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.

SIPs R-values vary depending on panel thickness and insulating product. Standard EPS SIPs have a nominal R-value ranging from R-4 to R-5 per inch of thickness. Panels made of polyisocyanurate or polyurethane typically cost more and offer a less environmentally prudent alternative, but they also are more fire- and water vapor diffusion–resistant than EPS and have R-values of R-6 to R-7 per inch.

Although some green building advocates object to the use of any petroleum-based building product in ecological construction, SIPA states on its Web site that EPS insulation made of petroleum-derived styrene is actually 98% air. The institute also claims that a SIPs house saves—in its first year—about 19 times the amount of energy required to make the EPS foam used to construct it. EPS foam cores also are recyclable, with some manufacturers accepting scrap material from builders.

“You have to look at the environmental impact of a product over its entire life span,” says Schwind, “with SIPs offering superior energy efficiency over at least 30 years.”

The most environmentally friendly core available today uses recycled waste agricultural straw; however, straw SIPs offer less insulation per inch of thickness, and the panels are considerably heavier, making transportation and jobsite handling a consideration.

The Structural Skin

One environmental concern with SIPs is the presence of formaldehyde in the OSB skins. Although none of the manufacturers we interviewed for this article offer an OSB skin with binders completely free of formaldehyde, some offer alternative skins, such as drywall and cement board. All expressed a preference for OSB as being the most economical and jobsite-resistant cladding. Cement board and drywall are brittle and may break; finished products, such as pine paneling, mar too easily during rough handling.

For those looking for alternative panels, a variety of new materials are available, including light-gauge steel, aluminum, concrete, fiberglass, and a variety of wood panels, such as pine. Some systems offer advantages for particular building needs, especially the cement boards for coastal construction in hurricane-prone areas, where waterproof skins mounted on steel studs offer an advantage over OSB. In the Middle East, SIPs made from a thin layer of Styrofoam sandwiched between about 2 inches of pre-cast concrete have become a popular and economical building material.

Regardless of material, the air tightness of a well-built SIPs structure requires mechanical ventilation to meet most building codes and for common-sense health and safety. With a properly sized and installed passive ventilation system, SIPs will provide an optimum, energy-efficient, structurally superior building system.

Fernando Pages Ruiz builds environmentally friendly, low-cost housing in the Midwest and Mountain States and is the author of Building an Affordable House: Trade Secrets of High Quality, Low Cost Construction and Affordable Remodel.