Building with SIPs: A Cost-Effective and Energy-Efficient Choice

As an expert in the construction industry, I have seen firsthand the benefits of building with structural insulated panels (SIPs). Not only do they provide monthly savings by reducing utility bills, but they also offer a high rate of return on investment. In fact, building with SIPs can save you money in the long run, even before considering energy savings, tax incentives, and business benefits. This is especially true in today's market, where wood prices have skyrocketed due to the COVID-19 outbreak and the closure of logging companies. In fact, a Canadian report recommends using SIPs to lower the cost of affordable housing.

Their study showed that building with SIPs can reduce labor costs by 40 to 48 percent compared to traditional construction methods. This is because traditional houses and structures with stainless steel frames are less energy efficient and more prone to thermal bridges and air leaks. The study also found that SIPs can save around two-thirds of labor for framing walls and ceilings, with similar cycle time savings. This is because SIPs are delivered ready for installation on site and can be lifted faster than traditional framed structures. Whether it's a house or a building, a SIP stack may initially cost slightly more than a stack of 2 x 4 units.

However, the current International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) requires a typical metal-framed house to have an air change rate of 3 to 5, depending on the climate zone. A home built with SIPs can achieve air leaks as low as 0.2 ACH if energy efficient construction procedures are used. One major disadvantage of building with SIPs is the potential for water damage to materials such as wood, which can lead to rot, mold, or mildew. However, there are key considerations that can mitigate this risk when using SIPs in your projects. For example, even small renovations like adding pipes or power lines can be difficult once the building is constructed, as all the holes for these systems are pre-drilled.

Additionally, the cost of SIP panels can vary depending on factors such as size, thickness, type of insulating material, complexity of design, and region. One way to prevent water damage and maintain a healthy indoor environment is by investing in a mechanical ventilation system, such as an MVHR system. This is why most SIP projects opt for this type of ventilation system. Another advantage of building with SIPs is that the envelope of the building contains only 3 to 5% wood, compared to 22 to 24% in traditional 2 x 6 framing methods. Like any construction method, SIPs have their own set of advantages and disadvantages.

However, over time, there have been many improvements and advancements in construction methodology and materials used for structure and insulation.