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Structural Insulated Panels:
An Efficient Way to Build


Structural insulated panel home under construction using R-Control ® EPS-core panels.

STRUCTURAL INSULATED PANELS, SIPs, have been around since the 1950s but only began making inroads into the construction industry in the 1980s. Over the past few years, growth in this building system has been occurring at a rate of about 30% per year. Though SIP houses today represent less than 1% of residential and light commercial buildings, Cynthia Gardstein, Executive Director of the Structural Insulated Panel Association (SIPA), believes the market share will grow to 5% in just a few years.

SIP construction is attractive in part because it allows very rapid erection of a building shell, helping to control labor costs while reducing dependence on skilled framing contractors. From an environmental perspective, SIPs offer superb energy performance, both high R-value and excellent airtightness. They are widely believed to reduce wood use, but their benefit in that arena may be overstated. SIPs are incorporated into some of the highest-profile green demonstration homes that have been built in the ‘90s. This article examines the energy and resource benefits of structural insulated panels, while also addressing some of the other, less publicized environmental considerations related to SIP construction, including indoor air quality, durability, and life-cycle concerns about foam insulation.

Structural insulated panels have two structural panels (skins), usually oriented-strand board or OSB, on either side of an insulating core. The term “stressed-skin insulating core panel” is a more technically accurate description of this type of panel, but we’ll stick with the industry convention and use the more generic name. There are also similar but non-structural panels, with OSB on the exterior and drywall on the interior, made for enclosing timber-frame structures.

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