The race toward the energy-efficient home is on, and it looks like SIPs are gaining ground. Structural insulated panels consist of an expanded polystyrene core sandwiched between two OSB panels. According to a survey conducted by the Structural Insulated Panel Association (SIPA), 12,000 mostly single-family living units were built with SIPs in 2002, and 51 million square feet of SIPs were produced.

A SIP-built house that was also equipped with an integrated heating, cooling, and appliance system was tested by Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which found it achieved savings that exceeded those mandated by the 2000 Model Energy Code. The heating and cooling costs for the home for one entire year totaled only $166.

Energy efficiency and money savings are leading builders and contractors to look into using SIPs in their projects. Though SIPs are gaining popularity with large builders like Pulte, SIPA is working to show remodelers how the structural panels can benefit them, as well. Bill Wachtler, executive director of SIPA, says the organization is working to introduce remodelers to SIPS by promoting their use for bump-outs, bays, fireplaces, and dormers.

Donna Shirey of Shirey Contracting in Issaquah, Wash., has been using SIPs in her remodeling work for 15 years. “They make so much sense,” she says, “because the dry-in time is so short. We've done second-story additions that took four days to frame the walls and the roof and get it papered.” She adds that, because the SIPs are custom-cut and numbered for each project, “you simply assemble them on the jobsite, so there's no waste. Nothing goes to the dump.”

courtesy SIPA

Shirey uses SIPs whenever she can. “We use them for second-story additions and new homes. The only time we don't use them is when there are a lot of hips and valleys on a roof. Really, they're almost limitless.”

She believes SIPs make good economic sense. “[I] find that the prices of stud material really fluctuate today. The [prices of the] panels tend to stay a little bit more steady and don't have those spikes in price.” Shirey believes more remodelers would use SIPs in their projects if they knew more about the benefits they offer. “I find it's something contractors are a little afraid of, but they don't want to say that, so they'll say it costs too much. But if they look at the benefits at the end of the project, it's a wash.”