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Structural Insulated Panels...Build A House Insulated Like An Ice Chest

Updated on November 5, 2011

A Home That Doesn't Waste Energy

Ever happen to take a look at your electricity meter during the summer or winter and watch the dial spin like a top. You're probably thinking how each spin of that dial represents dollars flying out of your wallet. Wouldn't it be nice to have a super-insulated home that doesn't waste all that hard-earned cash? Of course using less electricity is "eco-friendly," but a low utility bill is "pocketbook-friendly." With SIP, a net-zero energy use home is well within grasp.

The all-inclusive, load-bearing design of structural insulated panels (SIPs) offers an energy-efficient, quiet alternative to conventional wood framing methods. In recent years, SIPs have increasingly grown in popularity as builders strive to provide more durable products, use more environmentally sustainable building methods, and reduce costs. According to AMA Research, SIPs are now the fastest growing new building method on the market.

SIP Quick Build
SIP Quick Build

Quick Assembly Means More Time Watching Football

And You Save Labor Costs Too

When you design a digital floorplan, most SIP manufacturers are able to download your designs into their machines, and pre-cut the panels. When these pre-cut panels arrive on the jobsite, they can be quickly assembled by the workers (who don't need extensive training in assembly). Once construction begins, the work progresses quickly, with some houses completed within a day or two. The exterior building envelope is strong, airtight, and super energy efficient.

Building with Structural Insulated Panels

SIP View
SIP View

All For One and One For All

Framing, Insulation, & Sheathing In One Sandwich

What are these things? SIPs are basically big Oreo cookies. SIPs are panels made from a thick layer of foam (polystyrene or polyurethane) sandwiched between two layers of Oriented Strand Board (OSB), plywood or fiber-cement. The result is an engineered panel that provides structural framing, insulation, and exterior sheathing in a solid, one-piece component. Some manufacturers even offer finished colored sheathing sandwiched with sheetrock.

SIPs combine several components of conventional building, such as studs and joists, insulation, vapor barrier and air barrier. They can be used for many different applications, such as exterior wall, roof, floor and foundation systems.

SIP Room
SIP Room

Like Kryptonite To Superman

Wind, Earthquake, & Time Resistant

High wind and seismic activity are no match for the strength advantages SIPs offer over conventional framing. Bonding of the foam core to the stiff outer skins creates the capacity to handle axial, bending, racking, and shear loads. Sagging and settling seen in common conventional framing over time is a thing of the past with SIPs.

Great Stuff on Amazon

Building with Structural Insulated Panels: Strength & Energy Efficiency Through Structural Panel Construction
Building with Structural Insulated Panels: Strength & Energy Efficiency Through Structural Panel Construction

Within the decade, it is estimated that as much as one-third of residential construction will use structural insulated panels, or SIPs. These energy-efficient building panels are among the strongest, most versatile construction components available today. Michael Morley presents information about this relatively new technology for the many builders who will be using it within the near future but who know little about it.

Green from the Ground Up: Sustainable, Healthy, and Energy-Efficient Home Construction (Builder's Guide)
Green from the Ground Up: Sustainable, Healthy, and Energy-Efficient Home Construction (Builder's Guide)

A thorough, informative, and up-to-date reference on green, sustainable and energy-efficient home construction that clarifies definitions of green and sustainable and guides builders and architects through the process of new or remodel green construction, including issues of site, landscaping, durability, and energy-efficiency. The book gives builders and architects the tools to respond to growing requests from homeowners for green and energy-efficient houses, whether new or remodeled. Homeowners can use the book to understand the concepts, process, and options, whether they're doing it themselves or working with a professional.

Toward a Zero Energy Home: A Complete Guide to Energy Self-Sufficiency at Home
Toward a Zero Energy Home: A Complete Guide to Energy Self-Sufficiency at Home

A Zero Energy Home (ZEH) - a home that produces as much energy as it consumes - is an idea whose time has come! Authors David Johnston and Scott Gibson (Green from the Ground Up) explore the design and construction of self-sufficient houses from start to finish. They make the case for a ZEH; cite climate and geographic challenges; describe exactly how to go about building an energy-efficient home; and feature ten houses that were built for zero energy living.

Building an Affordable House: Trade Secrets to High-Value, Low-Cost Construction
Building an Affordable House: Trade Secrets to High-Value, Low-Cost Construction

The first comprehensive guide of its kind, Building an Affordable House is for homeowners and building contractors who want to incorporate proven cost-saving techniques into their projects. Written by a contractor who has been nationally recognized for his innovative approach to cost control, this book shows readers how to generate significant savings on major projects such as building a new home or adding on to an existing one.

Insulating Concrete Forms Construction Manual
Insulating Concrete Forms Construction Manual

Insulated concrete forming systems (ICFs) provide many benefits to both contractors and homeowners. Hidden from view under sheetrock and siding, ICFs offer low labor costs; are easy to install; and are durable, energy-efficient, fire-safe, and virtually soundproof. Homes built with these systems look like any other, but under the standard covering lie solid, built-to-last concrete walls. Endorsed by the Portland Cement Association, this concise handbook gives contractors the hands-on information they need to use ICFs in the field.

SIP Model
SIP Model

Hot Stays Hot, and Cool Stays Cool

Ice Chest-like Insulation

A thick unbroken insulated barrier provides air tightness and thermal performance that simply cannot be achieved with conventional framing. SIPs offer a dense, uniform, and continuous barrier that has few thermal bridges, and drastically reduces the ability of radiant heat to move through the barrier. Conventional framing, even with the best sprayed foam insulation is thermal-conductive at each stud, allowing radiant heat to move. SIPs reduce the opportunity for your energy to be lost, and summer heat simply cannot find a way in.

Don't make me get technical with you, but a standard 4" thick SIP typically has the same R-Value as a 6" conventional wall, but can be higher depending on components. Wall sections are usually offered in 4" and 6" thick, and match standard construction sizes. Roof sections can be made in 8" and 12" thick (or more).

SIPs -The building technology of the future

SIP Sectional
SIP Sectional

Standard Or Custom...Your Call

Vaulted Ceilings...And More

Commonly, manufactured wall panels are 4 to 24 feet wide and 8 or 9 ft. high, made in standard thicknesses of 4 ½ " to 6 ½". The foam core is typically held back from the edge to allow the panel to accept 2x4 top and bottom plates. Thicknesses of up to twelve inches are available for roof panels where greater R-value is needed. The core material of thicker panels usually corresponds to standard lumber dimensions, so that board stock may be used for splines and plates. Panel lengths can vary to accommodate higher ceilings or roof spans up to 24 ft.

Many manufacturers maintain a standard panel width of 4 ft. for ease of transportation and handling, but wider panels are sometimes designed to accommodate door and window openings. Alternatively, rough openings for doors may be created by placing header sections between full-length wall panels. Window opening can be made in a similar fashion with the addition of a base panel. Dimensional lumber usually frames out rough openings. For wider openings, headers with greater load bearing capacity may be needed.

Build With INSULSPAN Structural Insulated Panels

To SIP or not to SIP


In your next new home build, will you consider using SIP?

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Structural Insulated Panel (SIP) Construction Animation

Structural Insulated Panels

Insulspan home built in 3 days!

An Alternative: Compressed Earth Blocks CEB

Compressed Earth Blocks use thermal transfer of heat to regulate the interior temperature of the home instead of R-value.

Reader Feedback

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    • profile image


      4 years ago

      This is very interesting. I would definitely consider this type of construction if I was building a home.

    • Countryluthier profile image

      E L Seaton 

      6 years ago from Virginia

      Hey, sign me up for that SIP. I intend to use Containers and perhaps I can combine these into my design.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great info - would be great to keep the cold in better during the summer.

    • ajgodinho profile image

      Anthony Godinho 

      7 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Interesting indeed...learned something new today.

    • Paul Ward profile image


      7 years ago from Liverpool, England

      Interesting and well explained.


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