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What Are SIPs in Construction?

all about sips panels

Introduction

If you have ever observed a construction process, you may notice a frame comprising 2x4s that outlines the shape of the building at the initial stage. This method might be the standard, but there are several other methods for building construction that can efficiently save you money and time. One of these efficient alternative methods is building houses with SIPs, short form for ‘structural insulated panels.’ These SIPs are prefabricated building materials comprising a structural layer surrounding an inner foam core.

The first development of structural panels took place in the 1930s by Forest Research Laboratory in an attempt to conserve forest resources. Over the next few years, Forest Research Laboratory sold its initial design, which lacked an insulation property and was thus not manufactured on a large scale. However, how did they eventually become so popular? Read ahead to discover all these, including the application, types, and pros and cons.

What Are Structural Insulated Panels?

There was very little manufacture and marketing of the prototype design of structural insulated panels since it had very few highlights. However, Alden B. Dow produced the first structural panel with an insulated core in the 1950s. They were officially called SIPs, which changed their manufacturing and production trajectory. Dow’s primary concerns for producing a structural panel with an insulated core were depleting natural resources and energy efficiency. In subsequent years, builders realized the advantages of SIPs in their airtightness, strength, and high insulative value over traditional wood frame construction. Let’s discuss how they look. 

SIPs have a straightforward design. They comprise an outer layer of two structural facings, sandwiching an internal layer, the insulating core between them. The insulating corer may be expanded polystyrene (EPS), extruded polystyrene (XPS), or closed-cell polyurethane foam (PUR). The structural facings are usually oriented strand boards (OSB) because of their high structural integrity. Although, you can use other materials like metals, cement, magnesium oxide board, and engineered woods as structural materials instead of OSB. 

SIP manufacture occurs under factory-controlled conditions, and the manufacturer can fabricate them to fit any building design to produce a cost-effective, energy-efficient, solid building system. They are primarily for constructing walls, floors, and ceilings for residential and light commercial purposes. For floors, SIPs come with a length of about 4 m, reaching up to 7.5 m for walls. They have high R-values and a high strength-to-weight ratio. After their manufacture in the factory, you can quickly install them as soon as they get to the construction site.

Types of SIPs

There are three primary types of SIPs, depending on the insulating material used in the manufacture. They include:

  • Polyurethane SIPs
  • Expanded polystyrene SIPs
  • Compressed straw-core SIPs

Polyurethane SIPs

These provide an R-value of about R-6 to R-7 per thickness inch. They have a thickness of 7.5 inches for ceilings and 3.5 inches for walls. They are more expensive than the other SIP types but offer higher fire and water resistance and R-value. You can use them to construct exterior and interior walls, roofs, warehouses, factory buildings, clean rooms and cold rooms, and cabins. They are particularly effective in the pharmaceutical, refrigeration, and fish processing industries since their insulation properties help to divide the interior space into standard temperature zones.

Expanded Polystyrene SIPs

Expanded polystyrene (EPS) is another foam board commonly used for manufacturing SIPs, with expanded polystyrene insulation as the core. Expanded polystyrene SIPs are produced by using steam to enlarge a small bead of polystyrene polymer. The beads convert into large insulation blocks of different densities, later cut into required sizes and shapes. They have an R-value of about R-4 to R-5 per thickness inch. They are available in the market with widths between 4 and 24 inches. You can use them for void filling, floor, and duct insulation, cavity wall, and packing applications.

Compressed Straw-core SIPs

Unlike other SIPs, compressed straw-core SIPs are “green building materials.” They comprise renewable and recycled agricultural products, which makes them eco-friendly. Although eco-friendly, they offer a minimal R-value range compared to the other types of SIPs. However, they still provide excellent thermal storage, thermal insulation, and sound insulation, and they have a high resistance to pests, mold, and fire.

Applications of SIPs

Structural insulated panels have various applications, ranging from residential to light commercial and industrial buildings. Some of these applications include:

  • SIPs provide efficient indoor temperature control in industrial and commercial buildings that can have high temperatures because of the presence of machines.
  • Hospitals, schools, etc., use SIPs to coat refrigerators and walk-in freezers for large-scale cooling. 
  • They provide the required temperature for storing medicines. They are also constituents of refrigerated trucks for transporting temperature-sensitive medical items and drugs. 
  • SIPs help to maintain interior cold temperatures in warehouses. They are suitable for warehouses storing electronic products, food items, and other temperature-sensitive products.
  • Other applications of SIPs include usage in Pitched roofs, camps, restaurants, etc. 

Advantages of SIPs

SIPs offer the following advantages over other building construction methods:

  • They offer tighter building envelopes and better insulation properties leading to fewer drafts and reduced operating costs. 
  • Since they have a standardized and all-in-one nature, construction time is usually less. 
  • You can use SIPs for floors, particularly above an uninsulated space below. 
  • You can use SIPs in external and internal walls and roof surfaces. 
  • They eliminate the need for roof trusses. 
  • They are more energy efficient than traditional building methods. 
  • They are resistant to mold, pests, water, and fire. 
  • They are sturdier than other methods and are less susceptible to shifting. 
  • They have good lateral strength and offer good load bearing. 
  • They provide healthier air quality. 
  • They offer high design flexibility. 
  • They ensure fast fabrication and installation and reduce waste. 

Conclusion

Structural insulated panels are at the top of the pyramid regarding construction methods, far exceeding traditional and other methods. Their unique highlights are their high stability, structural balance, and insulation properties. They also help to complete projects in shorter periods since they are always prefabricated and only need to be assembled on the construction site. You shouldn’t miss out on these fantastic panels and incorporate them in your next construction project. 

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