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  • Writer's pictureSoba Faris

Building with SIPs

In this post we’ll explore SIPs, a modern high performance building system which is becoming an increasingly common method for construction across the globe due to its simplicity in construction and its many inherent benefits that create higher quality buildings.

What are SIPs?

Wood is the most widely used building material across the globe. It’s a sustainable material, flexible in design and easy to work with. Structurally Insulated Panels are an advanced form of timber construction. SIPs are a type of high performance building system used in residential, light-weight commercial, and even small industrial buildings. A SIP is made up of two structural OSB faces which both sandwich an insulating foam core as pictured below. SIPs are incredibly versatile and can be used to construct walls, floors, and even roofs which speeds up the construction process whilst delivering a higher quality of build in comparison to other traditionally used materials such as masonry.

Section through a SIPS panel showing the OSB outer layer and the foam core

A closer look at the SIPs construction system shows how the insulation is sandwiched between two large OSB3 boards to create a complete insulating and structural component.

Should I consider using SIPs in my project?

Due to the ever increasing carbon footprint of the construction industry, the UK’s building regulations are becoming increasingly stringent. Part L of the building regulations focuses on the conservation of fuel and power as reducing carbon emissions for new build properties remains high on The Government's agenda, and plays a big part in the design and construction of new build properties. SIPs are in a league of their own when it comes to meeting these stringent guidelines. The sheer thickness and continuous line of insulation sandwiched within the structure of a SIPs building leads to a very energy efficient and comfortable internal environment. The carbon footprint of a SIP building is reduced immensely as energy demand is significantly reduced leading to a more economical and environmentally friendly building in the long run.

This detail shows how the various materials would come togther along with the continuous line of insulation in the interior to increase overall u-values

The benefits of using SIPs

As SIPs are made in a factory environment and to specified shapes and sizes, there is minimal waste in comparison to traditional construction materials. The speed in which a SIPs building can be erected equates to labour savings from shorter construction times and the prefabricated nature of this system can effectively make this building method financially more viable than other traditional construction materials. This is particularly attractive for self-builders, where the ability to erect the structure quickly and make it watertight means that an element of self-finish can be completed by the client, or other contractors.

Further savings occur as the need for heating and cooling systems are drastically reduced due to the thermal characteristics and airtightness of this technology. The inherent air tightness of SIPs necessitates in the need to integrate an air exchange system such as a Mechanical Ventilation Heat Recovery system (MVHR) to exchange stale air for clean fresh air as touched on in our previous posts on Airtightness This allows for a controlled internal environment which is especially beneficial, in combination with air filters, for those with allergies. This topic will be explored in detail in a future post on Mechanical Ventilation.

What about the external/internal finish of a SIP building?

As the name suggests, SIPs are generally used for their inherent structural properties but can also be used with other structures to form an insulation and airtight layer to a building. A SIPs structure can be clad in a variety of different materials depending on the desired aesthetic. Brick work is often used as the exterior face to fit the local context of many UK cities. Timber cladding, render boards, metal cladding amongst many other options are available as the finished structure is easy to apply finishes to. The interior can be finished with plasterboard or plywood, again depending on the desired aesthetic.

We explored using SIPs on our project at Glebe barn, due to the speed of construction and the possibility of incorporating an element of self-build. For the exterior finish, ideas of vertical timber boards meeting the stone plinth looked like a great juxtaposition of materials and expressed the modernity of the new build whilst honouring the material palette of the existing barn. The conceptual 3D technical details above and below show how the construction would come together on site as well as some thoughts on the interior and exterior finishes mentioned earlier.

This conceptual detail shows the exterior finish we are trying to achieve and how the timber cladding would meet the stone wall.

If you are interested learning more about SIPs, or have a project in mind where you are considering using this method of construction, then please do get in touch.

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