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History Of SIPs Panels

Learn the origin and development of the Structural Insulated Panel

History of the structural insulated panel (SIPs)

Although foam-core panels gained attention in North America in the 1970’s, the idea of using stress-skinned panels for construction began in the 1930’s. Research and testing of the technology was done primarily by Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) in Madison, Wisconsin as part of a U.S. Forest Service attempt to conserve forest resources. In 1937, a small stressed-skin house was constructed and garnered enough attention to bring in First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt to dedicate the house.


In a testament to the durability of such panel structures, it has endured the severe Wisconsin climate and was used by University of Wisconsin–Madison as a day care centre up until 1998 when it was removed to make way for a new Pharmacy School building.


With the success of the stress-skinned panels, it was suggested stronger skins could support all of the structural loads and eliminate the conventional building frame altogether. After the creation of their prototype, Forest Products Laboratory entered their custom designed SIPs into the marketplace where it sold for the next thirty years.


Frank Lloyd Wright

Engineers from Forest Products Laboratory weren’t the only ones churning out structural panels. In fact, the 1930s saw sandwich-panel technology emerge from another source. Indeed, some of the earliest examples of SIPs can be found in the Usonian houses designed by none other than the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright.


Frank Lloyd Wright was exceptionally innovative and his SIPs were a result of his efforts to incorporate beauty and simplicity into cost-effective homes. Wright’s attempt at a panel contained no insulation; they consisted of three layers of plywood and two layers of tar paper.


Due to the lack of insulation, this prototype failed to achieve widespread popularity and they were never produced on a large scale.

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Alden B. Dow

Alden B. Dow – an architecture student of Frank Lloyd Wright – experimented further with the concept of structural panels.


Dismayed over the lack of proper insulation in Wright’s Usonian homes, concerned about energy efficiency and fearful over depleting natural resources, Dow sought to create a structural panel with an insulated core. In 1950, Dow did just that and as a result he is generally credited with creating the first structural insulated panel.

What are SIPs?

SIPs are the 21st Century Building Material.


Structural insulated panels are a high performance building system for residential and light commercial construction. The panels consist of an insulating foam core sandwiched between two structural facings. There are three different facing materials used in the residential housing industry, OSB, MgO and cement sheet.

Are Structural Insulated Panels more expensive?

Building with SIPs generally costs about the same as building with timber frame construction when you factor in the labour savings resulting from shorter construction times and less job site waste.


The savings don't stop there as smaller heating and cooling systems are required and less framing timber is used. On double storey construction the scaffold hire cost is significantly less.

Green building with SIPs

Courtesy of SIPA of America 


Research out of North America shows the construction and operation of buildings has a significant impact on the environment. As the construction methods in Australia and North America are very similar we can assume for the sake of the exercise the statistics below would be largely similar for our buildings and energy usage here in Australia.


In North America buildings account for 39% of total US energy consumption and 38% of carbon dioxide emissions. Green buildings use less energy, reducing carbon dioxide emissions and playing an important role in combating global climate change. Buildings also use a tremendous amount of natural resources to construct and operate.


Constructing green buildings that use these resources more efficiently, while minimising pollution that can harm renewable natural resources, is crucial to a sustainable future. Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are one of the most airtight and well insulated building systems available, making them an inherently green product. An airtight SIP building will use less energy to heat and cool, allow for better control over indoor environmental conditions and reduce construction waste.

Smart SIPs panels save energy

Building with SIPs creates a superior building envelope with high thermal resistance and minimal air infiltration.• Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) Whole-wall R-value studies show that a 4-inch SIP wall (nominal) rated at R-14 outperforms a 2×6 stick framed wall with R-19 fibreglass insulation. (R values are the American imperial scale R14 = R 3.8 on the Australian scale and R19 = R 4.7 on the Australian scale).


  • ORNL blower door tests reveal that a SIP test room is 15 times more airtight than its stick framed counterpart with fibreglass insulation.

  • Up to 40% of a home’s heat loss is due to air leakage. SIPs have demonstrated amazingly low blower door test results when properly sealed based on the reliable performance of SIPs.


Smart SIPs panels save resources

The major components of Smart SIPs require less energy and raw materials to produce than other structural building systems. SIPs are also fabricated in a controlled environment, allowing for greater efficiency than site-built framing.


The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) estimates that the construction of a 2000 sq ft home produces 7,000 lbs. of waste. SIPs have the ability to drastically reduce the waste generated during construction by using advanced optimization software and automated fabrication technology to ensure the most efficient use of material.


Neopor GPS is a lightweight insulation composed mostly of air. Only 2% of GPS is plastic. Over the lifetime of a house, the GPS insulation used in SIPs will save many times the energy embodied in the petroleum used to make GPS. It takes 24% less energy to produce GPS than fibreglass insulation of an equivalent R-value. Scrap GPS generated during the manufacturing process can be recycled into new GPS products.

Traditional construction vs Smart SIPs panels

Traditional Construction
Smart SIPs Panels
Traditional framing consumes significantly more wood, depleting our natural resources
Significantly less wood frame material resulting in a greatly reduced wood requirement
Framing requires extensive man-hours and longer construction timeframes
SIPs have been proven to reduce framing labour by as much as 55%
Results in wood, sheathing and other waste in landfills
Panels made to size for each project result in virtual elimination of jobsite panel waste
Cavities in walls can result in "chimney effect" that speeds burning
Solid foam core eliminates "chimney effect"
Materials may vary widely in quality
Smart SIPs panels ensure consistent quality through stringent in-house quality control policies and procedures
Risk of water absorption that can reduce effective R-value by up to 50%
Foam core will not absorb moisture, maintaining original insulating qualities
Uses fibreglass insulation that can sag or shift, reducing R-values over time
SIPs panels will not sag, shift, or develop voids; maintaining their performance integrity for the life of the product
Thermal bridging at studs and gaps allows heat to escape, raising energy costs
Solid, continuous insulation that boosts energy efficiency
Results in typical energy usage
SIPs homes have repeatedly demonstrated annual energy savings of 50-60% when combined with other high performance systems
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