How Structural Insulated Panels Work

SIP Specifics

At this point you're probably dying with curiosity, eager to find out what all the fuss is about. Well, although SIP homes aren't foolproof pictures of perfection, there are a number of benefits to building this way.

  • Materials: EPS (the foam most commonly found inside our SIP ice cream sandwich) is cheap, available, tough, easy to produce and easy to work with. The oft-used OSB outer skins come from replenishable, quick-growing softwood trees, and­ SIP components are recyclable.
  • Efficiency: Buildings built with SIPs have greater thermal capabilities and less insulation breaks for heat to escape. They offer more uniform temperatures while decreasing the heating and cooling load. Plus, because they require smaller HVAC systems, they also decrease the amount of greenhouse gasses grabbing at your conscience.
  • Simple Perks: SIP homes tend to be quieter -- the panels provide a better sound barrier than stick-frame houses -- and they tend to be healthier. As long as proper ventilation and filtration are maintained, the house can preserve better indoor air quality, leaving dust, mold and allergens at the door. And this one may sound silly, but you'll appreciate it if you've ever tried to hang something heavy up on the wall -- only to end up watching your mistakes quickly morph it into the crime scene for a shootout. There's no need to locate studs; the whole wall can handle the load.
  • Strength: This brings us to the sturdiness of SIP-built buildings. Instead of having the weight of the structure centered on the frame studs, the entire shell is able to shoulder the load. These homes also tend to do better during natural disasters like hurricanes and earthquakes -- although this is in no way a guarantee that the house will weather the storm.
  • Industry: SIPs are starting to turn more heads in the building industry, although the demand for them is still largely consumer-based. But even reluctant builders have a few benefits waiting for them if only they'd sign on. SIPs can help deal with labor shortage issues and extend the building season. If the insulating shell can be whipped up in a few days, construction workers can spend the rest of the winter nice and warm while they work on the interior.
  • Bottom Line: Now let's get down to the brass tacks. SIP homes generally cost more to build than stud frame homes, but they work hard to earn their keep. Besides the money saved during construction (remember the prefab savings, the decreased labor cost, the lack of materials waste and the smaller HVAC), they also offer long-term savings. Besides reductions on utility bills, SIP homeowners may be eligible for tax breaks and energy-efficient mortgages (also known as EEMs), which come with a number of financial perks. Worried about moving and losing your investment? SIP homes tend to bring home the bacon as far as resale values are concerned.

So if you're looking to go prefab in your next dwelling, with good research and planning, a SIP home can be the coziest home sweet home you've ever had. It's important to ensure you have a trusted and experienced professional heading the work, and a little product support from the manufacturer is a plus. On the next page, you can get more information about home construction and how to jump into a project of your own.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • "About Structural Insulated Panels." Cozy Living Homes. (12/11/2008)
  • APA -- The Engineered Wood Association Web site. (12/10/2008)
  • CAD/CAM/CNC Glossary of Terms. MicroSystemsGeorgia. 5/8/2008. (12/11/2008)
  • Structural Insulated Panel Association Web site. (12/10/2008)
  • "Structural Insulated Panels." U.S. Department of Energy's Consumer Guide to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. (12/10/2008)
  • "Foam Board." U.S. Department of Energy's Consumer Guide to Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. (12/10/2008)
  • McNair, Dave. "On Architecture - Retrofit: Are SIPs the New Way to Build?" The Hook. 3/30/2006.
  • Miller, Stephanie. "Construction Products Review: Structural Insulated Panels." Architects Online. 8/24/2006. (12/10/2008)
  • Ross, John. "SIPs: Are They Right for Your Next Project." Fine Homebuilding. 2007. (12/11/2008)
  • "Structural Insulated Panels." APA -- The Engineered Wood Association Web site. 12/2007. (12/10/2008)