Build With SIPs

Is this the building technology of the future? Here’s why structural insulated panels are a great option for building sturdy, energy-efficient houses.

| August/September 2011

As an architect, I’ve been using structural insulated panels (SIPs) since 1992, when they were relatively new. Since then, I’ve designed several hundred residential and commercial projects using SIPs. In my opinion, they are superior to conventional framing systems in almost every way — SIPs are simply better insulated, stronger and faster to build with than standard stick-frame construction. SIPs also help conserve forest resources, because they produce almost no waste.

As worldwide timber quality and availability continue to decline and the costs of labor and energy increase, SIP construction should become more popular and cost-effective. I predict that in the next 10 years, the U.S. construction industry will adopt SIPs as the system of choice.

Advantages of SIPs

Structural insulated panels are typically composed of rigid foam insulation sandwiched between two skins of oriented strand board — kind of like a s’more. The exterior skins are attached to the foam core with a high-strength adhesive.

The foam core material is often expanded polystyrene — the same material used in ice chests and shipping “peanuts.” Some manufacturers use polyurethane or isocyanate foam cores. The skins can be plywood, metal or other rigid sheet materials, but oriented strand board is used by the majority of SIP manufacturers. The foam core serves as a spacer and insulator between the exterior skins. (Keep reading for more specifics about these materials, and their environmental impacts.)

Altogether, the structure acts as a monolithic whole — as opposed to stick-frame construction using 2-by-4s, where hundreds of individual nailed connections hold the studs and skins together. As a result, SIPs are twice as strong as a wood-framed house, which is a real advantage in locations that experience tornadoes or hurricane-force winds.

SIPs are also extremely energy efficient. Compared to a typical stick-frame house, a house built of SIPs will require about half the energy to heat and cool throughout the year in most climates. It’s not just the thickness of the polystyrene inside that makes SIPs more energy efficient — it’s that the whole panel is designed to function as one structural unit. The thermal “tightness” and resistance to heat flow work with the insulation value to achieve exceptional comfort and energy efficiency.

10/6/2017 5:37:40 PM

I build and remodel exclusivity here in Florida with SIPS, amazing product and i agree that ir is the way of the future when it comes to home building. I am also building, what I am being told is he most energy efficient home built in Hillsborough county.

10/6/2017 10:15:39 AM


5/22/2013 12:34:55 PM

Excellent article with accurate information. I will be building a sips house in the near future. After much research I believe the benefits of sips construction are unmatched. Are sips the most green building method? No. Are they a drastic improvement over conventional bulding techniques, yes. While researching I came across an interesting case study where a builder built a sips building for a church and the exterior was not finished. The raw osb was left exposed. This building was built in the mid 80's and recently he went back to see if they ever finished the building. The exterior was never finished and surprisingly the sheathing had held up extremely well. Rot on the panel was very minimal after 25 years completely exposed. The explanation was that the osb used in sips is of much higher quality than the commercially available off the shelf product. I believe a properly constructed sips structure will have far less maintenance and issues than most other forms of construction. Compare the other benefits of sips construction like using up to 60 percent less energy every month and the speed of construction. Two houses locally began construction at about the same time and I watched each progress. One being built by a sips construction company called SIPS Solutions and the other being built by a local contractor. The sips house construction crew was only about 5 or 6 people but the house went up very quick compared to the other house. In less than a week the entire strucutre was up and the traditional house was still being framed with no sheathing or insulation done. I'm sure there were other factors as to the speed of construction but it just shows a well managed crew with a better building technology can out perform other methods. For my 2400 sq ft project the overall cost comparision for sips construction to stick construction will be about 3 to 5 percent more. This is negligible as cost overruns on traditional construction can easily offset this expense and the energy savings will quickly make up the difference and a lot more. My new house will be a sips house and I will have absolutely no concerns about it.

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