The Pros and Cons of Structural Insulated Panels
Are you considering remodeling an old home or designing a new one?
If you are, the choice of building materials for energy efficiency and eco friendly manufacture can pose some
This is definitely the case with the various types of Structural Insulated Panels (SIP).
Certainly they have several benefits which have made them an attractive alternative to existing construction
methods, notably the ease and speed of assembly prior to roofing a property.
The fact that complicated equipment is not needed, and simple construction techniques are all that is needed
also makes them attractive to builders.
Their materials have a great resistance to wind damage important in coastal areas and seismic strength levels
are also high.
Areas that have high code requirements for these two factors will find that SIP will meet construction standards
Combine the above factors with an excellent thermal resistance and the reduction in demands for heating and
air-conditioning, would seem to give them an attraction for those who are energy conscious.
The other eco-friendly attraction is that in using SIP less dimensional timber is required from scarce resources
of this grade of lumber.
SIP demand is for quick growing and renewable timber harvested in a few years and leaving land available for
replanting. This is one of the ways to save trees from being cut down too
As manufacturers claim that the plastic and foam used in the panels have an environmentally neutral effect, then
it may come as a surprise that not everyone sees these as the perfect building and insulation material of the
future! Just be sure to take the time to get rid of hidden air leaks
around your house first before you put any plans ahead.
For a start the core in most panels is polyurethane foam, which as a building product has not been tested over
the distance of time.
As most states have no specific language looking at this product directly, in building codes there is a reliance
on the information provided by the manufacturers.
Certainly builders will find their assembly time reduced but other trades such as electricians and plumbers may
in fact find their work is harder.
The need to infill any channeling with aerosol foam, and the protective equipment needed to use this can add
both risk and cost.
Modification of SIP onsite may make this even more costly than conventional timber construction.
Because the panels are so airtight, mechanical ventilation may need to be incorporated in the design to stop
possibilities of back drafts.
Should they be used in roof construction, the standard ventilation practices are not suitable and some shingle
manufacturers will not warrant their product without additional air circulation.
In very damp climates moisture deterioration may be a very real concern and result in SIP failure, although the
Structural Insulated Panel Association [SIPA] claims that this is only where the panels are not properly
While it seems that with this, as in any new technology, opinions will be divided on the long term benefits that
SIP offer, there is a consensus that their manufacture is progressively more eco-friendly with organic material
such as straw and wool being considered as the 'sandwich' filling instead of the compounds currently used.
In addition, recycled pentane in a steam expansion process can result in an inert core without issues such as
dust and off gassing from formaldehyde based products.
The warning then is to check the material of this core before installation! Not only may you be reassured as to
the eco-friendliness of the product, but you may save yourself some cost during the building process.
Certainly once correctly installed they make less demand on fossil fuels for heating and cooling your home, and
a better and healthier environment.
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