LHL: First and foremost, how do SIPs work?
SM: SIPs are created by laminating two pieces of performance-rated OSB2 (rated for structural applications) around a continuous core of EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam insulation. We can provide panel sizes as large as 8-by-24 feet, which allows us to cover a large area with one panel and reduces the number of studs needed for construction. This also reduces heat loss, thermal bridging and air leakage. The other key thing that we do with SIPs is we use a sealant at each of the joints, which diminishes the air flow. You can’t really do that with fiberglass batts or blown-in insulation.
How do SIPs compare with other types of insulation? What advantages do they have over the alternatives?
Batt insulation has an R-value of 8.8 but with SIPs we can get an effective R-value of around 22.6. A big factor in this is the amount of lumber that goes into creating the wall or roof. Because of the structural aspect of the SIPs, not as much lumber is required. Lumber doesn’t have the same thermal resistance as the SIPs.
For the layman, what is an R-value?
The R-value is the thermal resistance to the transfer of heat. It’s what’s used to measure the thermal resistance of a product. The higher the R-value, the greater the ability a material has to resist the transfer of heat in or out of the building.
How much energy can be saved by using SIPs over a conventional batt insulation? The amount of energy saved would depend on the size of the building. With a 2-by-6 stud wall with R-20 batt insulation, the effective R-value is around 16.8, and with a 6.5-inch thick SIP we get an effective R-value of approximately 22.6. But it really depends on the size of the structure and the thickness of the walls or roof surfaces that you’re using.
How much do SIPs cost in relation to other products, especially in terms of ROI? SIPs have a slightly higher initial-investment cost, but when you factor in the speed of construction and only needing to have one trade contractor as opposed to two (framing and insulation), buyers actually can save money during the installation process. The real savings, however, is what owners will see over the life of the home. With SIPs, the house requires a smaller HVAC unit because of the higher R-value and the reduced air flow, so equipment costs less. Then you’ll save even more on energy costs over time due to fewer air exchanges. These are the long-term savings.
Are SIPs something the average person could learn to install on their own? What sort of training would a do-it-yourselfer require? We don’t just send out the panels and say, “Good luck!” We have installation guys that explain the process of how to install them. We also have InsulspanU. Once a quarter we bring people in for a one-day class to go through all the benefits of SIPs and then provide instruction on how to install them, including hands-on practice at the end.
There are laymen who install SIPs when they choose to. Most people don’t have the time or the inclination, but there are quite a few homeowners who do it themselves.