Green Wednesday: Structural Insulated Panels

From on October 01, 2008 in Green Remodeling

Structural Insulated PanelsAccording to the U.S. Department of Energy, a Structural Insulated Panel (SIP) is a pre-fabricated, insulated structural element for use in building walls, ceilings, floors, and roofs. It has high R-values, high strength-to-weight ratios, and consists of a 4- to 8-inch-thick foam board insulation sandwiched between oriented strand boards (OSB).

All of that sounds good and very technical, but what does it mean to you, me and the environment? To the builder, it means:

  • Faster construction. SIPs combine structural framing, insulation, and sheathing into just one step.
  • Less framing labor. The SIP system is pre-built, requiring fewer framers.
  • Less job site waste. SIPs reduce job site waste and the cost of disposal.
  • Less material theft. SIPs are more difficult to steal because of their pre-constructed panel size.
  • Fully customized. SIPs reduce the margin for framing errors. The panels are numbered to correspond with a computerized CAD panel blueprint.
  • Extreme strength. Floor, wall, and roofing panels have survived natural disasters like hurricanes, tornadoes, straight-line winds, and earthquakes far superior to traditional construction integrity because SIP loads are distributed across the entire panel.

To the homeowner, it means:

  • Energy efficiency. The SIP system saves 40% to 60% on heating and cooling costs. The perimeter is wrapped in EPS insulation, maintaining integrity over time, unlike fiberglass batt.
  • Comfortable, quieter, and healthier living. The EPS insulation is an excellent sound barrier. With those higher R-values and tight construction, its shell helps prevent dust and allergens from penetrating your home. It stays warmer, too.
  • No stud searching. Perfect for interior designing. Toss the stud-finder away. Because of its OSB design, finding a place to put a nail to support pictures, curtains, cabinets, or most any wall fixture is virtually anywhere you want it to be.
  • Fire safe. Data from extensive laboratory testing and reports from house fires show SIP structures tend to be more fire resistant then standard frame structures.


A properly designed, manufactured and installed SIP house is stronger, more energy-efficient and more comfortable and that makes it good for you and me. But what’s the bottom line for the environment? Is a SIP a good “Green Building Product?”

  • Compared to a conventionally framed house, there is considerably less lumber in the framing work.
  • Nearly 95% of a tree is used when it is cut into the wood chips that make OSB for SIPs, compared to only 63% of a tree used in solid lumber.
  • This means less job-site waste in landfills and more of it being used or recycled.
  • On the other hand, it takes several times more energy to make the foam, a petroleum product, as the filler for the insulation compared to fiberglass.
  • Stack that up to lifetime savings in heating and cooling costs, it could offset the difference. It’s something to think about.

And as a homeowner, you will still have to pay attention to those insect pests like termites and ants, taking all the usual precautions and using the usual pest controls. After all, SIPs are still a timber product. However, the foam within the panels is not too tasty to those pests.

There are some things to look at before building with this product, what’s best for you and the environment you live in and want to protect. For a more detailed examination of the pros or cons of SIP use in your home, go to: The U.S. Department of Energy’s Guide to Structural Insulated Panels.

Photo Credit: University of Colorado