Building With Structural Insulated Panels (Sips)

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by: Michael Morley

Topics include: relieve the foam, foam scoops, beater block, scoop the foam, custom chases, electrical chases, spline connections, rake flashing, furred wall, pullout resistance, panel screws, plumb cut, expanding foam, curtain wall panels, ducted systems, eave flashing, beam pockets, hot scoop, interior facing, rake wall, boom truck, vertical chase, lifting plates, uplift resistance, eave walls

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From Library Journal -- For over 100 years, the majority of North American homes have been built using wooden framing. This technique is strong, conserves materials, and allows great design flexibility. Framing Basics (part of Sterling's excellent "Basics" series, which covers numerous tools and woodworking techniques) offers a helpful introduction to framing for do-it-yourselfers. Readers for whom this book is intended aren't going to build an entire house; they are homeowners who want to move, remove, or install a wall or create built-in storage. Peters covers tool-use, materials, methods of work, and demolition in easily understood text supplemented with numerous color photographs. Thallon, a professor of architecture, takes frame construction to the next level, showing how to build a house's entire shell from the foundation to the roof. He believes that when properly constructed, a wood-framed house should be able to last for 200 years or more. This title's intended audience is professional builders and designers; a great deal of reader knowledge is assumed by the author. Broad sections include foundations, floors, walls, roofs, and stairs. The text is brief and to the point, with a huge number of excellent illustrations providing the details. Libraries that own the original edition (1991) of this title should consider this revisionDit covers recent developments such as new sheathing methods, wood I-joists, and vinyl windows. A comprehensive glossary and list of resources round out this title. Structural insulated panels (SIPs) consist of slabs of foam insulation sandwiched between oriented strand board or plywood. They represent one of the newest technologies and may render wood-framing methods obsolete. Morley, a builder who specializes in SIPs construction, gives a compelling argument for this new systemDit's structurally superior, better insulated, faster to erect, and more environmentally friendly than traditional methods. The use of SIPs requires many specialized tools and techniques, all of which are covered in detail. A large resource list provides the names of architects, builders, and companies that deal with this system. Framing Basics is well written and is geared toward the beginner; with other titles in Sterling's "Basics" series, it deserves a place in most public library collections. Both Thallon's and Morley's works are excellent but are geared toward a specialized audience; public libraries with comprehensive collections and academic library architecture collections should consider them.DJonathan Hershey, Akron-Summit Cty. P.L. Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.

Comprehensive new book to cover emerging building technology -- While SIPs have been arround for 60 years, the author believes the time is now for explosive growth of this technique for residential and commercial buildings.
The book covers all steps in the fabrication and assembly of SIP panels and buildings in a way that isn't overly technical. The emphasis is for professionals, and indeed SIPs present a challenge to the do-it yourselfer since some of the panel elements are so large a crane or forklift is essential. SIP building as presented, however, seems very simple, and otherwise suited to self-builders. In essense each panel when complete can stand in for many other elements: the studs, plates, the sheating , insulation, vapour barrier, fasteners, plumbing and electrical chases, and interior rough or finished surfaces.

The book gives lots of information on different SIP types, and tools.

The book covers structural panels almost exclusively, in other words the simmilar panels used for timber frames etc..., which are not load-bearing are addressed, but are not the subject of this book.

My only dissappointment is that as an amateur builder the book doesn't deal with that aspect of the subject at all. The field is relatively unfriedly to non-commercial participants. SIPs are relatively hard to find in small quantities, and even though the process is simpler that stud building, for instance, they don't want to deal with you but your architect. Not the book's fault.

The author seems a sincere advocate for SIPs, if at times a little closed to other alternatives, which would present less of a cultural, financial, or technical barrier to the average buyer or user. I'd like to believe him, but so far SIPs haven't made an appearance at the local Home Depot. Most people have hammered a nail into a 2x4, but your going to have to buy into this system sight unseen, unless the SIP industry gets a little more democratic about its distribution.

This book was probably a three star or four star effort for me, given my focus, but fully five star for the intended audience: Contractors stepping up to the system for the first time.

Answered my questions -- I have been considering building a home on a piece of property I own for the better part of a year now. I'm a fan of SIPs due to energy efficiency and the perception I have of their ability to withstand the harsh climate of south Texas. It helps that the best home I've ever owned (and I've owned more than ten) was a panelized home but on a wood foundation that I purchased in Minnesota 15 years ago. The house was solid, energy efficient and better built than anything any of the many site built stick homes I owned before and since. I've tracked down a variety of sources of information on SIPS including most information readily available on the web. This book has been an essential tool for me, and I would heartily recommend it to anyone considering building with SIPs. It addresses all of the common objections and misperceptions (and there are many), and it does so in a methodical and comprehensive manner. I can see where some folks might consider that to be promotional, but I believe there is still a stigma to panelized construction, at least in the minds of a large segment of the population, so perhaps it's appropriate that a little promotion or cheerleading is included. It also addresses a number of practical considerations you'll have when building, such as electrical, plumbing and hvac considerations. It's not a manual, but I wasn't looking for a manual. After reading it, I feel that I will be better able to find and work with a builder and accomplish my build a quality, affordable house that is structurally superior, energy efficient and will last the rest of my life. Most importantly, I have yet to find another source on the subject that provides so much information with so little effort. As a result, it gets five stars.


A dissapointing offering from the Taunton press -- While the Taunton press has published some quality books, I certainly don't feel this is one. As a professional contactor looking for an introduction to SIPs, this book did provide a cursory overview of the product and its use. I was, however, disappointed to the point of annoyance with both factual and editing errors. I found terms introduced but not defined, misplaced paragraphs of text, and no mention of areas of real concern that someone considering using this system should be aware (perform internet search using the keywords: Structal Inslated Panel, failures, Alaska). Perhaps I am too hard to please, and the book is right up your alley. In its favor, there are a lot of glossy photos, clear line drawings, and sidebars showing related tidbits of information. For the reader that likes to browse through a book in no particular order just to get the feel for a topic, this is probably right on the money. For someone looking for a more rigorous and substantive view of SIPs, or for one accustomed to higher editing standards, I would recommend looking elsewhere.

Building with Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)
Michael Morley
Strength and energy efficiency through structural panel construction
Every once in a while a new technology comes along that makes its predecessors obsolete. Today, Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) are in the process of replacing the postwar norm of stick-framed, fiberglass-insulated houses and light commercial buildings. SIPs produce a structurally superior, better insulated, faster to erect, and more environmentally friendly house than ever before possible.
SIPs are solid, one-piece structural components that can be used in walls, floors, and roofs. Instead of separate pieces of framing, insulation, and sheathing, a SIP panel incorporating all three components comes ready to install.
In this book, experienced SIP builder Michael Morley explains how to:
. choose the right panels for the job
. equip yourself with the tools you need to work with SIPs
. fabricate panels and components
. install wall and roof panels
. run mechanical systems in SIP buildings

Strength and energy efficiency through structural panel construction


The SIP Revolution
What Are SIPs?
Why Build with SIPs?
The SIP Industry Today
SIPs and the Building Community


Core Materials
Putting the Pieces Together
Test Results


SIPs: An Integrated System
Design Advantages of SIPs
Designing and Building with SIPs


Power Tools
Specialty Fasteners, Adhesives, and Caulks
Jigs, Templates, and Conveying Systems


Fabrication Options
Planning and Layout
Fabricating Wall Panels
Fabricating Roof Panels
Packing and Shipping


Foundations and Floor Systems
Erecting SIP Walls


Preparing for Takeoff
Placing the Panels
Hips and Valleys


Electrical Distribution
Plumbing Considerations
Wiring and Plumbing Kitchens
HVAC Systems


Exterior Finishes
Interior Finishes

Afterword: From a Builder's Perspective

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), a "new" building material that has actually been in use since the 1940s, consist of two outer skins and an inner core of an insulating material to form a monolithic unit. Most structural panels use either plywood or oriented strand board (OSB) for their facings. OSB is the principal facing material because it is available in large sizes (up to 12-ft. by 36-ft. sheets), and manufacturers have used OSB facings on structural panels used for the rigorous testing needed for code approvals. Structural panels can also have other materials, such as drywall, sheet metal, or finish lumber, laminated onto the OSB structural facings at the factory. This service eliminates one more step in the building process and speeds up assembly time.

The cores of SIPs can be made from a number of materials, including molded expanded polystyrene (EPS), extruded polystyrene (XPS), and urethane foam. Some SIP producers use isocyanurate foam as the core material, but since there is only a slight chemical difference between urethane and isocyanurate, I will refer to both of these core materials as urethane foam. Urethane foam panels comprise only about 5% of the panels produced.

The insulating core and the two skins of a SIP are nonstructural and insubstantial components in themselves, but when pressure-laminated together under strictly controlled conditions, these materials act synergistically to form a composite that is much stronger than the sum of its parts. Panel manufacturers supply splines, connectors, adhesives, and fasteners to erect their systems. When engineered and assembled properly, a structure built with these panels needs no frame or skeleton to support it.

Structurally, a SIP can be compared to an I-beam: The foam core acts as the web, while the facings are analogous to the I-beam's flanges. All of the elements of a SIP are stressed; the skins are in tension and compression, while the core resists shear and buckling. Under load, the facings of a SIP act as slender columns, and the core stabilizes the facings and resists forces trying to deflect the columns. The thicker the core, the better the panel resists buckling, so larger-core SIPs offer more insulation and are stronger as well.

Stock SIPs are produced in thicknesses from 4-1/2 in. to 12-1/4 in. and in sizes from 4 ft. by 8 ft. up to 9 ft. by 28 ft. Their R-values range from about R-15 for a 4-1/2-in. EPS or XPS panel to higher than R-32 for a 6-1/2-in. urethane panel. A 12-1/4-in. EPS panel is rated at R-45. Custom sizes and configurations are also available from some manufacturers, and virtually any bondable material can be applied as the facing material. The flexibility of the manufacturing process means that custom lengths and skins can be ordered for nearly any application.

Currently, SIPs are used primarily in residential and light commercial applications. While neither EPS nor urethane foams (the main core materials) are particularly flammable, they will burn when exposed to flame, so their use in high-rise or large public buildings without extensive fire suppression technology is limited. SIPs perform well under various flame and fire testing Most buildings higher than three stories are subject to a different set of building regulations due to the loads applied to the walls and floor systems. The current standard for this type of building is to construct the frame using structural steel members, then to infill the walls, floors, and partitions (see The regulatory environment). There is great potential for SIPs and curtain-wall panels to be used in these applications.

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