BLUE HILL — Brooksville builder Robert Poole said he learned to build tight, energy-efficient houses as a young carpenter in the 1970s. Today, as owner of the construction company he started in the 1980s, he works with building materials that he says provide the ultimate in tight construction.
Poole said he started working with Structural Insulated Panels (SIPS) three years ago and continues to discover advantages over traditional stick-built construction.
Currently, he and his three-man crew are using SIPS to build the future home of the Peninsula Metamorphic Arts and Learning Center. Chris Muise and Amy Grant started Metamorphic Arts four years ago and have conducted arts camps and workshops in schools throughout the area. When the building under way on Mines Road in Blue Hill is completed, they will use the space to offer academic tutoring services, after-school arts programs, a teen theater program and more.
Muise said he and Grant chose to build with SIPS because of the speed in which construction is completed and for the panels’ super-insulating value. The building will be heated by a pellet stove.
SIPS are composed of a continuous core of rigid foam insulation sandwiched between two layers of structural board to create a single, solid panel.
Kel House, owner of House & Sun in Brooksville, has been selling the panels for the past 22 years. He said he spent many years in the business doing “missionary work,” introducing SIPS to builders and architects, but in recent years the technology has caught on.
“Now, architects are using the panels to build their own homes, as well as designing buildings for clients,” he said.
The panels are made in various sizes up to 24 feet long and can be used in constructing walls, roofs and floors.
House said SIPS were first used to enclose timber-framed buildings because they leave the visually desirable posts and beams exposed, rather than covering them by using traditional insulating methods.
“Then they realized how strong they are and that they can be used as stand-alone structural panels,” House said.
He said the energy efficiency of SIPS has driven its recent rise in popularity, but in addition to being 30 to 50 percent more efficient than standard stick construction, the panels are three times stronger in load-bearing capacity and 10 times stronger in racking resistance, the side-to-side strength important in withstanding high winds, hurricanes and seismic activity.
House has supplied SIPS for residential, commercial and institutional construction projects, including a large boat-construction building at Brooklin Boat Yard, Lincolnville Central School, Lewiston Pediatrics, churches in Rockland and Boothbay Harbor and others.
He said Brooklin Boat Yard owner Steve White chose SIPS construction for its energy efficiency and because it could be used to enclose a steel frame, and sided with cedar shingles rather than metal.
Poole said the cost of the panels is slightly higher than material used in traditional stick-built framing, but the insulation is there already.
“It’s just a matter of standing them up,” he said. “Once they’re up and the envelope is sealed, you have an enclosed, insulated space.”
He said the total cost of SIPS construction is about even with the total cost of a stick-built frame with foam insulation, but the SIPS construction is more energy efficient. Compared to stick-built frames with fiberglass insulation, SIPS is more expensive, he said, “but the payback is greater because of a tighter package.”
Poole also appreciates SIPS construction because it saves time, which translates into cost savings for customers. He said construction time with SIPS can be cut by nearly 25 percent, compared to stick-built construction, depending on the building design.
He said Maine’s weather has required contractors to hire large crews to complete projects done with traditional building methods within a timeframe of good weather. Using SIPS, he has reduced his crew to three carpenters and himself, and the small workforce reduces inefficiencies inherent with large crews.
Blue Hill architect Matt Elliott of Elliott, Elliott and Norelius also believes SIPS are becoming more popular.
“We have used them on a couple of projects,” he said. “We’re pretty big fans of them and we’re looking to use them more. I don’t think they’re right for every project, but they can be a really good, energy and cost efficient means of building. I think they’re going to make headway in the market.
“My sense is it’s not going to give us more design options, just a better way to build. The simpler the building, the more cost effective this system is.”
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