Imagine living in a virtually indestructible home that can last a minimum of 200 years, and its inspiration came from the oldest reptile in the world: The tortoise. One more thing — this home is made from foam.
Creating a home that’s “similar to a foam cooler or a coffee cup” with no transfer of temperature provides remarkable energy savings for its owner. It might sound simple in theory, but it took Dr. Nasser Saebi his entire career to come up with his remarkable invention — a home that could withstand fire, and environmental events like tornadoes or hurricanes and doesn’t require lumber, steel, or other traditional building materials.
Dr. Saebi is the founder of Phoenix-based Strata International Group and the creator of the Saebi Alternative Building System or SABS.
- When and where was the first SABS house built in Arizona?
- Why isn’t this technology everywhere?
- Are there significant savings when buying a SABS home?
- What does a builder need to know about SABS construction?
- Can I put a SABS addition on my current home?
- How long will a SABS home last?
- Is it really eco-friendly?
- Can I buy a SABS home in Phoenix right now?
Livabl spoke to Amir Saebi, Dr. Saebi’s son and the executive operations manager at Strata International Group about the Saebi Alternative Building System, its progress, and its capabilities.
When and where was the first SABS house built in Arizona?
The first house was built during the testing of SABS. That was back in 2003, and I believe it finished in late 2004. It’s a 4,200-square-foot home in Scottsdale. That home still looks as if it was built yesterday. It has required zero upkeep since it was [constructed].
One of the reasons why the owner bought it was because of SABS’ lock-tight air transfer. At the time, he had two small kids, and one of them dealt with asthma. In Arizona, we have severe dust storms. People that have asthma can have issues with traditional stick-frame homes. It could have termites, mold, and the transfer of dust can go through the frames.
So, the SABS building helped his son with his asthma; it was a brand-new technology. [To him] it seemed like it was very promising. So, he took the risk, and since then, he has saved so much on energy costs. His house looks brand new compared to the next-door neighbor who built his home during the same time.
His sons have since grown up and gone to college, but he doesn’t want to sell the house. He said, “Why would I want to sell my home when paying less on my electricity bill? I never have to change my roof, and I never have to work on anything when it comes to the house.” So, he decided to keep it, which was our first home. Since then, we’ve spread throughout the U.S. We’ve built in Colorado, New Mexico, Hawaii, California, Utah, and Texas, in addition to Arizona.
Why aren’t SABS homes part of mainstream building?
We feel that it’s just starting to catch on in the market. We got our building code in 2008, but by 2009, the housing market crashed. The 10-year construction market recovery was like a double-edged sword, but it was a good thing for us. Even though construction was slow, it helped us to do two things: It enabled us to go international, and it allowed us to perform trial and error on our product. The product was so new that we had so much to work on to make it what it needed. It’s such a unique product and it’s got such a promising future.
But during that slowdown, a few things happened. First, people didn’t want to invest in new technology with almost no track record. Imagine when the risk is high, and the supply of funds is limited. Somebody investing in building a development or a new customer using their life savings — they didn’t want to take on a product that doesn’t have any data behind it, even though the idea is excellent. We had a few projects here and there that we could show others. [The use of SABS] could be done well, benefiting everybody. Still, the skepticism of others was too high.
When the market started to come around, we realized that this time helped us rather than hurt us. We didn’t know it at the time. There was so much we discovered about our product that we would have never been able to do without that downtime to focus on it. Then itIt also led us to work on international projects. We introduced SABS in China, Japan, Dubai, and Mexico.
After 2016, we started back in the market. We’re doing around 30 to 40 projects this year. Next year, we should be about doing approximately 60 projects. We’ve still got a way to go. But SABS is starting to be recognized in the media and by major builders. In the next five years, it will be crucial for the product to leave its mark in the market to be a major innovation. We want to focus on the quality rather than put out as many numbers as possible. We don’t want to take for the dollar value. We want to make a difference in the market.
Something like our product has a unique opportunity to place an impression in the market that can last forever, change the market, and change building technology. We can do this instead of having to cut [down trees] and hurt our ecosystem. Instead, we can create commercial and residential products that can last generations.
We also can fix supply chain issues by using SABS. There are only two products: Foam and high-strength concrete. Both are very common and don’t rely on many different moving factors that you might need for a stick frame home. We don’t have many power tools on the job site. There are a lot of different areas that SABS cuts down and improves. It improves the job site, teams, and much more than just building a technology.
What savings can a homeowner expect in a SABS house versus a traditional home?
SABS saves costs because you don’t have to add any additional insulation. It’s like creating a product similar to a foam cooler or a coffee cup. Imagine having a cup of coffee in a foam cup. The coffee stays warm inside, but your fingers don’t burn. This is because it doesn’t have a transfer of temperature. That’s why you have foam insulation added to stick frame homes. With SABS, your frame is your insulation. No extra insulation installation means it saves you a ton of money.
Homeowners also save on energy bills because of such high R-values for their energy efficiency. Their energy bills get slashed in half. They can turn on the A/C for an hour or two and turn it off the rest of the day. The temperature should remain the same inside the home because there’s no transfer of temperature leaving that house.
SABS homes also cut down on labor. Right now, we have a job in Chandler, Arizona, and the home is 6,000 square feet. Only three workers are building that home. By comparison, you would need at least five to eight people to make a traditional home that size.
Another benefit is that you also have room for error. For example, let’s say you made the door bigger than planned. All you have to do is glue in some foam rather than having to cut the frame or buy more lumber. So, it’s a two-part product. You’re not going to need additional things unless you want to add to your finishes.
SABS can be a finished product if you want to resemble stucco on the outside, and you can smooth it on the inside. You don’t need additional finishes unless that is something that the owner would prefer. When it comes to finishes, you can paint, use stucco, or use anything else that would normally be applied to a [traditional] home. But because it’s a two-part product, you’re not going to need additional things, which cuts costs.
SABS is designed to be a faster construction process if your construction is organized. For example, the 6,000-square-foot home in Chandler had the walls go up in about three weeks. So, you can’t go at lightning speed, but you can do extremely fast construction.
You still want to make sure you are doing the job correctly. Strata is mainly a supplier and an engineering company. We don’t manage the projects of others. Traditionally, all the projects we’re seeing are going up extremely fast, about 20% to 30% faster in construction. So that cuts down the cost of construction as well.
The next saving goes into your upkeep. You don’t have to replace a roof because the roof is made from SABS. You don’t have to do any termite or mold treatment. It’s already termite and mold resistant.
We’ve had events where a car went through a column, but instead of reengineering the whole house and replacing the entire frame, you only have to replace that column. This repair costs maybe $500 maximum in materials and labor rather than redoing most of the framing. In terms of natural events such as earthquakes or tornadoes and things, we’ve had tornadoes happen, we’ve had earthquakes happen. It has led to houses without a scratch.
When a builder wants to construct a SABS home, do they need specific training?
We have certification classes, and they’re every month. If builders go on our website, they can request the training. One of our training representatives will give them a call, and we will provide the training.
Can you put a SABS addition onto a traditional home?
Absolutely. We’ve done luxury remodels recently up to 3,000 square feet. One of the advantages when remodeling traditional homes with SABS is that it can mimic and camouflage any design.
For example, one project we have is in Camelback, Arizona. It’s a 1926 Santa Fe-style home, and the owners wanted to add several additions. They wanted to do the primary bedroom, primary kitchen, a guest house, and two garages. The SABS design matches the old house 100% and attaches the same way you would with any traditional addition.
How long does a SABS home last?
One thing about plastic is that it does not deteriorate. It can sit there for years and years. Nothing will happen. When you cover it with high-strength concrete, it goes from being indestructible to everlasting. They are made to last for generations, anywhere from 200 to 500 years.
What about the environmental concerns of using a product that isn’t biodegradable?
Here’s one point that many argue: Someone will say, “Building stick-frame is more eco-friendly because you break it down, trees grow back, and they’re biodegradable.” But it can also be argued that you’re cutting trees down at a rapid rate. Look at the Amazon rainforests. Look at how fast trees are being chopped down in areas in the United States and Northern America. So, [plastic] can’t be put back into the earth, and trees can regrow. However, it is messing up the ecosystem because of the rapid rate at which trees are being chopped down.
It takes energy to produce oil, where they get their petroleum waste to [make products like foam]. But you build a house that can last you anywhere between 250 to 500 years. If you have enough of those houses, you can have that much more growth in the ecosystem. So, you’re only spending energy to build more homes, which will last The inventory will remain and stay in the market for generations and centuries to come.
Another eco-friendly factor is energy savings. You don’t have to produce as much energy to keep the house comfortable. In Arizona, we have 118- degree summers. During construction, when you have the roof over the home, it can be 118°F degrees outside, and it’s only 90 degrees inside with just a fan blowing.
Can someone in Phoenix buy a SABS house right now?
Absolutely. You go through the website, and there’s a form that you fill out for a new build. There’s a form for training. There’s a form for design and engineering, too. We can help you in many ways to build precisely the type of home you want.
To learn more about Strata International Group, visit their website by clicking here.