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SIP (Structural Insulated Panels) The Preferred Building System by Quality Builders, Developers and Home Owners

SIPs Outperform Stick & Batt in Oak Ridge National Labs R-Value Test

When someone says “R-value”, what they’re really talking about is resistance to heat flow in a given medium, such as fiberglass insulation. The higher the number, the greater the resistance. So when a builder is asked “What’s the R-value of this wall?”, the natural inclination is to think of the material that most commonly specifies its rating. More often than not, it’s the insulation, and the response is something along the lines of “Oh, that wall has an R-value of 19” - fairly impressive, but also strikingly inaccurate. It’s not that the builder is intentionally misleading his client or associate, but that he’s just following common practice. In reality, this reasoning doesn’t take into account all the other components that go into making a wall: wood or steel studs every 16" or 24", bracing, nails or screws, wiring and switch boxes - any number of things that are not insulation, and in all likelihood, have R-values that fall well short of the stated R-19.

A new study by the Oak Ridge National Labs (ORNL) proves that a 4-inch SIP wall outperforms 2"x4" stick and batt construction, and even edges out 2"x 6" construction in terms of thermal performance. Because SIPs are the structural elements, there are no studs or braces to cause breaks in the insulative action. The end result is a more comfortable, energy efficient structure that performs up to spec in real-world conditions. Unlike stick and batt construction, which can be subject to poorly installed - even missing - insulation, the nature of SIPs is such that the structural and insulative elements are joined as one. There are no hidden gaps, because a solid layer of foam insulation is integral to panel construction.

By contrast, state-of-the-art technical analysis of whole wall performance indicates that the losses in a stud wall are much greater than you might think: on average, the other standard components in stick and batt construction can reduce R-values in as much as 30% of the wall area. Fortunately, that’s not the case with structural insulated panels. The ORNL study found that SIPs perform at approximately 97% of their stated R-value overall, losing only 3% to nail holes, seams, splines, and the like. Wiring chases are precut or preformed into the foam core, providing a continuous layer of insulation keeping the elements at bay and the interior free of drafts and cold spots.

A SIP wall also outperforms stick and batt when it comes to maintaining consistent interior temperatures, and that translates to improved occupant comfort. The interior surface temperature of frame construction drops precipitously at every stud, while the SIP wall remains consistent across its entire surface. No temperature dips mean improved occupant comfort, regardless of where you are in the room. That’s a big part of what people are talking about when they say they can immediately “feel the difference” in a SIP-built residential or commercial space. With SIPs, thermal efficiency and comfort are built in at the factory, and now the lab results prove it.


US Department of Energy
Definitive Accredited Testing proves that SIP Systems out perform conventional frame constructions by at least 66%!

The structural insulated panel industry is hailing a new US Department of Energy study for confirming the insulating superiority of their product.

A recent study at DOE’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory used a new procedure for determining a building wall’s insulation performance. It compared 18 different wall systems, including conventional 2X4 and 2X6 framing with fiberglass and similar fibrous insulations and Structural Insulated Panels (SIP’s).

SIP’s consist of a core of rigid foam insulation in one of several forms sandwiched between a variety of surfaces. These surfaces are usually plywood, oriented strand board, or metal, and finished panel replaces conventional studwall framing in most cases.

The DOE study is said to provide a “whole-wall R-Value” by calculating how well heat flows through various wall materials and how well the walls connect to other walls, the roof, floor, doors and windows. It was conducted by Jeffrey Christian, Director of DOE’s Buildings Technology Center of Excellence at Oak Ridge Laboratory, and Jan Kosny, a research engineer at the University of Tennessee.


Net Zero Energy Research Homes Built With SIPs
Habitat For Humanity Homes are First Of Their Kind

GIG HARBOR, Washington-Remarkable new homes being built by Habitat for Humanity in Loudon County, Tennessee are projected to break new records showcasing state-of-the-art energy efficiency. The high “whole wall R-value” and nearly airtight construction relies on structural insulated panels to give the houses their unprecedented performance, shattering existing concepts of how energy-efficient homes should be built. The goal for these net-zero-energy dwellings is to be so energy efficient that on an annual basis, the energy usage will not exceed what is produced on site.

Research at ORNL has shown that in terms of real performance a SIP wall rated at R-15, with a 3-1/2 inch EPS core, actually out-performs a fiberglass insulated wall six inches thick and rated on paper at R-19. “The comparison shows that a SIP wall system is thermally very well designed,” states Jeff Christian, Director of the Buildings Technology Center at ORNL. “The superior design of SIPs demonstrated under identical laboratory conditions at ORNL shows that SIPs can be 95% more airtight than wood-frame construction.” Real time comparison of energy performance shows that the SIP zero energy house uses 1/10 the heating energy than a similar sized wood-framed house across the street.

These new Habitat homes, as part of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Building America and Zero Energy Building programs, are the first structures ever to combine a number of new energy-efficient design concepts and are the first attempts to attain zero energy on affordable houses in the United States. In fact, the homes could be used by the DOE as a concept model for constructing a similar Zero Energy Building Habitat House in each state of the country. Much like the work on the “Freedom Car” (hydrogen fueled) under the transportation sector, building zero energy buildings (ZEB) is the “grand challenge” for the buildings sector.

The cost of heating the first zero energy Habitat home, built in the fall of 2002, was 50 cents a day during a colder than normal winter in East Tennessee. Forty sensors were installed in the home to monitor the thermal performance.

The second and third homes are being designed and assembled in July 2003 by volunteers through a partnership between the Department of Energy Building America Program, Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Habitat for Humanity, SIPA and a number of other building industry sponsors to include Andersen Windows, NOVA Chemicals, Rohm and Haas, Ashland Specialty Chemical, Design Basics, FischerSlPs, Inc., Insulspan, Inc., Weyerhaeuser, Falcon Foam, Archbold Container Corp., the Metal Roofing Alliance and IBACOS, a Building America team.

The first Habitat home was built using Pacemaker Plastics 4-inch walls with 1lb. density expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam cores. Insulspan, Inc., using 6-inch walls with 1lb. density EPS foam, will manufacture the second house. FischerSIPs, Inc. will manufacture the third home with 21b, density EPS foam provided by Falcon Foam. The resin to make the foam for both houses will be donated by NOVA Chemicals, and Weyerhaeuser will be providing all of the OSB. Oak Ridge National Laboratory will instrument and monitor each home and provide a report of the energy performance. Research results incorporated by ORNL scientists in the Zero Energy homes include a 2kW solar PV system on the roof. TVA is offering the homeowners through the Lenoir City Utilities Board $0.15/kWh for all the AC solar power generated. The buy back offer is 2.4 times the retail rate for electricity. As a result, new homeowners may soon experience the unusual pleasure of getting a check in the mail for power generated by the system.

Data gathered from these houses will be used to design Zero Energy homes in other locations around the world in the near future. Currently, discussions are underway at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) to build one home in Azerbaijan and one in Barbados. Jeff Christian, Director of the Buildings Technology Center at ORNL, states, “We hope to learn as we build these houses to ultimately reach the Department of Energy’s goal of affordable zero energy housing by the year 2015.”


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