Architect/Designers Education

Designing With Structural Insulated Panels

Become familiar with structurally insulated panels (SIPs) and their applications.
Download the Designing With SIPs PDF file.

What Are SIPs:
Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) are a composite structural panel with an insulating core of rigid foam – usually EPS or polyurethane – and structural facings, most commonly of 7/16” thick oriented strand board (OSB).

A Brief History:
Development of “stressed-skin” panels for buildings began in the 1930s. Engineering and durability testing was conducted at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) in Madison, Wisconsin, a facility operated by the U.S. Forest Service.

FPL tested the concept of using skins to carry a portion of structural loads by building a small house in 1937. Wall studs in the panels were 3/4” x 2 1⁄2,” rather than the usual 2” x 4.” First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt dedicated the house, and the structure is currently a daycare center run by the University of Wisconsin

FPL scientists reasoned that if skins could take part of the structural loads, maybe they could eliminate framing entirely. Engineering theory was developed and tested, and a complete structure was built in 1947 using corrugated paperboard. This structure was heated, humidified, and exposed to Wisconsin weather for 31 years.

The structure was disassembled periodically for testing to observe changes in panel stiffness, and bowing was minimal.

SIPs Today:
• Today, SIPs consist of a foam core and structural facings (typically OSB)
• They are manufactured and fabricated under factory controlled conditions for greater accuracy
• Quick to assemble onsite
• Structurally sufficient - they do not use studs at regular intervals
• Large sizes, up to 8’ x 24’
• Easy to work with using standard carpentry tools and techniques
• Can be combined with nearly any type of cladding or interior finish system
• Combines seamlessly with standard dimensional lumber

SIPs Strengths:
• SIPs reduce the number of man hours per building
• Easy to train labourers to install SIPs
• BASF R.S. Means study shows residential builders cut framing time by 55% over stick framing
• Less site waste, greener product and process
• Faster weatherproofing reduces moisture exposure for all products
• Better control over indoor air quality
• Straight walls, faster drywall and trim installation
• Reduced callbacks due to nail popping and cracks due to lumber shrinking
• Less or no temporary heat required during building in cold climates
• Integrates easily with other building systems such as steel frame, timber frame, and wood framing

Energy Efficiency and Green Building with SIPs

SIPs as the backbone of a green building strategy:
Starting with SIPs as the primary structural and enclosure system gets your green building project started on the right foot.

An efficient building envelope creates design opportunities such as creative daylighting without sacrificing thermal performance.

High performance SIP building envelope:
• Reduces energy used for heating and cooling
• Allows for better indoor air quality
• Uses less raw materials, generates less construction waste
• Allows for creative daylighting without sacrificing thermal performance
• Maximizes the effectiveness of other technologies, such as HVAC equipment and onsite generation

SIPs have very few structural members and continuous, uninterrupted insulation
• 15% – 25% of the surface area on a wood frame wall is solid lumber, compared to 3% of a typical SIP wall.

View the Designing With SIPs PDF

This document outlines energy strategies and current industry assembly standards, as well as illustrates SIP design and engineering methods.


Download the PDF file here.

SIPs Design Manual

Detailed planning and designing information on Premier Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs)