SIP’ing your way to success – 10 Simple HomeBuilding Rules!

24 Jan

You’re back! What took you so long? We were getting nervous!

As you know, we’re out here in the woods (what’s left of them), off the beaten track (“hurricane beaten,” admittedly), building a new home. But we’re not building a “traditional home.”

Yep, we’ve decided to abolish all traditions, as part of the homebuilding process… Bye-bye Thanksgiving… bye-bye “Bring your little brat to work day”… bye-bye “Mother-In_Laws Holiday week that turns into a month”… bye-bye “Grannies Surprise Visit” weekend…

Threw that last one in, just for “WildKitty…” ROTF LOL! I know, I know… I’m terrible… Deal with it!

Okay, maybe not. But we’ll still be a tribe of “spiritual miscreants” bent on making the neighbors nervous, but hey, if you can’t have any fun at home, what’s the point, right?

Most people rebuilding after a big blow have opted for stuff like concrete, and wood, and even some metal. But… all that stuff costs money, and if you’ve been reading along (you have, right? *Ronin glares suspiciously*) you already know that we haven’t got any. So…

We’re doing what any red-blooded, creative minded, cost conserving couple would do, if they found themselves in our shoes.

And they better not find themselves in our shoes, because we haven’t got all that many pairs to begin with!

We’re building our house out of garbage! Yep. Garbage. Stuff like shipping containers, old aircraft hangar components, and even some scraps we found laying around are all being compiled into the biggest bonfire…

(Wait… NO bonfire! That’s what the neighbors want us to do…) Where was I?

Oh yeah… The “pile.”

(Stop it! I know what you’re thinking, and that’s not nice. Don’t make me come over there…)

We’ve started accumulating components that we can combine into a really cool house, at a fraction of the price of a new home, built “traditionally” by “traditional” builders. You remember how we feel about traditions, right? A POX on them, I say… LOL!

The goal here is to build a cost efficient, affordable, comfortable place where my wife and little monster of a son can make me wish I’d just stayed in the jungles of Costa Rica for the rest of my life…

ARGH! Where did that come from? It’s not exactly what I meant… Honest…

Actually, our goal is to build a nice home that provides for all of our needs, without a massive influx of cash and energy to keep it operating. And, that’s what the next few posts are going to concentrate on.

Last time, we talked about how to conquer the evil gaze of that blank page, that has “My New House” scrawled across the top of it.

Yes, I know I said “my.” I suspect, that if your house is like mine, there are actually TWO lists… Number One is the list where YOU try to figure out how to get enough built to insure that you stay warm and dry. Number Two is the “other” list, probably carefully crafted by your “kids, spouse, or significant other,” and it’s more “detailed.” You know, the one that has lists of appliances, and special items that “must not be forgotten…”

You know, stuff like bathrooms, refrigeration, air conditioning, 60″ Plasma TV’s with screaming high volume sound and High Definition… and “I used to be the champ, but now I’m stinking rich cuz I developed a countertop grill that even an imbecile like Ronin can use!” cooking stuff.

I ignore THAT list like the Black Plague! It just makes me cry like a politician at a bank closure…

Last time, we talked about how you can build a better house by orienting it to the sun. Today, we’re gonna shift gears a little bit, and talk about how to actually build the house.

I give you…

Build it Tight And Insulate Aggressively With Spray Foams or SIP’s

We all know what spray-foam is, right? But what’s a SIP? Okay, it’s just a newfangled panel that comes “pre-insulated.”


A SIP (structural insulating panel) system consists of solid, one-piece, pre-cut SIP units that are ready to install as wall, floor or roof components suitable for many residential and commercial building applications. Each SIP consists of a core of molded EPS (expanded polystyrene) insulation with engineered OSB (oriented strand board)laminated to the top and bottom faces.

Wheelersburg, Ohio Project

SIP-built homes go up FAST! In just DAYS usually!

Log Home Project

Even Log Homes use them!

Using SIP’s (Structural Insulated Panels) and/or engineered lumber (TimberStrand or similar) rather than crooked dimensional lumber makes for a much better house. No matter what the contractor tells you, traditional lumber warps or rots over time. This results in a looser, lower quality, leaky, wavy structure and incurs far more waste. The object is to build a house, not fill a trash container with scraps. Scraps still cost money, and you never see the benefits.

What do we really know about using SIP’s? Well… We know that using a SIP system is a key component in building construction that will reduce energy costs and provide a strong, secure building envelope. A correctly installed SIP System provides wall and roof assemblies with greater structural strength and higher effective thermal resistance (R-Value) than your typical stick-frame construction.

Let’s compare, shall we?



Wait! What’s “R-Value?” The R-Value of an assembly is a measure of its ability to resist heat flow through it. The higher the R-Value of your wall assembly, the lower your energy costs for heating and cooling your home.

So… few things pay off faster or cost less and have more benefit than high R-value insulation and tight construction practices.

And after you’ve SIP’d your way into the new dawn… don’t forget to use spray-in foam, like… say… perhaps…  polyisocyanurate R7 per inch closed cell insulation, everywhere else in your house. Try saying that three times with a mouth full of tortilla chips! What a mess! Who’s gonna clean up this mess? Somebody get the dog!

Spray-In foam works particularly well at making great gains in creating silence, too! My Mother -In_Law hasn’t made a sound since we installed it… But wear gloves! She bit me several times during the “installation.” LOL!

Okay, we all know that insulation is important. Without it, you’d freeze your little… um… er… well, you wouldn’t be having any more kids any time soon, lemme tell you! So, a smart camper insulates their walls to at least R30 (4-5” of foam) and roof planes to R45 (6” of foam). Better yet, insulate all of your exterior planes  (your walls and roof, not your 747) to R48! This is the very best combination of cost and benefit, and it equals 7” of foam, for those of you keeping track.

And, always use spray foam (not Blue-Board!) to insulate exterior concrete stem walls below grade, or use ICF’s – you get waterproofing built right in, it’s far more effective over its lifespan, and moves around during backfill less. Spray-in foam also seals and tightens the structure up like glue! Plus, spray-in foam is largely waterproof and it holds it R-value and position over time (unlike “blown-in” insulation). Another benefit is that spray-in foam is  rapidly installed without waste or that itchy fiberglass!

Using SIPs and spray foam is a part of of good framing practice, because they retard penetration of nasty stuff like cold drafts and water. Plus, you’ll get a warmer, tighter, quieter house! I live near both freight trains and heavy (military) aircraft…

You wanna talk about noise? I feel like one of those guys in the war movies where the enemy blasts music full blast all day and night! I think I’m getting PTSD!

Now I know that some of you are already hollering into the monitors about new-fangled “blown-in” insulation. You know, that stuff made out of old newspapers, shredded fabric, and even soy beans. But, I’m still on the fence about that stuff…

It does work, and it’s real cool that it’s good for the environment, but I wonder what happens in a few years, after it settles in the bottom of the cavities (gravity, remember?) and gets affected by humidity (which causes even more settling). I’ve remodeled several homes that used “blown-in” insulation, and frankly folks, the coverage didn’t stay put. This means your house has to work harder, and your energy bills go up.

So, it’s up to you, but if you live in a harsh environment, and staying warm (and cool) is of maximum concern, then avoid loose fill insulation, even if sprayed in and made out of recycled blue jeans – it’s just not nearly as effective especially over time.

I know, I know… cellulose sounds really cool, but it compacts too, and like other “blown-ins,” you get “cold spots” after a few years. So, if you use “blown-in” insulation, make doubly sure that the installers know what they are doing.

Everybody is thinking GREEN nowadays, including us, here at ground zero. If you’re really worried about the environment, there are some pretty cool things to consider about SIPs. One of the best ways to think about the impact of SIPs on the environment is to consider how energy efficient they are. Because SIP panels are so efficient, the demand for fossil fuel consumption (such as gas, oil and coal) and the releasing of greenhouse gas emissions (like carbon dioxide) into the atmosphere are greatly reduced during the years you heat and cool your home, resulting in a much cleaner environment.  But you still think they are far too expensive to use in your project, right? Nope. Keep reading, Bucko!


See? Using SIPs pays off!

SIP panels also promote green building benefits. Why? Because they are 100% recyclable and generate considerably less jobsite waste in comparison to conventional stick-framing building methods. This means less waste material being put into our landfills. Remember that container full of scraps I was belly-aching about earlier? Well, it just got smaller…

Next time, we’ll talk about more ways to make your house do all the work, while you sit back in front of the TV, watching football and eating tasty sandwiches…

Don’t I wish? LOL!

The next chapter is gonna be a doozy! I call it: “Maximize Your Girth… um… er… Mass!

Stay tuned!

The Renaissance Ronin

One Response to “SIP’ing your way to success – 10 Simple HomeBuilding Rules!”

  1. wildkitty January 24, 2009 at 1:00 pm #


    I’ll have you know, I NEVER make ‘surprise visits’! …

    Mainly because the nearest major airport is 3-1/2 hours away and I have to have someone come get me! 😮

    One of these days, I’m gonna be rich and famous – well, okay, maybe just out of debt – and I’m making a mental note of all this stuff so I can retire (ha!) in a cheap house that’s paid for and saves me money.

    Know any at least semi-rich guys who want an aging grandmother? I could get this all done a lot faster 😉

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