For years, the standard in home construction has been to frame the home with dimensional lumber (2x4’s and 2x6’s). Referred to as “stick-framing,” this method allowed framing crews to quickly build a home. But as the industry has progressed, a need has arisen to provide more efficient materials. Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS), have responded to this need to offer value and efficiency.
What are SIPS? In simplest terms, they are a piece of foam (varying thicknesses) sandwiched between two pieces of plywood (OSB). They are manufactured in a facility to specific dimensions requested by the contractor or homeowner. This means you can specify the thickness of the foam to increase energy efficiency, the height of the panels, and even the width. Window and door openings are built into the panels to provide easy installation of windows and doors. The entire manufacturing process is streamlined to build the product you want prior to shipment.
Once manufacturing is complete, they are loaded on a truck and shipped directly to the site. A semi truck will arrive with the panels staged for unloading. It is important to clarify with the panel company whether or not they will unload the panels. If not, it is a good idea to rent equipment to properly offload them. The next step is to begin installing the panels. Check with your contractor and ask if they have installed panels before or are familiar with them. If not, the panel company will usually provide assistance to the builder. Another option is to ask the panel company if they offer installation of their products. Many SIP companies offer installation in specific areas, and allowing them to install the panels can save time and money.
If you decide to use SIPS on your home, let every contractor know they will be working with panels. For example, the plumber will need to know he is cutting through foam as opposed to 2x4’s. In regards to electrical work, some panel companies build electrical conduit into the panels to ease the running of wire. Siding contractors need to take into account the walls will not have wall studs. They will fasten the siding directly to the plywood or OSB sheathing – which can affect their bids and the products you can use. If you decide to use SIPS on the roof, the roofing contractor will need to know as well. SIPS are a relatively new product compared to traditional stick-framing. Not all contractors have worked with them, so notifying them immediately will help you receive accurate bids from contractors.
SIPS are designed to make home’s more energy efficient and save labor costs. Compared to a lumber package, they usually cost more money. However, their savings are realized by cutting down on installation costs and long-term energy savings. If you plan on staying in your home for a long time, SIPS may be the right product for you. When searching for SIP companies, make sure to ask questions. Some sample questions are below:
- How long will it take to manufacture the panels?
- Do they offer engineering services (required in some states to get a permit)?
- How much are the shipping charges?
- Do they require payment in full upon delivery?
The last question is arguably the most important. A vast majority of SIP companies require that you hand them a check before unloading the panels. This is important because not everyone has $20,000 in their checking account. If you are building a home with a construction loan, work with the bank and SIP company on a payment plan. The SIP company wants your business, and may allow payment in full once the bank verifies the panels are onsite.
If you are searching for a product to save on energy costs, SIPS may be right for you. A quick search online will provide a host of companies around the country. Investigate each one and make sure they are right for you.