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Home > Feature Articles > Sustainable Development Best Practices for Community Sustainability

SIP Panels Solve Green Building Challenges for Indoor Air Quality, Energy Efficiency and Even Seismic Strength

SIP materials are sandwiches of wallboards and thick insulation that are stronger than the individual parts. SIPs are used for better air infiltration control, seismic retrofitting and faster, better construction for green building certification.

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Feature Article by Carolyn Allen, Editor

Structural Insulated Panels (SIP)

Buildings built with structural insulated panels are built for the new era of building -- green and sustainable communities.

The building owner benefits first from a stronger building, second, from increased climate control that can result in a smaller HVAC requirement, and third, long term energy efficiencies that continue to deliver savings.

And prices are coming down, too. When apples are compared to apples, many buildings with SIP construction can come in at the same cost as a conventionally built building.

Energy efficiency incentives add cost savings. Reduced labor costs add cost savings -- a SIP built house can be erected in approximately 5 days. That means a general contractor can build 6 houses in a year instead of 5! And reduced construction time also reduces construction financing carrying costs.

SIP building envelopes are 50% more energy efficient than conventional construction, says Cobb.

Some of the top level benefits of SIPs include:

  • SIPs provide increased indoor air quality control
  • SIPs provide seismic strength to meet earthquake standards
  • SIPs provide speedy installation to reduce construction and carrying costs
  • And... not the least -- SIPs provide high level of climate control with heavy-duty insulation, very low air infiltration, and non-toxic materials.

SIPS Fit New Construction Best

While I wish that SIPs could be a great remodeling solution, the size of the panels, the shipping costs and factory fabrication to meet each building's design -- SIPs are more suited to new construction. SIP panels can be faced with wood (America's favorite), concrete (popular in South America) or even metal (popular in Europe). All are heavy materials. Transportation is a significant consideration. That's why SIPs are more popular and densely clustered in New England and the Upper Midwest -- where energy efficiency is a prime concern.

California Applications for SIP Construction

But California communities' need for indoor air quality should warrant a second look at SIPs. With 25% of the children in some communities suffering from asthma -- IAQ is an issue looking for a better solution until the outdoor situation is resolved.

California's shipping industry and frequent wildfires are huge challenges that will take a while to solve -- in the meantime, schools, healthcare facilities, community centers, daycare centers, churches and homes could provide better air quality for children and reduce family and community healthcare costs for this number one cost segment in health costs.

And then there's earthquake retrofitting. SIPs are so strong structurally that a number of SIP-built homes survived the Kobe, Japan earthquake.

SIP Third Party Code Standards

The Structural Insulated Panel Association (SIPA) finalized an industry-wide evaluation report in 2009 that will streamline building code acceptance for manufacturers of energy-efficient structural insulated panels (SIPs). The report will provide SIP manufacturers with independent third-party structural testing, quality control, and other data required for compliance with building codes. The new industry-wide evaluation report will be owned and operated by SIPA. Association members will have the option of using the SIPA evaluation report and manufacturing products that meet the structural requirements and other specifications in the report.

Manufacturers listed on the SIPA report must produce SIPs that meet the required structural performance in the report. Participating members will also be subject to a standardized quality assurance program provided by third-party certification agency NTA, Inc., who developed the evaluation report. NTA, Inc. is a Nappanee, IN-based testing agency that specializes in product certification and testing for the modular and manufactured home industries.

SIP Construction to Meet Green Building Standards

In fact, Al Cobb, owner of the SIP School that trains SIP installers, general contractors, and owner-builders, says that SIP construction is the fastest way to meet point-based green building standards such as LEED, EnergyStar, NAHB or other mandated point systems being required by municipalities for new government construction and private construction over specified sizes.

Construction benefits include:

  • Speed of construction -- with financing savings
  • Downsized HVAC specification
  • Shorter build cycles to increase productivity
  • Less waste -- less C&D debris in the landfill, and lower costs for lost materials

SIP Industry Trends

Structurally integrated panels have actually been around since the late 1930s -- nothing new -- but technologies continue to improve and the green building movement is finally recognizing the benefits of controlling air infiltration, coupled with increased structural strength. Fitting into the new building codes and point systems is ramping up new construction with SIPs.

"Residential building with SIPs is slow right now (2009), but commercial building with SIPs is holding steady or gaining market share," Cobb reports. "Scale makes these large panels both beneficial to the building owners with high performance energy efficiency, and faster construction -- which saves labor and construction financing costs."

The APA reports that 1-2% of new housing starts use SIPs -- that's approximately 10,000 homes per year. LEED certification (USGBC) and locally mandated point systems are the main stimulus for SIP usage growth.

The industry has enough years under its sheathing to have tried multiple business models. They've tried shipping blank panels for field fabrication and assembly. They found that the construction crews didn't have the accuracy or C&C tools available to achieve the high level of air infiltration control possible with factory fabrication. Accurate design control at the factory makes for easier, quicker assembly in the field.

Testing of the structural strength is important since SIPs are strucgtural components of buildings. Engineered wood components need carefully measured and monitored standards.

SIP Business in The New Economy...

Cobb knows the structural integrated panels business domestically and internationally. "Inquiries have been increasing rapidly from other countries -- while the US has overbuilt both residential and commercial buildings, the rest of the world is hurting for housing to meet their population's needs. They need project development and fabrication facility planning because SIPs need to be fabricated and cut locally."

Green job training is about learning the new techniques and technologies of the coming economy -- and SIP installation, design and fabrication are basically, "green construction" jobs. "Slinging a hammer" is a 20 year old technique, and that low tech approach to construction careers won't cut it for the construction jobs of the future," says Cobb. Training in building sciences is getting more sophisticated with the science of moisture transfer, dewpoint measurement and heat transfer taking precidence to manage air control in a building.

"A good product poorly installed is not a good result," explains Cobb. That's why he founded the SIP School -- to train installers, architects, engineers, owner-builders, and even customers who want to be well informed about this major new construction technique.

Topics covered in SIP design and construction cover the breadth of green building sciences and technologies:

  • The proper foundation
  • Site prep
  • How best to make SIPs accommodate your design
  • What level of service to shop for in a SIP supplier
  • EPS vs. Urethane (The Facts)
  • Do you need an Architect or a Designer?
  • Pre-fabricated vs. blank panels
  • Site access and material handling
  • Economizing Equipment requirements
  • Electrical planning and implementation
  • Working with your HVAC contractor
  • To vent or not to vent
  • Siding and roofing solutions
  • The myth about R-Value
  • Energy Star compliance
  • HERS rating
  • Tax credits and other free money

Onsite instruction is held at the SIP School's facility in Shenandoah Junction, West Virginia.

  • Owner-Builder 2 Day Workshop
  • SIP Installation 3 Day Workshop
  • SIP Installation 3 Day Workshop - Granite Falls, MN
  • Installation for SIP Professionals
A Certified Panel Installer is a workshop participant who has completed the course curriculum, satisfactorily passed the written exam, and demonstrated proficiency in hands-on installation of SIPs. The SIP School does not certify or provide any warranty or other guarantee, express or implied, regarding the quality of the participants workmanship after course completion.

The trade association for SIP companies, SIPA -- is currently developing a certification program to train and certify these green building tradesmen for a net zero building future!

SIP School
808 French Road
Shenandoah Junction, WV 25442
Phone: 304-876-8494

Edited by Carolyn Allen, owner/editor of California Green Solutions
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