Green Building with Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPs) Part Two

This is a Guest Post from Dan Sheehan, owner of DS Construction in Lake Tahoe California. Sheehan has a B.A. in Economics (energy and environmental) and B.S. in Geography from CSU. He is constantly looking for ways to lessen the impact that construction has on energy, resources and the environment. You can follow Sheehan’s sustainable building methods on his blog.

This is the conclusion of Building with SIP series. You can also check out part one which introduces green building with Structurally Insulated Panels (SIPs).

Designing a SIP home

Builders and potential home owners have the initial perception that SIP buildings are “kits” that you buy out of a catalog of predetermined designs and plans.  This is not always the case.  The home shown here are from a home built by DS Construction, a general contractor in Lake Tahoe, CA.  We built a home using SIPs which were designed for conventional construction practices.

The homeowner tried to seek out ways to speed up the building of his home while lowering  labor costs as well as lower energy bills. He discovered SIPs along the way. We came into contact with a well know SIPs home designer who was able to convert the architectural plans to utilize the SIPs.

Then the plans went off to the SIP manufacturer who custom made all the SIP components needed to build the home.  So the home was a “kit” but a custom one.  However, home owners and builders can purchase actual kits where speed and costs can be enhanced.

Building with SIPs

For builders and contractors, learning to build with SIPs can be an easy process.  The panels are joined together by either standard dimensional lumber or insulated TGIs (ibeams).  These are glued into the recessed edges of the panels and nailed to the skin which become the key that ties them together.

The wall panels work similarly. It is necessary that the subfloor from where you start is exactly per plan. If something is off, builders and contractors will not be able to adjust as easily as they would with a conventionally framed home. Reason being, the panels on site were custom made to fit a predetermined floor plans. Essentially, like a “kit”, a SIP home does just snap together rather easily.

With the panels, there are virtually no studs except around windows, doors and where structural posts are present. So we had to get creative and use different fasteners including staples and screws. Trying to nail a crowned board straight was a challenge.

One thing I really appreciated about the panels was how straight our walls were.  With typical conventional framing it is rare to get lumber that is perfectly straight and square. It really becomes apparent when doing the finish work (cabinets, casings, trim, etc) how straight and true the panel wall are.

Living in a SIP home

A home built using SIPs are typcially airtight. The homeowners like that they would not be affected by the pine pollen and other allergens prevalent in the Lake Tahoe area.  Essentially, you are living in you own autonomous environment.  To get fresh air into the home, we installed a fresh air system which provided the interior with a clean source of air void of pollutants.

Another benefit which the homeowners mentioned was that their home was extremely quiet and they could not easily hear sounds from outside such as traffic. This particular home also used in-floor hydronic heating throughout which along with the tight shell of the SIP structure made for a very comfortable home with virtually no cold or drafty spots.

Another thing to note is that the use of hydronics for heating is not only energy efficient but also unlike forced air heating does not compromise air quality. For more information on SIP technology you can visit the Structurally Insulated Panel Associations website and take a look at their guide “Everything There Is to Know about SIPs”

Photo Source: Dan Sheehan