When San Dimas, Calif.-based North American Residential Communities began installing radiant barrier sheathing in its homes, the builder's managers noticed a difference in their workers' break-time habits. Employees used to eat their lunch in the shade of the homes they were building, but now they sit inside.

"The workers realized it was cooler inside the homes" with radiant barrier sheathing, says John Hellewell, director of purchasing for the company that builds about 300 houses a year.

The change in the workers' habits showed off the benefits of radiant barrier roof sheathing, leading North American Residential Communities to install the product in every home the company builds.

With energy costs and usage shooting up around the country, manufacturers say radiant barrier panel sales are taking off. Driven primarily by growth in the Sunbelt states, sales of the panels have doubled in two years, says Rusty Carroll, marketing manager for OSB business at LP Building Products, and he expects double-digit sales increases this year as well.

"It's becoming a more cost effective product in the field," Carroll says, because it no longer takes homeowners 15 to 20 years to see a investment. Depending on the climate and energy use, homeowners can save up to 20 percent annually on their utility bills. "The homeowner can now get a return in about three years," he says.

The sheathing, made of regular OSB or plywood panels with a layer of radiant barrier foil laminated to one side, blocks about 97 percent of the sun's radiant heat, reducing attic temperatures by around 30 degrees, manufacturers claim.

Radiant barrier sheet works most effectively in homes where the air conditioning unit and ductwork are in the attic, such as in concrete slab homes in the South. "It takes the heat load off of the ductwork and air handler, so it allows your air conditioner to run that much less," Carroll says. It also reduces wear and tear on the unit, allowing it to last longer.

New building codes are one of the biggest factors driving the growth of radiant barriers. Hellewell says North American Residential used the product initially to meet more stringent standards for Title 24, California's mandatory building efficiency standards. Radiant barrier panels are one way builders can improve their homes' energy efficiency to meet the performance standards.

The sheathing also can help builders gain a $2,000 federal tax credit if they achieve 50 percent energy savings for heating and cooling over the 2004 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). "One of the least expensive ways to achieve your energy ratings is to add radiant barrier sheathing," explains Terry Stone, general manager of marketing for Ainsworth, manufacturer of Thermastrand OSB.

Energy Break
Builders are beginning to realize that radiant barrier panels can help them outshine their competition, particularly in a depressed market. American Heritage Homes has two communities where the sheathing is a standard feature and offers it as an option on its other developments.

"We have started to focus a lot more of our efforts on ... higher energy efficiencies," says Terry Donovan, vice president of sales and marketing for the St. Louis-based builder. "It's definitely something that is setting us apart from our competition. [Customers] want something that will help them combat those utility bill spikes."

Despite the advantages, marketing those benefits to potential home buyers can be a challenge. "Sell your end user on the concept that they're going to see the payoff over time," says Leslie Hutto, sales manager for structural panels at Georgia-Pacific. "The hard part is how to articulate that value. There's no set number of how much money they'll save."

American Heritage Homes sets a conservative range of savings, Donovan says, but even 15 percent energy savings "is a very respectable number," he adds.

North American Residential devised a creative, hands-on display depicting a house with radiant barrier panels and one without, with a thermometer set up beneath each. The two thermometers usually show a 35- to 40-degree difference, Hellewell says.

Homeowners are warming to radiant barrier panels, says John Rogalski, vice president of business development for Martco. "You're starting to see potential homeowners realize, "If I have this product, it's going to allow me to lower these monthly costs and promote it when I sell.'"

To the Walls
Using improved roof sheathing to reduce attic temperatures is great, but what about the walls, which still face a barrage of weather conditions and noise? Several manufacturers offer specialty structural wall sheathing to battle these problems and more.

--BUILDING PRODUCTS