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Sticks vs SIPS: A Comparative Analysis, Exposing the Real Value In Cost Savings

The debate between traditional stick framing and innovative Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) has long been a topic of discussion. While many focus solely on the upfront material costs, the true cost comparison isn't nearly finished here. Below, we dive into three real-life cost comparisons that highlight the undeniable benefits (and cost savings!) of choosing SIPS over conventional stick framing.

When it comes to assessing the costs of offsite SIPS framing assemblies (structure, insulation & sheathing in one!) versus traditional site-framed options, a straightforward comparison of material line items simply scratches the surface. What often gets overlooked are the invaluable time and materials savings during construction for a multitude of other non-framing/insulation related trades, the reduction in mechanical requirements, the increased square footage potential that SIPS offer, and the reduction of overall materials because of the strength and durability of a structural insulated panel system (SIPS).

Recognizing this, the Structural Insulated Panel Association (SIPA) embarked on a mission to develop a comprehensive cost comparison program using real life construction projects across the country. With the guidance of the original Architect of the Energy Star program, and author of Housing 2.0, Sam Rashkin, their efforts have yielded impressive insights into the true costs and benefits of SIPS. The study identified a true cost value comparison that started with SIPs being 56% more expensive than stick framing, and ended up saving savings more than 65%! How is this possible? Simply by evaluating the full SIPs system effects versus just comparing straight insulation and lumber material-to-material costs... which are not accurate or adequate. 

The study included the same approach to three different projects — a multifamily apartment building and two residential developments — as they compare SIPS offsite framing, insulation assembly costs vs site framed assembly costs in three different ways:

  • First compare straight materials costs of SIPS vs site framing stick assemblies
  • Second, add in the comparison of time, financing, and trade savings
  • Third, as they incorporate exceptional value (think net-zero energy, stronger, more comfortable structures) by optimizing designs for SIPS

#1 Project Cost Comparison: Addison Homes, South Carolina

Addison Homes, led by high-performance builder Todd Usher in Greenville, South Carolina, introduced a custom home plan encompassing approximately 2,740 square feet with three bedrooms and two baths, slated at a $450,000 retail price. While the original plan lacked SIPS optimization, necessitating conventional roof truss framing due to its unsuitable layout, bids from three SIP companies were compared against conventional framing estimates. The analysis factored in insulation, air sealing, finishes, quality, and cycle time, with a focus on enhanced strength and resilience. Despite initial challenges and additional costs due to the non-optimized plan, collaboration with SIPS companies led to adjustments, notably reducing the need for roof trusses and resulting in an $18,000 lower cost for the SIPs package.

  • Baseline Comparison: SIPS initially incurred a substantial $42,868 cost premium, representing a 69% increase over conventional framing.
  • True Cost Analysis (Non-SIPS Optimized): SIPS showed a $13,013 net cost and added value premium, 10% higher than conventional framing.
  • True Cost Analysis (SIPS Optimized): SIPS demonstrated a $4,987 cost and added value advantage, 4% lower than conventional framing. This highlights the significant benefits of a well-optimized SIP-based design.

#2 Cost Comparison:  Duke Street Cottages, North Carolina

Rob Howard, a building science expert, tackled Granite Falls, NC's housing needs while teaching at Appalachian State University. His Duke St. Cottages, DOE Zero Energy Ready Homes, offer affordability at $199,900, a fraction of NC's median price. SIP construction optimized space and efficiency, with a $14,000 premium over conventional framing initially. However, a true cost analysis revealed a $35,291 advantage—a 65% lower cost than conventional framing. This showcases SIPS' significant cost savings and added value, making it a top choice for builders and homeowners.

  • Baseline Comparison: SIPS initially incurred a $14,000 cost premium, representing a 56% increase over conventional framing.
  • True Cost Analysis: The SIPS-optimized project revealed a remarkable $35,291 cost advantage, marking a staggering 65% lower cost than conventional framing. This underscores the immense value of integrating SIPs into project designs.

#3 Cost Comparison:  Prairie Lofts, Minnesota 

Greensmith Builders, led by Aaron Smith, Executive Director of EEBA (Energy Efficiency Building Alliance), constructs high-performance homes like Prairie Lofts in Leverne, Minnesota—a U.S. DOE Zero Energy Ready Multifamily Project. With SIPS for walls and conventional framing for the roof, Prairie Lofts prioritizes energy efficiency.

Comparing SIPS and conventional framing costs, Prairie Lofts showed:

  • Baseline Material Comparison: SIPS incurred a $51,485 cost premium, 11% higher than conventional framing.
  • True Cost Analysis (SIPS Optimized): SIPS provided a $233,224 cost advantage, 31% lower than conventional framing.

This study emphasizes SIPS' cost-saving potential and suggests leveraging cost comparison programs (like these projects) for competitive bids and optimized designs for superior performance.

Building Beyond: Embracing the Future with SIPS

SIPS provide unparalleled cost savings, energy efficiency, and resilience for high-performance homes and buildings.  Beyond mere affordability, SIPS elevate structures' overall quality and functionality, offering added value that enhances livability and sustainability.  And don’t overlook the potential tax credits and incentives available for embracing high-performance enclosures with SIPS.

Whether you’re a builder, architect, or homeowner, embracing SIPS represents a leap forward in construction technology.  To learn more about how SIPS can elevate your project and maximize its potential, we encourage you to explore Premier’s website full of comprehensive resources.  Discover how SIPS can unlock new possibilities and redefine standards of excellence in modern construction.  To take your interest further, reach out to chat with your local Premier Rep today.


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As the oldest manufacturer in the SIPs industry, Premier’s SIP system is the proven prefabricated building envelope framing system for your next commercial or residential structure. Faster, stronger, and greener than outdated lumber framing methods, SIPs are the future of framing. Join the other thousands of structures built with SIPs, and contact the expert in your local region to get started.

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