Green Prefab Homes – Part II: BioSIPs

March 31, 2014

This is the second part of our series on green prefabricated homes, and this time we are writing about structurally integrated panels, SIPs and BioSIPs. Of most interest to use from a green and sustainability perspective are BioSIPs., as you will soon discover.

Not enough people have an understanding of structural integrated panels (SIPs). Even fewer know about BioSIPs and their potential contribution to the green building industry.

In an important white paper, Jacqueline McIntosh and Mark Harrington, at Victoria University of Wellington addressed this “relatively recent innovation in building component systems for housing.”

They added, “ Structural Insulated Panels systems (SIPs) are fast gaining popularity in North America  and Europe. A prefabricated structural element, SIPs can be used for walls, roofs and floors without the requirement for framing. Hailed as a ‘green building product’ and promoted as environmentally sustainable, the Structural Insulation PanelAssociation  claims in its website that SIPs create a ‘green’ home through:

  • Energy efficiency and renewable energy
  • Waste reduction during the construction process
  • Creation of healthy indoor environments

While these claims have validity when SIPs are compared to light timber framed construction, SIPs still have a high environmental footprint, are not biodegradable and  typically contain chemicals that are considered hazardous.

Colorado BioSIPs Pioneers – Julie Herdt & Kellen Schauermann

bioSIPs Herdt 68tetpvt7uct0sb0.jpg

Last year, Julie Herdt’s “BioSIPs” technology project was selected as a finalist for the U.S. Green Building Council, Colorado Public Interest Design Award. Six statewide awards were presented during the Rocky Mountain Green sustainability conference in Denver.

Herdt, a professor at CU’a College of Architecture and Planning, developed and applied her original BioSIPs invention and tested it as the main building envelope and construction system for CU’s 2005 first-place international Solar Decathlon competition home design. The BioSIPs invention was cited by the international Solar Decathlon judges as being critical to the CU team’s back-to-back (2002, 2005) win in the overall 2005 competition.

CU Newsroom has added: “Since those awards, Herdt has advanced BioSIPs structural insulated wall, floor and roof panels to exhibit strengths surpassing other SIPs in specific areas (compressive and transverse loading) as well as to exhibit super thermal values. BioSIPs full-scale prototypes were tested at CU Boulder’s College of Engineering and Applied Science as well as for the construction of the solar-powered BioSIPs Research Structure built in Boulder through a State of Colorado Waste Diversion grant. Herdt is the CEO and president of BioSIPs, Inc., a CU spin-off technology for commercialization of BioSIPs and other products from 100 percent diverted waste fibers. She will collaborate with the CU Denver Business School during the fall semester on commercialization and business planning for her company.”

Among the many forms of SIPs, there are two basic versions:

Insulated Concrete Forms (ICFs)

  • Concrete boasts some of the highest embodied energies of all building materials, as does Styrofoam
  • The resources required to produce these materials are tremendous
  • And what happens to all this material at the end of its life cycle?

Biological Insulated Panels (Bio-SIPs)

  • Bio-SIPs are insulated with straw – a renewable, biodegradable, waste product with barely any alternative applications
  • Using straw serves many other benefits to several parties involved that are worth looking into

NatureBuilt Wall Systems  has manufactured straw bioSIPs. These BioSIPS are 16″ thick with an insulation value of about R35. The walls consist of tightly-packed straw that’s covered in 1″ of cement and lime plaster, according to NatureBuilt.

BioSIPs straw The-Endeavor-Centre-Prefab-Straw-Panels-568x323

More information on BioSIPs can be found at Innovation Center of the Rockies 

Think bioSIPs on your next construction project, be it a garage, shed, or mansion.

Photo: NatureBuilt straw BioSIPs from Jetson Green,, Archinect




Glenn Meyers

Writer, documentary producer, and director. Meyers is a contributor to CleanTechnica, and founder of Green Streets MediaTrain, a communications connection and eLearning hub. As an independent producer, he's been involved in the development, production and distribution of television and distance learning programs for both the education industry and corporate sector. He also is an avid gardener and loves sustainable innovation.