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This do-it-yourself house is a sophisticated energy saver

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The Cherokee Indians recently gave the nod of approval to a housing system that combines an age-old construction technology with a modern one previously used only in high-rise buildings. As a result, energy-efficient, easy-to-build, more-affordable houses should soon be available to Americans everywhere.

Post-and-beam framing, once widely used in Europe and in early America, has been paired with an insulated wall-panel system used in high-rise construction for the past decade. The result is a home that can be heated and cooled for less than $300 a year at current electric rates. It can be erected by three people with modest do-it-yourself skills in a week, or by a skilled construction crew in two or three days.

A few years back, the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma approached the Institute of Man and Science and asked in effect: ''Can you do anything about our deplorable housing?'' They did not feel existing construction was giving them very much for their money.

The nonprofit institute, based in Rensselaerville, N.Y., assigned the problem to its engineers with these demands: The designs had to be energy efficient, readily erected, and simple enough that homeowners with modest skills could build the basic structure on their own.

By adapting modern steel and foam wall panels for use with centuries-old post-and-beam framing, the designers met these requirements. The panels are made by chemically bonding closed-cell polyurethane foam between two lightweight steel skins. Polyurethane (in no way related to urea-formaldehyde foam, which can give off irritating gases) has an insulating value more than double that of fiber glass.

The rules governing a nonprofit organization forbade the Institute of Man and Science from marketing the product it had developed. So Pond Hill Homes Ltd., of Blairsville, Pa., was established to manufacture and market the components, which are pieced together at the building site. A Pond Hill home, in other words , is not so much built as it is erected.


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