Launch Slideshow

Efficient Solutions

10 SIPs offerings designed to boost installation speed and create a tight building envelope.

Efficient Solutions

10 SIPs offerings designed to boost installation speed and create a tight building envelope.

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    Premier Building Systems. The company’s SIPs consist of OSB sandwiching EPS foam; FSC-certified OSB and zero-VOC mastic are available for the panels. The manufacturer claims the panels will save 40% to 60% on heating and cooling costs over traditional framing methods. The SIPs are 100% recyclable; the EPS foam includes recycled content and does not have CFCs, HCFCs, or formaldehyde. 800.275.7086. www.pbssips.com.
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    Winterpanel. The manufacturer offers a variety of interior finishes for its SIPs, including Woodclad panels, which feature an interior finish of 1x8 V-groove pine. Its non-structural Curtainwall product features an outer skin of APA-rated Exposure-1?7/16-inch OSB and an inner skin of gypsum drywall ½-inch blueboard type suitable for tape and paint or plaster skim coat. The panels are available with EPS or polyisocyanurate cores. 802.254.3435. www.winterpanel.com.
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    Energy SIPs. The company’s panels are a hybrid of SIPs and component framing, consisting of factory-framed walls foamed with BioBased insulation during manufacture. BioBased 1701 polyurethane foam is partially manufactured with soybean oil and is Greenguard-certified. The panels are available in larger sizes than conventional SIPs, the company says, and feature an open-face interior to run electrical and mechanical systems. 800.636.0993. www.energysmartpanel.com.
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    Murus. The company’s structural insulated panels use the chemical HFC 245fa as a blowing agent in their polyurethane SIPs. HFC 245fa has a zero Ozone Depletion Probability (ODP), a low Global Warming Potential relative to other refrigerants, and is not considered a VOC. The manufacturer claims the OSB is made from fast-growing, renewable softwood and hardwood species such as pine, poplar, and aspen from self-regenerating forests or plantation-grown trees. Murus’ OSB manufacturer is a member of the SFI (Sustainable Forestry Initiative). 800.626.8787. www.murus.com.
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    Emercor. Made just like a SIPs panel, E-Rim Insulated Rimboard consists of a sandwich of OSB and polyurethane foam, providing a tightly sealed, R-14 barrier around the beltline. According to the firm, the product is 20 times more airtight than conventional rimboard, and tested thermal performance is 12% better than a conventional system. E-Rim is available in all standard floor joist sizes. 866.363.7267. www.emercor.com.
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    Extreme Panel Technologies. The company’s wall and roof panels feature 7/16-inch OSB sandwiching a core of partially recycled expanded polystyrene. The panels come in five thicknesses for R-values ranging from 16 to 48. Four-foot and 8-foot widths are offered. SIPs foundation panels also are available, providing an R-value of 32 versus the conventional basement insulation value of about R-11. These panels feature 5/8-inch treated plywood and an EPS core, range in height from 8 to 10 feet, and include glulam spines installed 4 inches o.c. to ease installation. 800.977.2635. www.extremepanel.com.
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    Agriboard. Agriboard SIPs utilize agricultural waste, wheat, and rice straw as an insulating core. More than 80% of Agriboard’s panels consist of straw left over after the grain has been harvested. The perimeter LSL presents a high shear-strength panel with virtually no thermal bridging. The 7?7/8-inch-thick panels have a dynamic R-value of up to 25.4. Any straw waste from the construction process can be reused as landscape mulch. 866.247.4267. www.agriboard.com.
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    Insulspan. Made with OSB sandwiching an EPS core, the Insulspan SIP System comes pre-cut and ready to install as walls, floors, and roofs. A 6?1/2-inch wall panel offers a nominal R-value of 21.1; a 101/4-inch roof panel provides a nominal R-value of 35.1. The company offers special-order SIPs using FSC-certified OSB.517.486.4844. www.insulspan.com.
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    R-Control Building Systems. R-Control FrameGuard Coated SIPs are treated with FrameGuard Coating comprised of organic fungicides and a borate that prevents mold, mildew, and termite damage to its wood components, says the firm. In addition, the expanded polystyrene core is treated with Perform Guard termite protection. 800.255.0176. www.r-control.com.
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    Better Building Products. The company offers a full line of polyurethane-core SIPs with an emphasis on cement board–clad products for high-humidity areas. A wide array of cladding materials is available, including metal, plywood, and some finished wood products along with traditional OSB. Magnesium oxide is an option for the interior skin. 704.636.5131. www.siptexpanels.com.

If you’re old enough to have worn bellbottoms, you were probably in the building business back when newfangled walls made from two slices of plywood and a foam core first hit the market. They were called stressed-skin panels, created by Dow Chemical and the forestry service to help slow the depletion of wood resources. Nowadays, the same basic sandwich goes by “structural insulated panels,” or SIPs. (Perhaps the word “stressed” was not good for marketing.)

Though the name has changed, the basic design of SIPs—panels made from a plastic foam core sandwiched between two sheets of engineered wood—has remained the same.

As an alternative to traditional framing methods, SIPs install more quickly and are more energy efficient. Still, the components have had a difficult time taking market share. While construction with SIPs has grown 30% since 2003, the overall market in residential construction remains at about 1%, says Chris Schwind, a spokesman for the Structural Insulated Panel Association (SIPA) in Gig Harbor, Wash.

SIPs Basics

Although manufacturers can make SIPs with a variety of materials, most consist of either 7/16-inch or 5/8-inch OSB skins, factory glued to an expanded polystyrene (EPS) insulation core. Factory-installed conduit or holes drilled through the foam provide raceways for electrical wiring.

SIPs are available in various sizes and dimensions, including panels as large as 96 inches by 288 inches that require a crane to erect. Most panels are produced in an automated, factory environment using computer-controlled equipment that transfers panel-cutting instructions directly from digital CAD drawings, providing precise quality control and virtually no waste. On the job, panels assemble quickly, reducing labor costs and allowing the builder to dry-in without weather or labor delays.

A study conducted by BASF and RSMeans Business Solutions concluded that builders could reduce their framing labor as much as 55% by using SIPs instead of traditional methods.

What’s more, SIPs’ high levels of insulation and inherent air seal provide an advantage over other panelized systems, such as component wall framing and modular construction. On average, a 4-inch SIPs wall can provide R-16 to R-26 of insulation for a 6-inch wall with no air infiltration or thermal bridging. SIPs also provide a smooth, stiff subsurface for siding and drywall, along with all the advantages of factory construction, including a virtually waste-free framing package because panels are made to order based on the floor plan.

In fact, following a study by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the DOE’s Energy Star home certification program now exempts SIPs-built homes from the 17-point thermal bypass insulation inspection and blower-door tests required for qualification in the program.

Builders usually combine exterior-wall SIPs with traditionally framed, factory-built interior walls, and truss floor and roof systems. But many SIPs manufacturers also provide SIPs floors and roofs. SIPs roof panels offer an attractive alternative to conventional truss framing, especially for slab-on-grade or raised-floor construction, providing the means to a highly insulated, non-ventilated attic or crawl space that forms part of the conditioned environment, efficiently accommodating mechanical systems without having to drop interior ceilings or build bulkheads for ducts.

SIPs also can simplify some architectural features, such as rounded roofs and arched windows. The computer numeric control (CNC) system–guided routers used in the manufacturing process are capable of cutting almost any shape or size of panel, making it easier to render complex architectural details. Many of the modern, perforated shear-wall design engineering methods apply to SIPs, making it easy to add large swaths of daylight in restrictive hazard design areas, such as California and South Florida.

Interest in SIPs as a superior structural component grew with the success of SIP-constructed buildings still standing after the 1993 Kobe earthquake in Japan and more recent hurricanes in the southeastern United States.

The Insulated Core

Although expanded polystyrene (EPS) is the most common insulation material used in SIPs, both it and extruded polystyrene (XPS) have been questioned over the chemicals used in their production and their potential effects on health. Alternatives include polyisocyanurate or polyurethane foam, and compressed straw and mineral wool.