Building Smart with SIPS

Reader Contribution by Michael Morley
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Hi, my name is Michael Morley. I have been a professional builder since 1978. I’ve lived and worked in California, but gone back to my roots in Kansas for the last 20 years. I have been focused on energy-efficient building technologies and how building science affects building performance, and I hope to share some of this knowledge with you. 

I became certified as a HERS rater in 2000 mainly to understand energy and moisture theory and how it affected my own building designs. I am getting recertified now through the accurate rater network and will be available to perform energy analyses and HERS ratings in the near future. My company, SIPsmart Building Systems has been designing and building green, energy-efficient buildings since the early ’90s. I have been working with the Structural Insulated Panel (SIP) building system and our business exclusively uses SIPs as a primary building material. I believe that the key to a truly green building is the energy-efficient envelope that allows all of the whizbang components to integrate into a really good building. My passion for this led me to get a contract to write a book for the Taunton Press titled Building with Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs). I know this is a mouthful, but it does describe what the book is about — an introduction to SIPs and their relation to good building practices.

My company has teamed up with Lawrence, Kan., nonprofit organization Tenants to Homeowners (TTH). This organization has developed over 30 affordable, energy-efficient homes for moderate income working class people. We had a successful collaboration on a small SIP home last year and are about to raise the bar for Lawrence once again. Both TTH and my company are trying to combine high performance with affordability. That’s not an easy thing to do in a first installed cost driven marketplace. Because TTH qualifies their client base and subsidizes some of the building expenses, they are able to build a better building. 

The executive director of TTH, Rebecca Buford, liked our design we call ARCX. ARCX stands for Architecture Resistant to Climatic eXtremes and utilizes SIP technology combined with an unusual geometry. This geometry goes back to regular Platonic polygons. If one combines the vertices created by an Icosahedron and a Dodecahedron you end up with a figure called a rhombic Triacontahedron. An additional grid of vertices is created where the edges of these two solid polygons cross. When those vertices are pushed to the same spherical plain as the vertices of the two main polygons what results is a shape we call a Geodesic Triacontahedron. The main advantage of the shape is that the triangles that are used to form the sphere are a slightly distorted right triangle and can be cut from the 8′ x  24′  SIP blank panels with very high efficiency. Over the next few weeks I will post some drawings to illustrate this.

The initial postings for this blog are going to be a daily log of the construction of one of our ARCX buildings. The version that we are building is called the Transition 29-9.  It is a hybrid geodesic plus rectilinear building that is unique among building designs. This building will be a three bedroom two bath single family residence built in the East Lawrence neighborhood. I look forward to sharing what we are doing with you and adding what graphics and photos that I can find to go long with posts. Your comments and questions are welcome.