Special Panel Systems Brace ‘LaHouse’ for Severe Weather

Linda Benedict  |  1/6/2006 2:14:51 AM

Factory-made wall, ceiling and roof panels are among the four building systems of the LSU AgCenter’s state-of-the-art demonstration house that can withstand Louisiana’s climate and harshest elements, including hurricane winds.

The panels are called SIPS – structural insulated panel systems. They are incorporated into LaHouse, which is the shortened name for the Louisiana House and Landscape Resource Center. This structure is being built near the LSU campus as a demonstration, exhibit house.

“LaHouse incorporates various design and construction advances into a safe and healthy, attractive, practical and efficient home, which also is kind to the environment. It is a dynamic educational tool for consumers, students and industry alike,” said LaHouse Project Chair Claudette Reichel.

The SIPS − used in LaHouse consist of expanded polystyrene (EPS) rigid foam insulation sandwiched between oriented strand board (OSB). They can be used for wall, ceiling, roof and floor framing in both commercial and residential structures.

The east wing of the house features the SIPS. Other parts of the house use the other three building systems. The center of the house uses conventional 2x4 framing with engineered wood products. The west wing includes advanced framing with 2x6 lumber. The “garage” building system is insulating concrete form walls with wood roof and interior wall framing. All are reinforced with hurricane connectors and other features to resist high wind loads.

The SIPS act as both framing and insulation, which makes construction much faster than stick-framing. The quality of construction often is more consistent, too, because there are fewer components, thus fewer places to make mistakes.

The SIPS are highly energy-efficient. In a 2003 study, Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee documented a 65 percent energyuse savings in a SIP-built home over the same house built with conventional technology.

Even with 4-inch walls having an insulating R-value of about 15, SIPS typically outperform an R-19 framed wall because the insulation is continuous (no gaps for studs) and the joined panels form an exceptionally air-tight shell.

“In this climate, reducing air leakage brings a much greater energy saving benefit than increasing insulation levels,” Reichel said.

SIPS meet national building codes for load-bearing capacity and fire tests. The panels inherently provide high wind-shear resistance without additional sheathing. In addition, the particular SIPS used in LaHouse (by R-Control) resist termites, because both the EPS insulation and OSB panels are treated with borates, a natural mineral formulated to resist the insects. They contain no hazardous chemicals.

“SIPS are right for our climate,” said Sandy Scallen, LaHouse coordinator. “They are strong, airtight and energy efficient.” The panels can be pre-cut with window and door openings to order, or ordered whole and cut on-site.

In LaHouse, SIPS are used for the walls in the kitchen, dining and home office areas. A SIPS ceiling with a framed, vented attic covers half of this area, and a SIPS roof system tops the other half in part of the unvented, partially air-conditioned attic exhibit room.

Although the cost of material is higher, SIPS construction is gaining popularity because of its labor- and time-saving assembly.

Mark Claesgens

(This article appeared in the fall 2005 issue of Louisiana Agriculture.)
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