house that you have to protect from the weather, doing it in 4 1/2 days is pretty phenomenal."

SIPs' energy-efficient features include the wall panels’ connecting with thermally broken posts - two 2x4s that are on edge, rather than running from the inside to the outside of the wall. "It's like a tongue-and-groove system," Shirey explains. "With stick building, you have that thermal short circuit, so heat goes right through the wall."

Another advantage of SIPs: The walls don't contain air, so they don't absorb vapor. Eliminating the use of green lumber also limits moisture. Both factors decrease the likelihood of creating a breeding ground for mold.

"If you have a stick-built house and you have a negative pressure, that vapor from the inside of the house wants to go in the stud space," Shirey says. "Or vapor from the outside wants to go in that stud space."

Recycling: Recycling is a key part of Shirey Contracting’s work practices. It starts with site preparation. When digging into topsoil, workers scrape off the topsoil and stockpile it for return after the job. They take concrete and drywall to be recycled, save lumber from the existing home to be reused on the remodel, and encourage homeowners to sell or donate used but decent fixtures and other materials.

Indoor air quality: Remodeling with SIPs makes the homes Shirey Contracting works on tight, necessitating a mechanical exchange of air. "We use an air-to-air heat exchanger if possible," Shirey says. "We can incorporate it into a forced-air furnace situation." In a home with hot-water radiator heat and no ducting system, the company specifies a whole-house fan with vents to bring in makeup air.

Since the Shireys voluntarily began mechanically exchanging air, that practice has become part of the Washington state energy code.

"It all revolves around education," Shirey says. "Building is becoming more sophisticated than it used to be."

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