Building homes of foam

Earth Day is tomorrow, which gets people thinking more about what they can do to be more “green” in their lives. There’s the usual recycling, composting, using less fossil fuel, but I just found out about a more unusual, real-estate related way to be environmentally friendly: build your house using foam. That’s right, foam.

About a week ago, my friend’s brother started building his house using the Saebi Alternative Building System (SABS), a multi-patented composite building system that uses foam as the core material for the walls, roof, floor, and ceiling of the structure. Only a handful of homes on Oahu have used this so far, although SABS has been in development for more than 15 years.

At first glance, the foam panels — some up to a foot thick — look and feel like the kind used in Styrofoam coolers, but they’re thicker, denser, and treated to be fire-resistant and termite-proof. The frame is assembled without nuts, bolts, straps or tie-downs, and it’s all done within building code. It’s then sprayed with a shell of cement (more specifically, a blend of sand, cement, glass fiber and other additives), assuring a solid, hurricane-proof house. It’s also resistant to salt spray, water penetration, mold, and rust — all of our favorite challenges with Hawaii homes.

Remember, this is about being environmentally friendly. The cement coating is made from materials found around the world, the balances of materials are nontoxic, and the foam is 99 percent recyclable. SABS structures also have Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications, a big buzzphrase for people who are conscious about “greening” their structures.

I asked my friend if this means her brother’s house will look like a box, due to the method of construction. As it turns out, the foam paneling can be easily shaped and manipulated to the design that you want. I can’t wait to see the finished product.

Remember, Styrofoam is used for coolers, so the lightweight material’s properties transfer to cooling homes. Best of all, are about 10 percent less expensive than traditional construction.

To hang art on the walls, however, you don’t use nails; you use a drill and a masonry anchor.

So if you buy a property (maybe one with an extra lot on Pacific Heights?) you could build your home and green it, too, for less than you would expect with other building projects.

To learn more about building with SABS, go to