Structural insulated panels (SIPs) have hovered at the far edges of the building industry for decades as products that offer a number of advantages but have yet to make a large dent in market share.
Primarily constructed with two outer skins of OSB and an insulating foam core, SIPs can provide a more energy-efficient and airtight alternative to stick-and-batt construction, according to testing conducted by Oak Ridge National Labs. SIPs also can offer faster installation, tested structural strength, efficient use of natural resources, and warranties. Yet SIPs still make up less than 2 percent of the residential construction market, according to the Structural Insulated Panel Association (SIPA). A new partnership between SIPA and APA-The Engineered Wood Association is focused on increasing that market share to 5 percent in the next five years.
“Almost every significant underlying force in the marketplace is driving [trends] toward SIP construction,” says Frank Baker, president of manufacturer Insulspan, citing rising energy costs, the shortage of skilled labor, and compressed construction schedules as just a few of the challenges facing builders that can be eased by using SIPs. SIPA also is working with the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing to develop a set of prescriptive performance standards, which will then be submitted for inclusion in the International Code Council's Residential Code (IRC). Adoption into the IRC “will make a huge difference in the acceptance and use of SIPs,” maintains Bill Wachtler, SIPA's executive director.
SIPs may offer an opportunity to provide customers with an efficient alternative construction solution, but they may not fit into every dealer's business. Typically, the products are manufactured and sold direct because most manufacturers are small companies. Some larger SIPs manufacturers, however, have established authorized dealer/installer networks. Pro yards engineering trusses and panels may have an edge in distributing SIPs because they already provide engineering and component design services for builders, points out Chuck Gerber, vice president of market development for AgriBoard Industries.
“I would think in the future there will be more of us going to market through distribution channels,” says Doug Anderson, sales manager for Winterpanel, a thought that is echoed by most manufacturers. “Most are looking at a business-to-business relationship in the future,” says Stephen R. Sullivan, project office manager and director of design for Premier Building Systems.
Dealers may face some hurdles working with and selling SIPs, most significantly handling volume and managing costs. Truss and panel manufacturer Western Mass Truss of Westfield, Mass., recently discontinued distributing SIPs, even though the company saw real value in the products. Transporting the SIPs became too expensive and selling trusses took precedence. “We probably didn't give SIPs enough focus,” acknowledges president Keith Cressotti, who also found that it was difficult to sell SIPs to customers who had not already considered and budgeted for them.
Lisa Bevis, sales director for Southeastern Building Panels says the SIPs category currently is driven by homeowners and remodelers. But as more builders learn about SIPs, manufacturers predict acceptance will increase. And once these builders start planning SIP-built projects, they will likely want the panels delivered to jobsites on the same trucks with all the other materials they need.