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Structural Insulated Panels Boost Energy, Construction Efficiency

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When developing new lodging facilities, profitability often hinges on managing construction and annual building operating costs. In light of tight margins and increased interest in building green, project developers, architects and contractors are re-evaluating how they build. For low-rise lodging facilities—from small bed and breakfasts to resorts to hotel complexes—one of the technologies many are implementing is structural insulated panels (SIPs).

SIPs help reduce energy usage up to 60 percent in both cold and hot climates, lessen construction waste up to two-thirds, make efficient use of natural resources, and contribute to indoor air quality. The panels are also structurally strong, and can dramatically reduce construction time. These benefits enable developers to complete projects more quickly and to realize lower operating costs year after year.

SIPs are prefabricated wall, roof or floor components delivered to the construction site in large sections that are ready to install. They are typically made with oriented strand board (OSB) “skins” laminated with structural adhesives and pressure cured to a rigid insulating foam core. The OSB and foam work together as both a structural system and for insulation. This composite system is stronger than stick framing.

A primary green building advantage of SIPs is their ability to create a tight building envelope. Compared to wood stud construction, SIPs are much more energy efficient since there are few gaps between the large-size panels. In addition, the insulating foam is continuous across the panel, unlike fiberglass batts that come in narrow sections and typically leave spaces near wall studs or the top or bottom plates.

R-value Greater Than Stick Framing

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) found that rooms built with SIPs are approximately 15 times less leaky than stick-framed spaces. The lab also evaluated the whole-wall R-values of SIPs versus stick framing, taking into account energy loss through the structural members, corners, joints, and around windows. They found that a 3.5-inch-thick core SIP had a whole-wall R-value 47 percent higher than walls framed with 2 by 4 studs at 16 inches on center—the common practice in stick framing.

In addition to energy savings, building with SIPs is environmentally responsible in several other ways, including:

Construction Waste Reduction—Stud framing generates large waste volumes as builders cut stock boards to length. Framing a structure can generate thousands of pounds of scrap wood. By comparison, SIPs are manufactured in a controlled setting that allows for more careful material management than is possible on a construction site. As a result, contractors can reduce waste by up to two-thirds.

Indoor air quality—SIPs can also play a significant role in improving indoor air quality. They provide a tighter building envelope than other framing methods, which helps reduce infiltration of common pollutants such as radon, molds, pollen, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), lead dust and asbestos. Some manufacturers’ SIPs also do not contain CFCs, HCFCs or formaldehyde.

A key advantage SIPs provide for cost savings is their ability to dramatically reduce dry-in time. The large, single-piece panels enable contractors to install entire wall, roof and floor sections at one time. They eliminate the need for separate framing, insulating and sheathing work on site, and enable subcontractors to start and finish work faster since walls, roofs and floors are plumb and square.

SIPs Eliminate Construction Steps

In addition, SIP manufacturers pre-cut window and door openings, including curves, arches and complex shapes. Depending on an opening’s dimensions, subcontractors do not need to spend time installing separate window and door headers. The panels also come with pre-cut electrical chases, eliminating the need to drill through studs for wiring.

As an example of the potential time savings, Moline Construction Company, Inc., in Scottsdale, Ariz., was able to complete a $500,000 project in less than eight weeks using SIPs. The company saved at least two weeks in construction time when compared with conventional framing.

From Florida to Alaska, SIPs provide energy savings and meet green building goals and tight project schedules in a host of environments. For example, builders of a rustic lodge near the Suncadia Resort in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State used SIPs to create a warm and inviting lodging facility that stands up strong to heavy snow loads and high wind. In desert locales, lodging facilities built with SIPs help maintain a comfortable indoor temperature through extremes of heat and cold experienced throughout the day.

As the market for new lodging facilities recovers, it will likely not be business as usual for many developers as there has been a fundamental shift in expectations for cost and energy efficiency. Advanced building products like SIPs can help make the difference for a project’s financial success.

James Hodgson is the general manager for Premier Building Systems, North America’s largest SIPs manufacturer and a leader in the research, development and manufacturing of high-performance, energy-efficient panels. Call (800) 275-7086 or go to www.pbssips.com for more information.

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