Would You Like a SIP?

New building materials become available daily and I want to talk about one I think we will soon be seeing a lot more of. Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are a high-performance building panel that can be used for floors, walls and roofs. They consist of a rigid foam plastic insulation core (similar to styrofoam) sandwiched between two structural skins, usually oriented strand board (OSB). In the words of the contractor on our project, it looks like “a giant ice cream sandwich”.

Through the use of computer controlled fabrication technology, SIPs are cut to the design accurately and delivered to the jobsite. Chases for electrical wire and openings for doors and windows are provided for at the factory so that when the panels arrive on site they simply have to be erected and connected together.

SIPs are designed to take the place of traditional stick framing with batt insulation in residential and light commercial framing. The first question of course is what is the cost difference? While the material cost of the panel is quite a bit more than stick framing, once you factor in the labor savings, they should come out about even.

The real value though comes from the energy savings. Because the panel has little wood framing and provides solid continuous insulation, thermal bridging is minimized which can provide significant energy savings annually. The energy savings alone make this product appealing to an industry that is looking more and more towards sustainable design. Other appealing characteristics are the use of engineered wood product, insulating foam cores made of 98 percent air and no CFC blowing agents, almost no job site waste, and improved indoor air quality.

While this is a very brief overview, it starts to demonstrate big changes that are being made by others in the industry to cut down on energy loss through building skins.