Minnesota SIP-Built Home: Energy-Efficient Wall System Choice

Leading building industry journalist chooses SIPs for his family’s home

When building product experts contract to build their own homes, which wall systems do they choose? For an editor and publisher of a leading building industry media company reaching 34,000 monthly readers, structural insulated panels (SIPs) were the go-to product for his family’s new Minnesota home.

Shumacher Residence, MN: Large
Platinum SIPS eliminate thermal breaks,
creating a structure 15 times tighter than
conventional framing and up to 55% more
energy efficient.

As a building products journalist, he reviews many types of structural and insulation products in his publication, and has toured sawmills, engineered wood product (EWP) plants and insulation factories. From his more than 25 years covering the industry, he knows the pros and cons of all the wall system options.

“We went with SIPs for our home for a couple of reasons,” says the editor. “Minnesota winters can be harsh, and we wanted our new home to be very energy efficient. SIPs solve the problem of thermal bridging–which is a key factor in energy-efficiency.”

His ranch-style home overlooks a serene lake outside Minneapolis. With 2,250 square feet of living area on the main floor, vaulted ceilings and expansive territorial views, the home features 6-inch thick SIPs from Premier SIPs (Puyallup, Wash.) in all exterior walls.

“The extreme amount of glass, with minimal walls, forced me to have super energy efficient wall panels, and an engineered shear tall wall panel to meet international building code standards,” said Paul Vogstrom, president of Paul Thomas Design Build (Plymouth, Minn.)

Fewer Gaps Lead to Better Heat-Flow Management, R-value

Testing by the U.S. Dept. of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) showed that SIP structures are up to 15 times more airtight than stick framed walls insulated with fiberglass batts. A SIP structure had an air leakage rate of only 8 cu. ft. per minute (at 50 pascals of pressure) compared to stick framing which leaked air at 121 cu. ft. per minute. This dramatic difference is because SIP-built walls and roofs have far fewer gaps to be sealed. The lab also found for similar wall thicknesses, SIPs were 47 percent better at resisting heat flow than stick framing. A 3.5-inch-thick foam core SIP wall had a 14.09 R-value versus 9.58 R-value for 2×4 studs at 16 inches on center with fiberglass insulation.

“We just moved in last spring, so we have yet to experience our first winter,” says the editor. “But one thing many people don’t know about Minnesota is that our summers can be very hot and humid, as well, which also puts insulation to the test. We’ve been very pleased so far with all aspects of our SIPs-constructed house.”

In addition to providing a tight, well-insulated building envelope, the Premier SIPs reduced the home’s construction schedule by 3 to 4 weeks compared to a stick-built home, notes Vogstrom. “With their pre-built window openings and insulation already in place, the SIPs allowed for quicker construction,” says Vogstrom. “Plus, the panels arrived at the jobsite straight and true, and provided a continuous attachment point, which really streamlined hanging of cabinets and trim work.”

Although this was Vogstrom’s first time building with SIPs, he says the learning curve was minimal. He describes SIPs as a “very self-explanatory product.”

When asked what advice he would offer other people interested in a SIP-built home, the editor encourages looking at the big picture. “SIP materials cost more than materials for stick framing, but the fact that SIP walls are delivered in big pieces that are easily installed onsite, means there are significant savings in time and labor. Also, people with SIPs homes can plan on lower energy bills, which helps offset the initial investment. If we were to build again, we’d very likely use SIPs again.”