What is the cost comparison between SIPs and sticks?

I get this question a great deal; “What is the cost comparison between SIPs and sticks?” I will explain the difference in this blog post, although most of the time I laugh when asked this question, not because the question is not a valid one, but because sometimes it is like trying to compare apples to oranges. Often, when I get asked how much a SIP package will cost, I don’t even have a plan to look at. I get questions like, “Tell me how much will it cost for a 1,800 ft2 home?” I usually respond with questions like, “How tall are the walls? What is the roof pitch? Are you building this in the United States or another country? Is it above ground? Do you plan on building this in the next ten years? Building material cost will most likely increase in ten years?)?”

Sometimes, I get a napkin sketch of a plan which does not really help. Or even a picture of a home. “How much to build this?” “Um, just the house or everything in the picture?” I received one picture of the inside of a house, with a family, a dog, and a parrot. The wife had a parrot on her shoulder. I was like, “$35,000 for the SIP package on that house, $250 for the dog (it was older. Depreciation!), and $700 for the parrot (I looked it up on Amazon).” They had a son and a daughter in the picture, but I did not provide a quote on those two. The son was getting ready to head off to college, anyway. But the daughter, a year older, was taking a year off to find herself. Do you know this type? They graduate, and then they go backpacking through Europe, and they stay at hostels like they are broke. They go find themselves. That would not have worked with my family. I could not tell my mom, “Mom, I am going to Europe to go find myself.” “What do you mean, go find yourself? Do you want to see you? Look in this mirror. You have no job and you are living in my house. I found you. You are here.”

Okay. I digress. Let me get back to this comparison. I was part of a group that created a new AIA presentation that we give to architects about SIPs. Within it we have a slide we borrowed and edited from an engineer we work with. He also used to build with SIPs, and he lives in a SIP home. So, he knows the product well. The slide compares SIPs and Sticks. See below.

HubSpot Video

In this animation of the slide, a cost and time comparison bar graph compounds. Looking at a house or building, when you first compare a stack of SIPs to a stack of 2x’s the SIP stack will cost more. There are a few reasons, the first being that with the SIP package most of the labor is done in the factory, meaning we cut all the SIPs to the proper length and width, and we will account the window and door openings for. With the 2x’s, you will need to cut to length in the field and the window and door openings will need to be framed out. The SIPs will come with the insulation and sheathing installed, while those items have to be added when building with sticks. After the SIPs or sticks are installed, that is when the cost gap between the two should be very close. The SIPs go up faster (structure, sheathing, and insulation all in one step), and require less labor than sticks to install saving time and money. This is before the owner even gets a chance to enjoy the real benefits of energy savings, a quieter surrounding, greater comfort and a healthier living environment.

Speaking about time, I would not recommend building in Arizona in the summer. I live in the Phoenix area and it was 112 degrees the other day. “Come to Arizona” they said. “It is a dry heat” they said. It was snowing back in Colorado where I grew up but 112 here. I am astounded that people here just go about their day like nothing is happening, “Let us go to the dog park and play frisbee. Time to walk the dog.” I want to yell at them, “Get inside. The Earth is on fire!” My friend wanted to go golfing and I was like, “But it is 112 out there.” He said, “That is nothing.” I said, “No, that is something. That is actually the temperature that you need to boil water!” He is always telling me that the temperature is not that bad. I am like, “No. Not if you are making Ramen.”

Now, after you include the hardware like hold-downs, straps, hurricane ties (connection between truss/rafter and the walls), etc., the SIP package becomes less expensive. SIPs are stronger than your typical stick package, requiring less hardware to be used. It is easier, and less expensive, to attach drywall and an exterior finish, such as stucco or siding to a SIP (you do not have to look for studs saving time and money). You have a continuous nailing surface with OSB skins on both sides of the SIPs. The comparison includes items like HVAC equipment (you can downsize with SIPs because of their energy efficiency and tightness). It includes waste deposal (less job site waste when building with SIPs as we cut them to the proper length and width in the factory, with window and door openings included). And when using SIPs, the building’s operating costs will be much less so you will have a more energy efficient structure.

When comparing the cost between a building with SIPs and sticks, SIPs should cost less, even before you consider the energy savings. This is especially true today, as lumber prices have skyrocketed since the COVID-19 outbreak began and are at an all-time high because of an increased demand combined with lumber mill shutdowns. We have an actual comparison based on two 2,500 sf single-family homes. One built with stick framing; one built using our SIPs. We can share this comparison with you, which shows that it cost less to build the house with SIPs. And this does not include energy savings or builder/homeowner tax incentives/rebates. It also does not include the current soaring lumber prices. So, send me that napkin sketch, or a picture of your house with you and your family in it. We will figure out how to get you a price for a SIP package, even if you are building in Arizona where the four seasons are tolerable, hot, really hot, and ARE YOU KIDDING ME??!!

If you’d like to see the entire presentation I mention above about engineering with SIPs, please contact me at jeff.beason@premiersips.com.

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