As the performance of advanced building technologies increases, the probability of catastrophic failure resulting from lack of attention to detail quadruples. Think Space Shuttle.

SIPS (structural insulated panels), for example, create a great level of building performance at a reasonable cost. But there is no margin for error.

SIPs consist of a thick foam insulation core sandwiched between two sheets of oriented strand board (OSB). Panels are usually four feet by whatever height you specify. They meet in a tongue-and-groove connection prepared with a sealant that must be applied by hand during assembly. Seams are covered with special tape to keep moisture out.

More Than Unseemly

I found a SIP scrap left out in the grass for two weeks on a jobsite. The seam tape had been omitted to save money. In a nutshell, SIPs respond to water about the same way a cat responds to being dropped into a bath. The cat may never forgive you, but at least she’ll dry out — and cats don’t support the growth of wood-destroying fungi.

Will the building wrap keep the water out and protect the wall from decay? Maybe. But it would have been wiser to install the seam tape.

If the SIPs product were made from old-growth lumber rich in natural oils, then the chance of decay would be greatly reduced. Unfortunately, old-growth lumber doesn’t come in 4x12 sheets and there isn’t much of it readily available. That’s why we build with engineered products instead of the beautiful framing lumber that was used up through the 1960s. (Calm down. Engineered products are excellent as long as we RTFM [Read the Freaking Manual].)

When it comes to modern technology, God may or may not be in the details, but you can bet the lawyers are.

—Ed Voytovich, a 40-year remodeling veteran, is BPI-certified, a HERS Rater, and a licensed home inspector in New York state. He works with Home Energy Performance by Halco. Reach him at ed@TheBER.com.

See SIPs in action in this 2010 Remodeling Design Awards  Merit Award-winning project.