Friday, April 22, 2011

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) Make Good Sense

When we talk about the buildings we make at Shelter, one of the most frequently asked questions is, "What is a SIP?"

Stacks of SIPs before installation
The first time I saw a Structural Insulated Panel (SIP), I thought it looked like an ice cream sandwich. That's essentially how a SIP is made: EPS (expanded polystyrene) insulation laminated between sheets of OSB (oriented strand board). SIPs are not new to the homebuilding market. Fine Homebuilding notes that SIPs have been used since the 1940s.

Why do homebuilders, including Shelter, use SIPs in construction? As Fine Homebuilding succinctly points out, "[s]tructural insulated panels make stronger homes that go up faster and reduce energy bills dramatically."

While overall new home construction numbers are down, SIP use in construction is gaining in market share, according to Custom Home Online. Energy efficient construction is a leading reason why SIPs are increasing in popularity. Custom Home Online reports that structures built with SIPs "create a thermal barrier so tight that it can save homeowners up to 50 percent on heating and cooling costs." Coupled with increased durability, flexible design options, and shorter construction time (i.e. days rather than weeks), using SIPs in residential construction makes good sense.

There are some challenges presented when building with SIPs. First, the builder must understand how to properly seal the joints between panels and account for properly installing windows, doors, and other penetrations. (See a recent post by Gaius on metal roof penetrations.) In addition, because the house is so tightly sealed, serious consideration must be given to adequate ventilation.

As more homebuilders and homeowners focus on saving money on long-term heating and cooling costs, the use of SIPs in construction will continue to rise. Custom Home Online also explains that lab data proves SIP efficiency. "Oak Ridge National Laboratories in Oak Ridge, Tenn., for example, confirmed years ago that SIPs have a higher whole-wall insulation value and R-value than a conventional framed stud wall."

Want to learn more about building with SIPs or building an energy-efficient home? Shelter offers Design Build classes (where we discuss SIP construction) and occasionally offers an Intro to SIPs class. Visit our website for more information and class schedules.

We also sell a well-researched and informative guide to SIP construction, Building with Structural Insulated Panels. You can also visit the website of our SIP panel provider, R-Control.

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