Since the founding of the Structural Insulated Panels Association (SIPA), the strategy has been to approach the builders and convince them to switch from sticks to SIPs. The thinking here was based on the correct under-standing that only about 5% of all new single-family homes were designed by architects and that the rest were all handled by builders. It was also determined that the largest market lay in residences although certain other building types were acknowledged as being ripe for SIP construction. Additionally, SIPA has remained relatively small and lacks the resources to launch a national campaign. In fact, the American Farrier’s Association (horseshoers!) has more than twice SIPA’s member-ship and budget. When one thinks of the market size for horseshoes and compares it to the square-footage of SIPs we should be installing, it becomes clear that we have to change how we are going about the business of becoming the preferred construction for quality projects.
I believe we have to recognize that the design community has been the main driver for the introduction of new technologies to the construction world. Architects and engineers have changed their specifications to introduce new materials and technologies when the new options deliver performance that eclipses the old standard, even when the initial price is higher. Builders are not properly equipped to perform the engineering assessments necessary to specify and size products of the new technologies. This can be seen with the recent introduction of composite joists. Architects and engineers started specifying them in their buildings first as they enabled longer, stronger, stiffer spans, even though there was a cost premium associated with the product. Architects and engineers were correct in forecasting that their clients – the building’s users – would be willing to pay a bit more for superior performance (perceived value). This “push” then created a consumer “pull” where savvy clients are now asking for designs that depend on composite joists for the enhanced span capacity that solid-sawn joists just can’t deliver. All the other extra performance features associated with the product - including the environmentally benign characteristics of the composites – are just frosting on the cake. The span ability alone carried the new product. The building community followed the lead of the designers and the demand of the customer.
SIPs offer us the same opportunity today. Although we welcome the contribution of the building community, which has historically been extremely conservative, it is time for the architectural and engineering community to step up and start specifying those SIPs! We know that many of the features that SIPs exhibit are important and can help the designer to create distinguished buildings that the consumer will ask for. Yes, SIPs are stronger than sticks, friendlier to the environment, etc. However, there must be a focal point to this message. One that is strong enough to make the design community think.
SIPs are capable of delivering forms and spaces that are not economically possible to achieve with sticks. SIPs can deliver curves, huge spans and cantilevers. They can be used as floors over unconditioned or outside areas that are warm and draft-free. These abilities should encourage the design community to create exciting, distinguished buildings that depend upon and exploit these features that sticks simply cannot deliver. So, I am throwing down the gauntlet to my colleagues. SIPs enable you to deliver better buildings to your clients; they beg you to boldly go where no sticks have gone before. It is true that the SIP industry has learned to pro-duce “stick translations” with some fluidity and competence. Standard colonials, ranches, capes and other popular eclectic styles don’t come anywhere near challenging the capabilities inherent in SIPs. The design community must go beyond stick translations to grab the attention of the public and focus the industry on upgrading the performance of our buildings to levels not economically attainable with sticks. New buildings that fire the imagination of the public can best be designed only with SIPs.
In future issues, I will be discussing in detail how SIP features enable the designer to create new forms. Some attention will also be given to how we may design and engineer the SIP components so as to aid the builder in their assembly. A new material should not hide behind tradition, but its strengths and characteristics should be fully exploited and celebrated. I hope to fully explore these ideas here and of course welcome the comments and contributions of those willing to join in the fracas. The SIP world can only hope to benefit from such discourse and in turn we hope to raise the quality of the built environment that we all share.