A Serious Challenge to a New Building Technology

January/February 2003
This article originally appeared in the January/February 2003 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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January 01, 2003
        Every new building technology comes with new problems along with its benefits, and structural insulated panels (SIPs) are no different. SIPs are made of rigid foam insulation sandwiched between sheets of oriented strand board (OSB).The sheets of OSB act as load-bearing members, so there is no need for framing, which saves wood. SIPs can produce a very tight and wellinsulated building envelope when properly sealed (see “The Lowdown on Structural Insulated Panels,”HE Jan/Feb ’02, p. 38). But therein lies the problem. When the joints are not properly sealed, air and water vapor infiltration, especially in cold climates, can lead to disaster.         The catastrophic failure of 109 SIPsbuilt residential units in Juneau,Alaska highlights the challenges associated with building with SIPs. Failures that I’ve identified since March 2001 include roof and wall failures; the structures involved range from single-family houses to15- unit apartment buildings. A study of 37 roof failures pointed to poor installation as the major culprit (see “A Problem with Poor Installation?”). But as a project manager in identifying the 109 failures and in erecting 21 replacement roofs, I’ve discovered problems ...

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