By Matt Griswold, Plastics News staff
Orlando, Florida - Structural insulated panel manufacturers are facing the same educational hurdles and resistance to change from the building community as the makers of insulating concrete forms.
The two industries - SIPs and ICFs - share similar qualities and are likely to share a similar fate.
But if there can be such a thing as a highly energized segment of the construction industry, SIPs would be it. The industry players ooze optimism.
Like ICFs, SIPs incorporate expanded polystyrene into a building product designed for use in long-lasting, energy-efficient structures.
The common SIP is a 4-inch EPS sheet sandwiched by two oriented-strand board "skins," though SIPs also can be made with steel skins with a polyurethane foam middle.
The steel-skinned products are commonly used in commercial construction, said Bill Wachtler, executive director of the Structural Insulated Panel Association in Gig Harbor, Washington. Wachtler spoke in an interview at the International Builders' Show, held 12-16 Feb in Orlando.
Like ICFs, SIPs made up less than 1 percent of new housing stock built in 2007 - somewhere between 10 000 and 15 000 residential units, Wachtler said. But the industry did show year-over-year growth of 8 percent.
The cost of materials to build a SIPs home is 2-5 percent more than a traditional stick-built home, but SIPA officials said it is a wash when you factor in labor savings - about 50 percent savings if the door and window openings were precut in the factory.
Insulspan Inc. president Frank Baker indicated that SIPs are growing in commercial and multifamily applications. Insulspan is based in Blissfield, Michigan.
Resistance from the residential building community comes in the usual colours, said several SIPs makers: builders reluctant to change, uneducated architects and engineers afraid to specify a foreign material, and homeowners completely oblivious to alternative building methods.
David Bolland said it sometimes can be difficult to communicate all of the many positive qualities of SIPs.
"Take all the different factors that appeal to different audiences - the architect, the builder, the homeowner - and try to communicate that effectively. Any time you have something that has so many positive attributes, it has a tendency to draw skepticism. You can get the feeling that it's too good to be true," said Bolland, president and chief operating officer of Plymouth, Wisconsin-based Plymouth Foam Inc.
SIPs may be the one industry benefiting from the retreating construction market, he said.
"In the type of market we're in today, builders have a lot more time to evaluate what they're doing in terms of the methods and materials they use," Bolland said. "While it may be a slow period for traditional methods, it can be an expansion period for other methods."
Ron Gleysteen, a regional sales manager for Watertown, South Dakota-based SIPs maker Enercept Inc., lives in a SIPs home. He is not shy about belittling the industry's marketing efforts to date.
"I think the SIPs industry has done an excellent job keeping it a secret, but the word is getting out despite that," Gleysteen said.
His energy bills are less than they were in his previous home, which was only a quarter the size of his new one, he said.
"Are we still driving automobiles like the ones that came out in the early 1900s?" he asked. "But we're building houses just like we did in the 1900s. Really. What's different?
"It makes a lot of sense to build with SIPs. It just does."
Bolland said he believes SIPs will become more than just a specialty method of construction in the future. He pointed to the various SIPs manufacturers, and SIPA itself.
"As companies, we contribute financial and personnel resources to this effort," he said. "We wouldn't be doing all that if we thought this was going to be a niche system. We, as an industry, do believe that this could become the building method."