The Benefits of Building with SIPs

by Rachel Lyon, Editorial Director for Direct from the Designers™

When you imagine building a new home, you probably envision pieces of lumber being raised into a skeleton that gets fleshed out with pipes, wires, insulation, and drywall. Stick framing is the most common residential building method in the United States, but more people are finding that Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) are another totally viable and convenient option. The end results are essentially the same—you’ll have produced a beautiful home in either case—but the benefits of using SIPs start from the moment construction begins and can extend through the life of the home.

Murus SIP Construction

A house built with SIPs is raised quickly with a crane and a crew. Pictured here is a project by Murus®, a SIP manufacturer based in Pennsylvania with nationwide availability. Provide blueprints and they will build eco-friendly panels with the level of insulation you require.

What Are SIPs?

If the traditional stick framing method is like building a house’s skeleton, Structural Insulated Panels are like building a gingerbread house, as whole walls can go up much faster. This is because SIPs are more complete building blocks; they are composed of a foam core of insulation between two structural facings, which are essentially boards of wood compressed with adhesives. SIPs combine sturdy composition and built-in energy efficiency, and they come to the building site ready-to-use so a house can be raised much more quickly.

If you want to build with SIPs, provide your house plans to a company that manufactures panelized construction. They will build your home in pieces in factory-controlled settings, and then ship them to be put together on-site. You can probably find a company in your region, but there are also some that ship worldwide, so it’s worth your time to shop around for the best deal.

FischerSIPs Victorian

This grandiose Victorian was constructed by FischerSIPS®, a founding member of SIPA, proving just how adaptable this method of construction is. Whether you want to build an intricate traditional home or a simpler modern one, an experienced SIP manufacturer can make it happen.

Why Use SIPs?

The first benefit of SIPs is that they aren’t exposed to the elements during their construction, unlike stick framed homes, which are exposed day and night, rain and shine, until they are completed. While framing lumber is treated to resist water and is engineered for what Mother Nature can throw at it, these are not ideal conditions. The risk of rot and mold is higher the longer the frame is open, and because weather can be fickle, you can’t always avoid moisture during the course of a build. SIPs come prefabricated, greatly reducing the risk of damage and allowing you to wait until the forecast is all clear.

A house built using SIPs offers increased structural stability and accuracy. Not only are the solid building blocks inherently more sturdy, but they go up smoother and straighter and result in a structure that is truer to the blueprints. It’s no wonder why—with fewer pieces, there’s less room for error. And because there’s space for everything you need, from wiring to cutouts for windows and doors, it is much easier to fit everything into place than building it in layers and stages.

Perhaps the main thing that draws homeowners to SIPs is their superior insulating qualities. A SIP house is insulated better than a framed one, plain and simple. Performance data has shown this to be true, even with extra-insulated framed walls. SIPs are less likely to “leak,” allowing you to choose smaller heating and cooling systems for the home and saving you money through all seasons—most people can expect to save about 50% or more on these bills. Green to build and green to own, this is a method of residential construction that appeals to casual and serious environmentalists alike.

Extreme Panel Interior

The interior can be finished exactly as you imagine, too! This stunning rustic loft conceals highly insulating SIPs from Extreme Panel Technologies, a Minnesota-based company that ships across the entire United States and has even delivered to Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.

How Does Cost Compare?

When all factors are taken together, the price to build a home with SIPs is actually comparable to the price of a home built with stick framing. As with any building project, the bill varies regionally based mostly on accessibility and the cost of labor, so each case is different. The SIPs themselves obviously cost more than regular lumber, but there will be savings in labor, due to the reduced construction time, and because the amount of waste generated is negligible, meaning you get the most bang for your buck and site cleanup is a breeze. The continued savings that a SIP house offers will make up for any extra cost within a few years, and then you’re set to reap rewards for as long as you live there!

When you’re thinking about building with SIPs, you should shop for a good manufacturer as well as an experienced building crew. While the delivered product might look the same, different companies use different insulations—so ask about it and compare R-values!—and some offer metal or concrete skins instead of wooden structural facings. And while builders typically find that SIPs are easier to build with, you definitely want to make sure you hire somebody with experience. A little extra involvement from the start will earn you a smoother build and a better home in the end!

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