Furthermore, SIPs construction can be cost neutral when compared with stick framing. Peggy Duncker, a principal at Tobler Duncker Architects in Jackson, Wyo., designed her own home with SIPs. “The company wanted to see how much it would cost to do the walls with panels,” she says. “They came up with the identical price.”

LINGERING CONCERNS

Of course SIPs are not without issues and questions, and even fans say there are kinks to work out.

“There are engineering solutions that make sense for SIPs,” says Mike Bryan, division manager for panels at SIPs manufacturer Premier Building Systems. “Some areas have high labor rates and it makes sense to use SIPs to reduce the cost.”

But Bryan says stick framing typically is cheaper. “In the panel industry, the infrastructure is not totally in place. Once it is, the price will come down and will be even less than stick framing.”

Other issues exist too. “There is still some concern about the long-term durability of the panels,” Ball says. And he has more questions: Is there any information on the lifespan of the binders that glue the OSB together? If the OSB delaminates to any degree, is there any remedy? Is there any information on the lifespan of the bond between the OSB and the foam?

In addition, Ball says, based on his experience, SIPs take some time getting used to; they are heavy, do not accommodate complex roof designs, and are difficult to wire. “Despite what manufacturers say, electricians hate fishing wire through the foam,” he contends.

“It is not a tried-and-true product like stick framing, so people are reluctant to use it,” adds Duncker. In addition, she asks, “What happens when the OSB gets wet and starts to rot? You just can't remove the siding and replace the OSB.”

Bill Wachtler, executive director of the Structural Panel Association, says most questions and apprehensions people have about SIPs disappear once they become familiar with the product. As for the wiring issue, builders can build up baseboard and run the wiring behind it. And Wachtler says complex roofs can go up a little faster with SIPs than with dimensional lumber. “You definitely have to plan ahead, but after you do it a couple of times, it becomes easier,” he says.

Exposure to rain will not reduce the panel's structural integrity, and it would be highly unlikely for an OSB skin to come apart from the foam core, Wachtler claims. If any delamination occurs, repairs can be made, he adds.

McDonough says most of the issues associated with panels are minor ones. “Like any material, there are negatives,” the architect says. “But all of the things I ran into are manageable.”