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What are Structural Insulated Panels?

By B. Turner
Updated May 17, 2024
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Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are a type of construction material consisting of a layer of foam insulation sandwiched between two sheets of wood. Generally, oriented strand board (OSB) is used to form the exterior of the product, while polystyrene or polyurethane insulation makes up the core. These structural insulated panels are used in place of traditional wood framing and insulation during construction.

This product can be used to create a variety of building components. The main use for structural insulated panels is in forming the walls of a building. Rather than installing wood framing and plywood sheathing, then stuffing insulation into the wall, SIPs can be used instead, with a single sheet taking the place of all three of these materials. Structural insulated panels are also used to build floors, roofs, and foundations, and serve as an easy alternative to traditional materials.

There are numerous benefits to using structural insulated panels when constructing a home. One of the most important of these is the superior insulating property of SIPs over any other type of wall construction. The interior foam core on these panels is quite solid, and acts as a thermal barrier, keeping cold and hot air from the exterior from entering a home, and vice versa. This can have a significant impact on utility bills, and may keep the home more comfortable.

Structural insulated panels are also stronger and more stable than traditional wood framing. They are engineered in the factory to meet the specific needs of each project, and are considered as strong as a steel beam when it comes to load capabilities. Because they are pre-measured and cut in the factory, SIPs are much faster to install than wood framing, which can significantly lower installation costs. Finally, with no cavities within the wall for air or moisture to settle in, structural insulated panels are highly resistant to mold and mildew growth.

While early versions of these panels have been in use since the 1930s, they have made a resurgence in popularity as the green building movement has grown throughout the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Structural insulated panels are prized for their energy efficiency, which results in fewer greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike wood framing, the OSB used on these panels is a rapidly renewable resource, meaning that it regenerates itself very quickly after harvest. The use of SIPs results in less waste on the jobsite, as the materials are already sized properly, and pre-cut to receive doors, windows, wiring, and piping. Those concerned about the use of polystyrene or polyurethane foam can select SIPs made with an all-natural wheat or straw core instead of the normal foam.

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