Sustainable Construction and Structural Insulated Panels Term Paper

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Sustainability, a word most often discussed, yet least understood is a topic of interest in today’s growing society. With various interpretations offered, some treat sustainability in a superficial way. However, for many businesses, nations, and individuals that believe in the future sustainability has to offer, the word is a serious one aimed at promoting efficient use of resources, a chance at stable economic growth, and continued social progress. In modern society, construction plays a part in how one lives, goes to work, and buys and purchases services/products. If sustainable construction can provide a chance for less consumption, less use of resources, and a means of promoting a way of living in line with balance and moderation, then perhaps the world will be open to change, especially if the cost to do so is less than traditional methods; structure insulated panels are a cost-effective green solution aimed at use in large and small-scale projects.

Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are a material that not only save owners money but allows for easier operation and maintenance of homes and buildings (Kibert, 2016). Construction is an important part of modern society. The demand for adequate housing has grown along with costs for construction (Kibert, 2016). Urban areas require construction of large buildings where people live in apartments, co-ops, and public housing. These buildings may account for over 40% of energy consumption (Kibert, 2016). In fact, construction for the European Union has led to an estimated 40% of every human-produced waste (UNEP, 2001). While recent trends may suggest less consumption through new building techniques and materials, it is sustainable construction that directly tackles the problem of excessive waste witnessed using traditional methods. Sustainable construction in the form of SIPs is an easy and cost-effective solution more people need to use.

Background – What are SIPs?

Sustainable building aims at addressing the bigger and much more significant macro-flaws in the approach to construction (Feigin & Magwood, 2014). For example, toilets were made in the past to flush with a large amount of water used to remove waste. However, recent building methods have been generated to allow for toilets with ‘half-flushes’ in order to conserve water in areas with reduced access (Feigin & Magwood, 2014). The same can be said of SIPs. Structural Insulated Panels are a high performing building material for use in light commercial and residential construction. SIPs consist of insulating foam cores placed between two structural facings. The foam core in the middle with the exterior and interior sheathing on either side (Feigin & Magwood, 2014). With manufacturing of SIPs done in factory-controlled conditions, it has the potential to fit almost any building plan or design. The result is a building system that is cost-effective, energy efficient, and extremely durable.

The cost-effectiveness comes from the insulated core. When constructing houses for example, traditional construction methods means having to inject or put insulation in-between the frame of the house and the walls. Using SIPs removes that additional step leading to less expenses overall. This is because of reduced indoor heating or cooling costs (Feigin & Magwood, 2014). When a house has insulation, it allows for less heat or cold air to escape the home. Additionally, taking out the insulation step means less labor spent on building the home or office building. Many designs often need a skilled hand to cut and fit pieces together.

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However, SIPs can be made in the factory to exact specifications, further reducing construction time and expense.

Green Building with SIPs

SIPs are “one of the most airtight and well-insulated building systems available, making them an inherently green product. An airtight SIP building will use less energy to heat and cool, allow for better control over indoor environmental conditions, and reduce construction waste” (Padmini & Manoj Kumar, 2015, p. 1). When it comes to how SIPs are made, OSB is used on the exterior and interior sides and comes from fast-growing, small diameter trees. These kinds of trees are harvested from plantations leaving old-growth trees undisturbed. The EPS foam that makes up the core, is a recyclable material, fully inert in the environment (Kibert, 2016). EPS foam can be used as a soil-additive and requires less energy than is needed to produce fiberglass insulation. In addition to requiring less energy to be made, SIP panels release no harmful volatile organic compounds. The airtightness of the construction leads to reduced environmental and chemical allergies inside (Kibert, 2016).

Along with coming from green-sourced materials, SIPs can be transformed into composite structural-insulated panels (CSIPs). CSIPs “are novel prefabricated elements for structural applications. They are made from glass–fiber reinforced magnesia cement boards as facesheets and expanded polystyrene foam (EPS) as a core. CSIPS overcame several deficiencies of traditional structural insulated panels (SIPs)” (Smakosz & Tejchman, 2014, p. 1068). CSIPs offer the versatility of SIPs but further promote the green message by using materials that do away with the need for wood altogether. CSIPs are an evolution of SIPs that allows for greener construction and enhanced sustainable construction. “Constructing green buildings that these resources more efficiently, while minimizing pollution that can harm renewable natural resources, is crucial to a sustainable future” (Padmini & Manoj Kumar, 2015, p. 1).

Construction Details

With global warming becoming a reality and extreme weather conditions ever-present, constructions methods need to take into consideration how to overcome challenges in these conditions while also remaining cost-effective. Structural insulated panels were used in a recent study to see if they can hold up in extreme cold conditions of ?20 °C and ?40 °C (Kayello, Ge, Athienitis, & Rao, 2017). Monitored with thermocouples the eight kinds of structural insulated panels were then subjected to varying pressure differences and heat of up to 62 °C. The more complex joints did not have a good enough air seal. However, the SIPs managed to maintain integrity more than traditional building materials like wood (Kayello, Ge, Athienitis, & Rao, 2017). If improvements are made, the researchers of this study suggest less dependency on the tape to fasten SIPs onto the building frame. “All the joints can be improved to be less dependent on the tape, though the joints most susceptible to moisture damage and mold growth are the top joints since moist indoor air tends to exfiltrate at those locations due to stack effect” (Kayello, Ge, Athienitis, & Rao, 2017, p. 345).

As earlier noted of the evolution of SIPs into CSIPs, there are other forms of SIPs being made as well. Ten years ago, a study analyzed the benefits of a then, new kind of wall panel called the phase change material structural insulated panel (PCMSIP). The use….....

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Du, W., & Uddin, N. (2016). Innovative composite structural insulated panels (CSIPs) folded shell structures for large-span roofs. Materials and Structures, 50(1), 1-10. doi:10.1617/s11527-016-0924-3

Feigin, J., & Magwood, C. (2014). Making Better Buildings: A Comparative Guide to Sustainable Construction for Homeowners and Contractors. New Society Publishers.

Kayello, A., Ge, H., Athienitis, A., & Rao, J. (2017). Experimental study of thermal and airtightness performance of structural insulated panel joints in cold climates. Building and Environment, 115, 345-357. doi:10.1016/j.buildenv.2017.01.031

Kibert, C. J. (2016). Sustainable construction: Green building design and delivery. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.

Medina, M., King, J., & Zhang, M. (2008). On the heat transfer rate reduction of structural insulated panels (SIPs) outfitted with phase change materials (PCMs). Energy, 33(4), 667-678. doi:10.1016/

Padmini, R., & Manoj Kumar, G. V. (2015). Structural Insulated Panels. International Journal of Structural and Construction Engineering, 9(3), 1-6.

Smakosz, ?., & Tejchman, J. (2014). Evaluation of strength, deformability and failure mode of composite structural insulated panels. Materials & Design (1980-2015), 54, 1068-1082. doi:10.1016/j.matdes.2013.09.032

UNEP. (2001). Energy and Cities: Sustainable Building and Construction. Retrieved from

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