What is a SIP?

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  • Written By: Sheryl Butterfield
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2019
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SIP stands for structural insulated panel. SIPs are engineered building panels used by residential and commercial builders. The high-performance qualities of an SIP system make it an attractive way to construct walls, floors and roofs. The strength and energy efficiency of these panels make them a cost-effective alternative to a wood-framed, or "stick-built," home.

SIP is generally the recognized acronym for a composite panel constructed with strong foam, usually polystyrene or polyurethane, insulation. This core is placed between two exterior covers of oriented strand board (OSB). Sometimes, plywood is used for the exterior covers.

The green building industry has prompted manufacturers to experiment with other materials for the outer layers, or "skins," and the core of an SIP. Fiber cement has become popular and creates a cementious fiber panel. SIPs can also be made using natural fibers, such as straw, for the core layer. Wheat straw can provide as much high-performance insulation and strength as other engineered panels.

Regarding strength, SIPs outperform conventional wood frame buildings and homes. The panels can handle large loads and withstand extreme winds and weather. Their airtight characteristics are superior to wood-framed roofs and walls. The simple design of an SIP offers density that keeps air out. The panels' R-values (insulation quality rating number) are high compared to conventionally framed homes, giving homeowners lower energy bills.


SIPs are usually produced in a factory then shipped to the builder. Based on building specifications, a manufacturer can customize the SIPs to be used during construction. Pre-cut SIPs can lower labor costs on a job site. Construction workers do not need much training to quickly assemble the panels.

Conventionally framed houses are generally less expensive than homes using SIPs. The custom design aspect of SIPs increases production costs. Prefabricated SIP systems are available and competitively priced.

The downside of using SIPs for home construction is a lengthier approval and inspection process, even though construction time is decreased. Some up-front thought is required during planning. Plans should be reviewed carefully and approved beforehand. Initial costs should be considered, especially for custom-built SIPs.

Special wiring for electricity and plumbing techniques may be required. SIP-built structures are more airtight so proper ventilation is important. If gas appliances are being installed, ventilation safety must be considered. To take full advantage of SIP insulation qualities, properly sealed joints are a must to deter moisture.

SIPs are an energy-efficient building system material. Homeowners can experience a faster building time, less damage during bad weather and increased comfort.


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