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SIPs – a ‘new kid on the block’ that’s continuing to grow in popularity among the self-build community, and others!

A rapidly increasing enthusiasm among self-builders, and others in the construction sector, to opt for SIPs as their primary build method over the past few years is such that it prompted Timber Innovations to launch a specialist customer service catering specifically for this market.


Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) are a method of construction that have actually been around for some time – indeed, SIPs are popular in the United States, where they have been in use for over half a century. But then, they do say that what starts off as a good idea in the USA inevitably finds its way to the UK once it takes off on the other side of the Atlantic.


An advanced method of construction, SIPs offer excellent thermal performance, light-weight structural strength. SIPs use less timber than traditional timber frame and are one of the most economical and eco-friendly forms of construction.

SIP panels are used in walls and roofs for residential, commercial and educational sites, providing ecologically friendly and energy efficient buildings, and usually in conjunction with metal web joists for upper floor systems.


The structural panels are made in a continuous production process by expanding the insulation material between the two outside facings of 15mm oriented-strand boards – it is this autohesively bonded “sandwich” that gives a SIP panel it’s exceptional performance and robustness.


SIPs can be custom designed for each building. Indeed, all SIPs for Timber Innovations’ customers are finished at their in-house factory in Solihull. The end result of a SIPs construction is a building that is extremely strong, energy efficient and cost effective.


“One of the most popular reasons why customers choose timber frame is the swiftness, and SIP homes go up very fast,” said Ian MacCarthy, Business Development Manager, Timber Innovations. “That fits in extremely well with customers’ budgets.


“Cost is an important factor: our customers appreciate the budgetary benefits to timber frame, and SIPs, and the swiftness of a building being erected, means you reduce both construction and labour costs, so it is understandably a popular consideration.”


SIPs offer much more versatility than other construction materials, allowing a multitude of possibilities beyond the conventional for those involved in the design stage. One of the spin offs of this is that it offers, for instance: more habitable living space in a self-build project: for instance, sloping roof panels create an open space that can maximise all opportunities for full utilization.


Said Mr MacCarthy: “Where once conventional roof carpentry created a spider’s web of posts and beams to create the roof space, SIPs offer the capability to span from ridge to eaves with, typically, one intervening horizontal purlin.


“It means that SIPs are proving popular when it comes to creating rooms in the roof; for instance in three storey townhouses, or to create extra room in a one or two storey building, for example.”


Another important consideration is that SIPs are one of the most environmentally friendly methods of construction, and make a significant environmental impact by reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. A SIPs building provides continuous insulation, is extremely airtight, allows for better control over indoor air quality, and helps save natural resources.


“SIPS buildings are generally more energy efficient, stronger, quieter and more airtight than older technologies,” said Mr MacCarthy. “Less air leakage means fewer drafts, fewer noise penetrations and significantly lower energy bills, thus a reduction in CO2 emissions.”


Other benefits of choosing SIPs include:

  • Extra floor space
  • Doors, windows, etc, would always be pre-framed with the structure
  • Environmental sustainability
  • Robust and solid feel
  • Air tightness
  • The use of less timber than conventional timber frame construction
  • Excellent resale potential of the home


Said Mr MacCarthy: “One of our more recent self-build projects involved the use of SIPs panels – a particularly unique challenge, as our client required a swift build process that had the correct specifications to be erected on top of their existing basement.


“It was extremely important that this construction was quick to create a weathertight shell over the existing level, and what’s more, the structure needed to be designed, and the materials specified, to ensure the basement could effectively support the building.


“The client chose to use SIP panels from Timber Innovations as we could not only meet the erection time requirements, but the lightweight construction limited the need for extra reinforcements on the pre-laid foundations – meaning significant cost savings and achieving an improved U-Value of 0.18.


“The prefabricated system allowed the frame to be designed accurately and co-ordinated exactly with the basement design prior to arrival on site. The precise engineering eliminated any discrepancies that could have occurred onsite.


“Additional features included the integration of an MVHR system – due to the use of SIPs, great insulation properties and inherently good airtightness values were achieved.”


At the last count, 75 per cent of self-builders choose timber frame as their primary method of construction, and the enthusiasm is reflected throughout the construction industry. And as the advantages of SIPs become increasingly more persuasive to many, our company saw launching a specialist division to meet the rising enthusiasm as natural progression.


SIPs is no longer the ‘new kid on the self-build block’. SIPs, for many, is the future! And becoming as established here in the UK as it has been in the USA for half a century and more.