Structural Insulated Panels, SIPs, are a modern building material utilizing the benefits of sandwich panel construction. SIPs are most often used in the walls or roof, and provide many benefits.
An SIP panel is much like a common sandwich panel. A rigid insulating foam core is sandwiched in between skins. Most often this skin material is made of oriented strand board (OSB), but the skin can also be composed of other composite materials.
Most SIPs are custom made for the specific house or building, and are factory cut-to-size. Panels can be shipped to a building site in sizes up to 8 x 24 feet. Installation is quick and effective as the insulating panels are simply placed into location and secured; a whole wall can go up quickly. The spaces for windows are pre-cut, and headers are often not necessary. As well, chases and conduits are pre-installed in the structurally insulating panels for electrical needs. This panel then provides not only insulation to the structure, but also provides higher shear strength. In the end, the surfaces are flat, true, and ready for finish nailing.
Although initial material costs may be higher for structurally insulated panels, less time and labor is needed, and less scrap material is created during instillation; thus making SIPs a competitive building material cost-wise. Future savings should be calculated as well, since SIPs are extremely energy efficient, they may save money for heating/cooling, and a smaller HVAC unit may be all that is required in the building.
Are SIPs Environmentally Friendly?
Structural insulated panels posses both environmental pros and cons. Currently, the majority of power used in the United States is consumed for heating and cooling buildings. Structurally insulated panels can provide a more energy efficient building structure, as SIPs can have insulation values over R-30. Heating and cooling needs are vastly decreased during the lifetime of the building. Furthermore, since SIPs are factory designed and cut, there is far less construction waste.
Although SIPs may consume less energy, they are still not yet constructed out of environmentally friendly materials. Most all structural insulated panels use a urethane, EPS (Styrofoam), or plastic based foam. Most all of this foam will never be recycled or be able to biodegrade at the end of life. This foam also requires petroleum for production, and often can release harmful emissions during production.
In the future, SIPs will harness more environmentally friendly insulating materials such as foam derived from bio sources or reclaimed material. At that point, structurally insulated panels will be environmentally sound through their entire life span… A truly green solution.