Big Sky R-Contol SIPs model of a structurally insulated panel.

What Are SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels)?


You may have heard of SIPs before, but do you really understand what a “SIP” is?

If your answer is no, then you’re not alone!

So just to clarify, we are not talking about a “sip” out of a drink, we are talking about Structural Insulated Panels. A paneling system that can be installed in your structure that helps save time on construction, money on utilities, and can drastically reduce your carbon emissions. 

Now that we have that clarified, let’s take a deeper look into what SIPs really are and how they work to save you time and money.

Big Sky R-Contol SIPs model of a structurally insulated panel.
©2020 Big Sky R-Control SIPs

So, what are Sips?

Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are a type of high performance, lightweight, paneling that can be used in the walls, floors, and roofs of nearly any residential structure, commercial structure, and other type V Construction structures. 

SIPs have begun to replace the more traditional “wall stud” style of paneling, and in return, have helped construction companies streamline their projects, while also minimizing the use of excess lumber.

SIPs are Composed of Two Major Components:

Trinity Building Systems SIPs
©2020 Big Sky R-Control SIPs

High-Grade OSB Sheathing

Oriented Strand Board sheathing has been the industry standard in paneling for quite some time now. It is essentially a spin-off of ply-wood sheathing and has been engineered for maximum strength and durability by cautiously orienting the strands of lumber rather than pressing them randomly.

The use of high-grade OSB paneling in SIPs provides each panel with the strength to maintain a vertical point load of just over a ton, and a vertical uniform load of 2 tons throughout. (Premier SIPs)

Unlike many other types of lumber, OSB sheathing is also produced in a much more environmentally friendly manner. Rather than being produced with old-growth timbers, OSB sheathing is created using fast-growth lumber to maximize sustainability.

Closed Cell Foam and Graphite Insulation

When you choose to build with SIPs, you have two primary options for the type of insulation used in the structure, Expanded Polystyrene, and Graphite Polystyrene. 

Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) is a permanent use, closed-cell foam insulation with an average of 3.6 R-Value per Inch. 

EPS insulation is the most common type of closed-cell foam insulation. It is used in residential and commercial infrastructure nationwide, as well as we see it used as packaging for fragile items and electronics found in the store or online. 

Graphite Polystyrene (GPS) is the performance level, closed-cell insulation option available inside of SIPs. GPS insulation typically has an R-Value per inch that is 20% greater than traditional EPS insulation which allows for more insulation in a thinner wall. That way, in very hot or cold climates, you don’t need to dramatically change your build to accommodate for insulation. Rather use GPS and maximize your R-Value without compromising design.

If you don’t fully understand what R-Value really means in terms of insulation, don’t worry, we’ll touch on that next.

Premier SIPS GPS and EPS Insulation Image
©2020 Premier Sips
What is R-Value and What Does it Mean?

R-Value is a metric that is commonly discussed when talking about insulation, but not as well understood. 

The “R” in R-Value stands for resistance. Therefore, the R-Value in reference to insulation is the amount of resistance the given material has against the flow of heat from inside to outside and vice versa. The higher the R-Value of the insulation material, the more resistant the structure is to heat loss and the better the structure retains cool air. 

The standard R-Value in residential and commercial structures nationwide is between 13 and 23. When you build with SIPs, the range of R-Values available is between a minimum 15 with a 4.5in EPS core, all the way to an R-Value of 58 with a 12.25” core.

BigSkyR-Control SIPs R Value Graph
©2020 Big Sky R-Control

Composition... Continued

The two layers of high-grade OSB sheathing on the interior and exterior of the SIP panel encase the insulation of your choice. The width and type of insulation you chose (EPS or GPS) will depend on many factors, such as; where you plan to build, your project’s budget, and the scale of the project. 

Whether you need to heat your home in the winter or keep it cool in the hot summer months, proper insulation makes a world of difference.  If you would like to get on the line with one of our specialists to discuss the specifics of your project, give us a call or fill out a short form and we will be in touch.

How are SIPs Used in Residential and Commercial Construction?

One of our favorite aspects of structural insulated panels is how simple they make the residential and commercial construction experience for our network of builders. 

All SIPs are prefabricated off of the job site so that when they arrive on-site, they are ready to be assembled without any excess work for the team with boots on the ground. The panels are numbered and set into place almost like a puzzle. 

The SIPs prefabrication helps construction crews all across the US speed up their projects 20-50% while also minimizing excess waste from cutting and sizing paneling on site. 

SIPs are designed, drafted, and structural engineered stamped for building in your county of jurisdiction. That way, there is no questioning whether or not your paneling is up to code. 

Want to learn more about building with SIPs, check out the Big Sky R-Control SIPs Benefits for Builders. 

Big Sky R-Control SIPs Clean Jobsite
©2020 Big Sky R-Control SIPs

Why Everyone Should Build With SIPs

There is an endless list of reasons we here at Trinity Building Systems prefabricate our residential homes and commercial structures with structural insulated panels. 

Below is a list of just a few reasons we feel so strongly about SIPs and why we believe you should too.

Energy Efficiency

When you choose to build with SIPs, you are maximizing the energy efficiency of your structure in a couple of different ways.

1. SIPs help to minimize Thermal Bridging

Thermal Bridging is the process of heat moving across an object that is more conductive than the rest of the materials surrounding it. The conductive material provides a route for the heat to travel, despite the insulation of the surrounding materials. 

The Composition of SIPs is unique – foam cores laminated to OSB Skins without studs at 16” or 24” on center. To accommodate point loads and structural elements of the building, there may be some posting or columns (commonly 2x, or LVL) in SIP wall systems and wood i-beams, LVLs, or 2x in SIP roof systems to help carry a clear span, but the SIP assembly drastically minimizes the amount of lumber in a wall and roof. 

Conventional framing is known to have a material makeup of roughly 25-29% lumber, where SIP structures commonly reduce that to roughly 5-7% lumber, and even lesser amounts when combined with Timber Frame. Therefore, when you build a structure with SIPs, there are far fewer “bridges” allowing the heat to penetrate or escape.

SIP framing material info-graphic on saving energy

Thermal Bridging With Studs:

Premier SIPs Thermal Bridging Image of Standard Stud Paneling
©2020 Premier SIPs

Thermal Bridging With SIPs:

Premier SIPs Thermal Bridging Image of SIP Paneling
©2020 Premier SIPs

2. Maximized R-Value with EPS and GPS Insulation

As we discussed previously under the “Composition of SIPs”, there are multiple insulation options available when you choose to build with SIPs. 

Whether you choose to build with EPS or GPS insulated SIPs, you can expect a minimum R-Value of 15 with a maximum R-Value of 58 depending on the structure and the surrounding variables.


Therefore, when you build with SIPs, you are not just receiving high-quality insulation, you are receiving maximum energy efficiency by minimizing thermal bridging, allowing you to reap the full benefit of the closed-cell insulation.

Streamlined Process

As touched on briefly under “Why Everyone Should Build With SIPs”, the use of SIPs can drastically decrease the timeline for your project. 

Builders who choose to use SIPs for paneling instead of “stick framing” will speed up their install process by up to 75%. Of course other variables come in to play, such as; the size of the crew, the machinery available, and the crews experience with SIPs. When executed properly, this has translated into savings on labor costs, as well as savings on insurance for builders and their clients all across the nation. 

Another bonus, is that rather than having to follow a 7 step process to ensure the paneling is up to code, that process is left to one of our SIPs partners, Premier SIPs or Big Sky R-Control, as well as the General Contractor that is charge of installation. That way, when the pieces arrive on the job site, they are ready to be set into place without excess assembly. 

Beyond the basic assembly, there is also a much smaller chance of callbacks from the client once the structure is complete. With an experienced general contractor, everything is done properly on the first go-around to minimize the frustration and complication for everyone involved.

For more quantitative information on how building with SIPs panels has helped builders across the nation streamline their projects, check out the Big Sky R-Control Labor Case Study

Graphic showing how Premier SIPs can save you time and money.
Does not include homeowner energy savings of (50-60%) ©2020 Premier SIPs

Insect and Rodent Prevention

One of the many benefits of building with SIPs that we have not touched on yet is their resistance to insect and rodent infestation. 

Considering the “closed-cell” composition of the GPS and EPS insulation as well as the overall composition of the paneling, there are very few cavities in SIPs panels. Minimizing the number of cavities in the structure does not only impact thermal bridging but it also impacts the feasibility for insects and rodents to enter your structure. 

Going one step farther, insects and rodents are unable to navigate through the closed-cell insulation. With loose fill and blow-in insulation, pests can easily chew their way through and infest the cavities of the structure. Therefore, a traditional stick-framed house is more susceptible to infestation and potential extermination as it ages.

Enhanced Structural Integrity

One of the major benefits of SIPs for structures built in areas with a high snow load is the structural integrity of the panels. As we touched on under “High-Grade OSB Sheathing”, the maximum vertical point and the uniform load of a SIPs panel is nearly double the paneling of a traditional stick-framed structure. 

What does that mean? It means that with SIPs you can build a stronger structure, without compromising the overall design of the build.

That's a Wrap!

Thank you for sticking with us! We touched on a lot regarding SIPs in this piece with a goal to help you all feel more informed when it comes time to get started on your next project. 

If you would like to discuss the specifics of the SIPs we use here at Trinity Building Systems, get in touch with one of our specialists and they help walk you through your different options. 

For more information regarding the ins and outs of structurally insulated panels, check out:


12 thoughts on “What Are SIPs (Structural Insulated Panels)?”

  1. How do you handle changes in the future like a new window or something else that requires cutting into the panel? Do you need a header when adding a window/

    1. Hi Jim, great question. The answer is yes, SIPs can handle changes in the future. Sometimes it can be cut right out of the panel, other times a new opening may need to have a header. Just like a traditional styled home, it’s always a good idea to have an expert come in and evaluate load-bearing locations. Before you modify any pre-existing SIP structure you should contact a structural engineer, to ensure structural integrity isn’t compromised. We hope you have a fantastic rest of your day Jim!

  2. Wall Insulation Auckland

    This is really appreciated that you have presented this data over here, I love all the information shared. It will be very helpful to understand about what are sips . Great post to share, thanks for publishing this here!!

    1. Hey J.K.R., thanks for asking! Here is a link to our partner Big Sky R-Control’s load design chart.

      This link to a Premier SIPs webinar also provides some great insight on how SIPs perform against lateral loads such as hurricane winds.

      Skip to 27:00 if you want to cut straight to the info on lateral loads.

      We hope you have a fantastic remainder of your day!

  3. Darrell Schofield

    If I sent the prints for addition on my home in Minnetonka MN, would you be willing or able to
    put it together? It’s approx. 600 sq ft., 9′ tall with a flat roof.

    Darrell Schofield
    All Points Builders Inc

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