Sips Vs Stick Framing: Cost Comparison

are sips cheaper than traditionally framed house

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) are a popular alternative to traditional stick framing. SIPs are high-performance building panels used in floors, walls, and roofs for residential and light commercial buildings. The panels are made by sandwiching a core of rigid foam plastic insulation between two structural facings, such as oriented strand board (OSB).

So, are SIPs cheaper than traditional stick framing? The answer depends on several factors, including the standard you are building to and the timeframe you are considering.

If you are building to a basic, minimum code standard, SIPs will not be cheaper upfront. Stick framing with fiberglass batts will build the biggest house for the least amount of money. However, that house will be less efficient, drafty, and cost more to operate.

On the other hand, if you are building a high-performance home, SIPs will cost less than any equivalent system. SIPs provide long-term savings through lower utility bills, with some sources estimating savings of up to 50%. SIPs also reduce construction time and labour costs, with a BASF study finding that SIPs reduce framing labour needs by up to 55%. Additionally, SIPs produce less waste and require smaller HVAC systems, further reducing costs.

In summary, while the upfront cost of SIPs may be higher, they offer significant long-term savings and other benefits that make them a cost-effective and attractive option for home construction and renovation projects.


SIPs are more energy-efficient

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) are a more energy-efficient way of building a house compared to traditional framing methods. SIPs are composed of a continuous core of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam structurally laminated between two boards of performance-rated oriented strand board (OSB). This design combines the structural and insulation components into one, resulting in a more energy-efficient building.

The two main ways a building loses energy are through convection (air leaks) and conduction (through solids). The EPS foam in SIPs provides a continuous layer of insulation with no gaps or cavities, reducing air leakage and minimizing thermal bridging. This results in a tighter energy envelope, reducing energy loss and improving the building's overall energy efficiency.

The Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) conducted a study that demonstrated the superior performance of SIPs. They found that a 4-inch SIP panel outperformed both 2"x4" and 2"x6" stick and batt construction in thermal performance. The study also revealed that SIPs have fewer air losses compared to stud wall construction, with the structural insulated panels performing at about 97% of their stated R-value.

The use of SIPs can lead to significant energy savings over the life of a structure. A SIP building has a tighter energy envelope, reducing air leakage and minimizing thermal bridging. This, in turn, improves the building's overall energy efficiency and reduces energy bills. Additionally, the reduced air leakage provides a more comfortable indoor environment with fewer drafts and a more consistent temperature throughout the building.

The superior energy efficiency of SIPs also has implications for the HVAC system of a building. By eliminating much of the air leakage, the HVAC system doesn't have to work as hard to heat or cool the interior. This allows for the installation of a smaller, less expensive mechanical system while still maintaining the desired level of interior comfort.

In summary, SIPs offer a more energy-efficient alternative to traditional framing methods. The continuous layer of insulation provided by the EPS foam reduces air leakage and minimizes thermal bridging, leading to significant energy savings and improved indoor comfort. The use of SIPs can also result in a smaller and more cost-effective HVAC system.

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SIPs are quicker to install

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) are quicker to install than traditional stick framing for several reasons. Firstly, SIPs are prefabricated in a factory, which means they arrive at the construction site pre-cut and ready for installation, reducing the time spent on material preparation. The accuracy of computer numerical control (CNC) routers in the factory also eliminates the potential for human error in on-site measuring and cutting.

Secondly, the installation process for SIPs is straightforward and streamlined due to pre-planning. Drafters create SIP layout drawings, which are reviewed and approved by all relevant parties before the panels are manufactured. This means that when the panels arrive on-site, they are designed to interlock easily, reducing construction time and labour costs. The panels also have pre-cut openings for windows and doors, further accelerating the installation process.

Thirdly, SIPs only require one crew to install, whereas traditional stick framing requires multiple crews and work schedules for the structure, insulation, and air barrier. A typical installation crew for SIPs consists of five people: two people installing, two people preparing the next SIP, and one person applying sealant and cutting lumber.

The combination of prefabrication, simplified on-site assembly, and reduced labour requirements makes SIPs a significantly faster and more efficient installation process than traditional stick framing.

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SIPs reduce labour costs

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) are an innovative construction method that offers numerous benefits over traditional stick framing, including reduced labour costs. Here are several paragraphs detailing how SIPs reduce labour costs:

Reduced Labour Requirements:

SIPs can significantly reduce labour costs by simplifying and expediting the construction process. Installation crews experienced with SIPs can achieve a 55% reduction in framing time compared to conventional wood framing. This remarkable decrease in labour requirements is attributed to the prefabricated nature of SIPs, which eliminates the need for on-site measuring, cutting, and assembly of individual pieces. The panels arrive at the job site pre-cut and ready for installation, reducing the number of workers and skilled labour hours needed.

Faster Installation:

The speed of SIPs installation is a significant advantage, allowing structures to reach the weathertight stage much faster. This accelerated timeline enables follow-on trades and interior work to commence earlier, reducing overall labour costs. SIPs' quick installation is especially beneficial in cold climates, as it permits construction to progress without weather delays.

Streamlined Construction Process:

SIPs combine multiple construction steps into one, streamlining the building process. They integrate framing, insulating, and sheathing into a single step, reducing the labour required for each of these tasks when compared to traditional methods. This condensed construction process also shortens the overall project timeline, leading to potential savings in carrying costs and interest on construction loans.

Reduced Waste Management:

SIPs minimise job site waste, reducing the need for waste management tasks. The panels are fabricated off-site, ensuring precise measurements and minimising excess material. This contrasts with stick framing, which generates significant waste from cutting and adjusting dimensional lumber on-site.

Ease of Finishing Work:

The large, straight panels of SIPs facilitate easier installation of finishing work. Sub-contractors can work more efficiently without accommodating bowed lumber or walls that are out of square. This reduces the labour required for tasks such as drywall attachment and exterior finish application.

Reduced Callbacks:

SIPs also contribute to lower labour costs by reducing builder callbacks. The factory-engineered sections arrive ready for installation, minimising errors associated with on-site measuring and cutting. This precision results in fewer issues like nail pops and simplifies the installation of doors, windows, millwork, and cabinetry.

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SIPs are cheaper in the long term

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) are a cost-effective alternative to traditional stick framing. While the initial investment in SIPs may be higher, the long-term savings are significant. Here are several reasons why SIPs are a more economical choice in the long run:

Reduced Construction Time and Labour Costs

SIPs are prefabricated off-site and delivered ready to install, reducing the time and labour required for on-site construction. A SIP installation crew can cut framing time by up to 55% compared to conventional wood framing. The large panels are quick to assemble, reducing the overall construction timeline. This faster installation also reduces potential carrying costs and interest paid on construction loans.

Energy Efficiency and Lower Utility Bills

SIP buildings are highly energy-efficient, with a tight building envelope that minimises air leakage. This results in lower energy consumption and more stable indoor temperatures, leading to reduced utility costs over the long term. SIP buildings may also qualify for energy tax incentives, further reducing overall costs.

Smaller and Less Expensive HVAC Systems

The superior insulation provided by SIPs means that smaller heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can be used. This not only saves money on the equipment itself but also reduces ongoing energy costs as the HVAC system doesn't have to work as hard to maintain a comfortable indoor environment.

Reduced Job Site Waste and Disposal Costs

SIPs generate significantly less waste during the construction process, reducing waste disposal costs. They also require less lumber, which not only saves money but also helps combat skilled labour shortages.

Reduced Builder Callbacks and Warranties

SIPs are factory-engineered and delivered ready to install, reducing errors and callbacks associated with on-site measuring and construction. SIP manufacturers often offer warranties on their products, providing additional savings and peace of mind for builders and homeowners.

Improved Indoor Air Quality and Health Benefits

The airtightness of SIP buildings helps control indoor air quality, reducing allergens and creating a healthier living environment. This can lead to long-term health benefits and reduced healthcare costs.

In summary, while the upfront costs of SIPs may be higher, the long-term savings in construction, energy, and maintenance make them a more cost-effective choice than traditional stick framing. The benefits of SIPs extend beyond just cost savings, as they also provide a more energy-efficient, comfortable, and healthy living environment.


SIPs are more durable

Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) are more durable than traditional framing. They are a practical, economical, and eco-friendly wall system. They are sensible, affordable, and earth-friendly. They are also a great way to minimize thermal bridging and enclose the home quickly.

SIPs are made of a continuous core of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam structurally laminated between two boards of performance-rated oriented strand board (OSB). The OSB is made from fast-growing trees and shrubs once considered waste by the lumber industry. The EPS foam is the same durable yet lightweight material used in bicycle and motorcycle helmets.

SIPs are also more durable because they are more resistant to water damage. In Juneau, Alaska, owners of SIP homes discovered that SIPs that got wet did not delaminate. While some roofs grew mushrooms, and some walls turned to oatmeal, the panels themselves did not delaminate, as long as the OSB stayed dry.

SIPs are also more durable because they are less prone to energy loss. Traditional stick-framed homes are more susceptible to energy loss due to thermal bridging and air leakage. SIPs are extremely airtight, with a solid foam core, and there is no thermal bridging at all. This means that SIPs can cut heating and cooling costs by as much as 60%.

SIPs are also more durable because they are less likely to have problems with installation. Most SIP problems are design and detailing issues. If installed by experienced, diligent, and conscientious workers, SIPs perform as expected.

Finally, SIPs are more durable because they are flexible. They can arrive at the home site in bundles of large generic panels that builders cut to fit, or they can be cut to the home's design at the factory and then numbered for easy installation, resulting in less wasted material and resources.

Frequently asked questions

SIP stands for Structural Insulated Panels. They are high-performance building panels used in floors, walls, and roofs for residential and light commercial buildings.

The cost of SIPs varies depending on factors such as size, thickness, type of insulation material, complexity of design, and location. On average, SIP panels can range from $5 to $18 per square foot.

SIPs may have a higher upfront cost compared to traditional stick framing, but they offer long-term cost savings. SIPs reduce construction time, labour costs, and energy bills. They also require less material and produce less waste, resulting in overall cost savings.

SIPs offer faster installation, improved energy efficiency, reduced construction labour, and a stronger and more comfortable building envelope. They also allow for smaller and less expensive HVAC systems.

SIPs may require custom orders for thicker panels to meet high-performance insulation standards, which can increase costs. Wiring and plumbing can be more complex and require vertical slots in the panels. SIPs also use large quantities of plastic foam insulation, which has high embodied energy.

Written by
  • Lara Beck
  • Lara Beck
    Author Home Renovation Professional
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