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The Environmental Factors of Structural Insulated Panels

As more cities begin to require energy efficient and sustainable building practices, the search for green products is on the rise. One of the questions we hear a lot is, “Are SIPs a sustainable, and green, way to build?” The answer to this question is, “Yes!” Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are both a sustainable and green way to build for a few different reasons.

Sustainable & Green Starts with SIP Manufacturing

To begin with, Insulspan® SIPS are made by laminating two pieces of performance-rated oriented strand board (OSB) to a solid core of expanded polystyrene (EPS) insulation to form a “sandwich” of insulation. OSB is the final product resulting from decades of structural particle board development. With its three-layer flakeboard, OSB makes it possible to utilize about 80% of the wood removed from forests.[i] While loggers once left behind tree tops and stumps to decompose or burn in a forest fire, SIP manufacturers now use those same pieces in the production of OSB. Therefore, OSB utilizes less wood pulp from managed forests.

While on the topic of wood, studies of SIP structures have shown that the total amount of wood used in an average SIP home is significantly less than that of a stick frame home. [ii] This is just one environmental advantage of using SIPs.

Insulspan SIPs are made with expanded polystyrene (EPS) insulation, a lightweight foam composed of 98% air and only 2% plastic. The production process to make EPS is also sustainable and reduces energy usage. It takes 24% less energy to produce EPS insulation than fiberglass insulation of equivalent R-value.[iii] Once produced, the scrap EPS generated during the manufacturing process can be recycled into new EPS products. [iii]

Over the lifetime of a building, the EPS insulation used in the SIPs will help reduce energy use, which results in a CO2 savings of many times the energy embodied in the petroleum used to make it. The energy savings potential from using SIPs over their assumed lifetime of 50 years exceeds the amount of energy consumed in the manufacturing process by a ratio of approximately 120:1. [iii]

Sustainable & Green Continues During Construction with SIPs

Additionally, SIPS shine on the construction site. SIPs produce much less waste on site compared to traditional stick framing. This is because manufacturing takes place in a controlled environment, with panels cut precisely to the construction drawing’s specifications. The manufacturer then delivers the panels to the job site Ready to Assemble (RTA). This process uses precise amounts of wood without the waste which leads to less onsite job waste overall. When panels show up on site and perfectly assemble into seamless walls, waste does not occur.

While most people do not consider time as a sustainable or green practice, it definitely has a place in the sustainability of building with SIPs. This unique building material has a competitive edge over traditional stick framing in the way it saves time on the construction site. Using a pre-cut panelized system, building crews can install panels in half the time it takes traditional framers to do so. This means reaching the dry-in phase faster. SIPs also allow for builders to continue construction during winter months stretching their overall productivity.

Sustainable & Green with SIPs Create Comfortable, Healthy Interiors

Finally, a SIP building creates a healthier indoor air quality and provides a more comfortable environment for occupants when compared to stick framing. Insulspan SIPs do this because they do not contain any volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and do not off-gas. Coupled with this, SIPs create a tight building envelope which makes it possible to better control air quality. As a result, building occupants will save money in heating and cooling costs and enjoy a more comfortable and energy efficient the interior space.

Equally important for sustainable and green living is the fact that SIPs maintain their R-value over time. As traditional insulation such as batting and spray foams compresses over time due to gravity or off-gassing, their R-Value and long-term thermal resistance (LTTR) decreases. EPS insulation does not suffer the same losses because the EPS used in SIPs is a piece of rigid foam made of mostly air. As a result, Insulspan SIPs using EPS insulation will have the same R-value and LTTR in year 10 as they do on day 1. [iv]

Sustainable & Green Requires a Long-Term Focus

As we learn more about energy consumption and how to decrease it, we as a society have discovered that 40% of the global energy consumption comes from buildings [iv]. This means there is a huge opportunity to reduce the amount of energy used (coal, natural gas, petroleum) to condition our interior spaces. Unfortunately, many projects begin with a short-term, disposable mindset. SIP structures are built to last long-term which means it will not require new resources to replace it. As we build more efficient structures, we use less energy to heat and cool them. By constructing more buildings using SIPs, you can exponentially grow the energy savings and impact that 40% of energy we are consuming right now.

However, to create a more energy efficient future, each consumer must take a long term approach to building that best benefits the environment. In some cases, this push for long-term planning has come from legislative bodies. Places like California and British Columbia are examples where lawmakers are passing legislation requiring and encouraging energy efficient building practices.
For example, in California, the governor made an executive order that California’s entire economy go “carbon neutral” by 2045. In British Columbia, the province has begun to implement the BC Energy Step code that establishes measurable, performance-based, energy-efficiency requirements in all new building projects. While these laws are not everywhere yet, the world is definitely moving toward a more energy efficient future. One way to comply with the more stringent energy codes is by building with SIPs.

Sustainable & Green to Achieve Energy Certifications

There are many “green” products that tout their sustainable nature, but if these “green” materials do not provide long-term building solutions, with long-term energy savings, the sustainable nature of that entire structure ends at construction. Therefore, when builders are seeking to construct energy efficient structures they often turn to SIPs. SIPs receive points under the LEED® certification for buildings. LEED® is a green building rating system used worldwide and one of its key aspects is energy efficiency. By qualifying for LEED® certification, builders know that they have met their city’s energy and sustainability standards.

Furthermore, buildings can earn EnerGuide® and EnergyStar® certifications. EnerGuide is the official energy performance rating and labeling program for the Canadian Government. It helps consumers identify ways to save energy, lower utility bills, and help the environment.

The EnergyStar certification is backed by the US Government. It provides credible and unbiased information on energy efficiency to consumers and businesses. These homes are 10% more energy efficient than homes built to code. They also provide better quality, performance, and comfort to homeowners.

Finally, the RESNET® HERS ® Index is nationally recognized for inspecting and calculating a home’s energy performance. The score establishes operating efficiencies and determines where modifications can be made.

To recap, SIPs use responsibly managed materials to create an energy efficient product that lasts long-term. It is 100% recyclable and has a consistently high R-value. This saves money over time in heating and cooling costs, cutting down on overall energy consumption. It creates healthy interior spaces with clean, comfortable air, and the entire construction process saves time, materials, and resources. All these things combined have helped earned SIPs points toward LEED or other energy program certifications. Are SIPs sustainable and green? You can bet your energy savings they are!

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Resources

[i] “An Evolutionary History of Oriented Strandboards (OSB)” United States department of Agriculture https://www.fpl.fs.fed.us/documnts/fplgtr/fpl_gtr236.pdf
[ii] “BASF Study Shows Building with SIPs Reduces Framing Construction labor by 55 Percent.” – Cision PRWeb, https://www.prweb.com/releases/2008/04/prweb884114.htm
[iii] “Sustainable in Products, Practice, and People,”- PFB Corporation https://www.pfbsustainability.com/
[iv] “Frequently Asked Questions”- U.S. Energy Information Administration, https://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.php?id=86&t=1


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