Structurally insulated panels, or SIPs, are a ‘modern method of construction’ that are known for their energy efficiency, rapid construction, and cost efficiency that make them an appealing choice in comparison to more traditional construction methods. At TFQ we are working with a number of clients now who see that the benefits of SIPs outweigh the negative connotations, and are actively looking for a convenient, economic and sustainable method of construction to build their homes with.
We’ve found it helpful during this period to pitch to clients as to why they should, or shouldn’t, be using a certain method of construction, and so with the benefit of hindsight here are some the advantages and disadvantages of SIPs that you may want to consider for your next project.
Advantages of SIPs
1. Energy Efficiency
SIPs supply excellent thermal insulation due to the foam core, which minimizes heat transfer through walls and roofs and therefore is still able to meet the current building regulations standards for u-values and thermal efficiency. Due to the build-up of these panels, cold bridging can be minimised. This leads to reduced energy consumption for heating and cooling, helping you to lower utility bills and reduce your carbon footprint.
Because SIPs are prefabricated offsite, this speeds up the construction process allowing you to see what you designed significantly faster. SIPs are an efficient choice for projects with tight timelines because of the ease of assembly, and the weathertight envelope is completed much sooner.
3. Environmental Impact
SIPs can be considered environmentally friendly due to their energy-efficient properties and reduced on-site waste when compared with masonry materials like bricks and concrete blocks which have a relatively high carbon footprint due to the energy-intensive production process. Using SIPs can often negate the need for expensive and environmentally unfriendly steel, too. By omitting these heavy materials from the build, SIPs often offers landowners the opportunity to build additional stories where ground conditions may not have permitted this with traditional construction.
4. Site construction
The construction process is more compacted and tidier than traditional methods making it perfect for more constrained sites with limited access. As well as this, SIPs are manufactured in controlled environments, making sure the panels are produced as per the design. This leads to fewer construction defects and variations, helping make the construction process smoother.
Due to the unpredictable British climate, many construction processes can often come to a halt due to colder conditions. However, unlike traditional masonry methods that require a minimum of 3°C to allow the bonding to set, SIPs can be fixed together despite the weather conditions and temperature.
5. Design flexibility
SIPs can be customised to fit various architectural designs. They can be used for walls, roofs, and floors, allowing for versatile design options, and can even be produced to accommodate curves in your designs.
Disadvantages of SIPs
The upfront cost of the SIPs package can be higher compared to traditional construction methods using a standard wood framing, despite often being cheaper than traditional masonry construction. While the long-term energy savings and the reduced time spent on site should offset this cost, it can still be a barrier for some budget-conscious projects. Why not have a conversation with your SIPs provider, or contract administrator, to see if a payment deal can be put together to allow you to manage your budget more effectively?
2. Design adjustments
Making changes to the design after SIPs have been manufactured can be more difficult and costly compared to on-site adjustments in traditional construction. This is because designs get manufactured to the exact measurements that are specified.
3. Moisture concerns
If not properly installed and sealed, SIPs can be vulnerable to moisture infiltration, which could lead to rot, mould, or other structural issues. This may also become an issue if the panels have to be stored on site, so good project management is essential.
4. Skilled labour required
Working with SIPs requires specific skills and knowledge, which might require specialised labour. This could also affect construction costs. Depending on your location, finding suppliers or contractors experienced in working with SIPs might be challenging, potentially adding logistical complexity to your project. That said, most SIPs suppliers are keen to branch out into new locations and regions with their offerings, and so having conversations and setting expectations early on could lead to a good working relationship with a supplier to overcome logistical challenges.
In summary, SIPs offer several benefits, primarily related to energy efficiency, speed of construction, and structural performance. However, they also come with challenges such as initial upfront costs, skilled labour requirements, and potential moisture issues. When considering SIPs for a construction project, it's important to weigh these pros and cons against the specific needs and goals of the project.