SIP advocates are always asked, “Yeah, well – like if this stuff is so great and all like you say it is, how come I hardly hear about it and why aren’t more people using it?!!”
I believe there is no one simple answer to this.
Part of the explanation is....
Others, mostly consumers, find their way to SIPs because they feel they can’t afford to spend their hard-earned shekels on the biggest investment of their lives – their home - without being sure that it is the smartest investment of their lives. Who can afford to sink all their capital into something that might lose value over time? Well, apparently most of us. It is axiomatic in the real estate world that dreams, fears, hopes and sex sells homes – anything but reality. This is just like the automotive world. Seems like the Advertising World has been extremely successful in getting us to “define who we are” to our community by what we buy. Those who make these large investments using value as the major determinant are a microscopic fraction of the home-buying public.
Many who might otherwise be inclined to utilize newer materials and technologies that promise to deliver better value to their investment are so painfully mindful of the fiscal significance of their purchase that they act only in the most conservative way and only do what most others have done before. These guys are the opposite of risk-takers.
We are certainly aware of why mainstream builders and developers won’t even look at SIPs, let alone any other new building material or technology – none but the largest can afford to pay for the learning curve. Just mention SIPs to this crowd and they shout back, “Juneau!” Not an altogether unjustified response. The way our capitalist society works is that only large companies can afford R & D programs and learning curves, they are the only organizations (aside from government) who can afford to take advantage of and invest in new technologies – which are usually pretty expensive when first out of the chute. The first purchases of computers were by the military and other government bodies.
There is not much we can do to about the realities described above. Human nature is immutable, at least measured within the time frame we are dealing with, and the other outside economic forces and the inertia of our culture are too big for us to handle. And no matter how many Executive Orders I have issued, no one seems to pay attention to them one whit!
But, there is another dynamic at work here that perhaps we might be able to do something about.
SIPs are like underwear; nobody sees them when your house is fully dressed and ready to present itself to the world. Sure, when you’re under construction you get plenty of stares and comments from those who pass by. In a small community it is even possible to make it into the local newspaper with your little oddity. But this period - where your project is discernibly different from those most are familiar with - lasts for a very short time. Once all the SIPs are up the project looks just like any other framed building sheathed with OSB.
So how can people be aware of this great paradigm shift we are bringing about - baby step by baby step - if they can’t see it?
Two modest proposals:
1. The Discreet Bronze Plaque
Perhaps many of you are familiar with the little bronze plaque you get to put on your house once it is officially acknowledged to meet EnergyStar standards. I was surprised and pleased to get this cute little genuine bronze fellow after my certification was complete. I placed it about a foot below my front door bell button for all to see. It is about 4” square in size, nothing that screams, but with all its 3D cast classiness, it is not often missed by those who come calling. It came complete with stainless steel threaded studs and bronze acorn cap nuts and really looks neat!
Well, a matching SIP cousin might be truly appropriate, as much of the qualifying EnergyStar credit was based on the SIP envelope construction. In fact, the EnergyStar program has smiled very favorably on SIPs in that the blower-door verification test required for all other construction is waived in the case of our projects.
This little durable trophy is an ever-present reminder that there is something special about this building, even if you can’t directly see what makes it so. I think this might be a very cost effective way to keep the SIPs “present” long after they’ve been covered over inside and out. Some might even go to extremes and mount their plaque on a larger (granite?) “monument” with additional explanatory text, landscaping and lighting, taking the risk that drivers-by might mistake it for a monument for a dead pet (or mother-in-law) or some historic marker. It would invite scrutiny by those other than callers. I think I’m going over the top here…so let’s get on to the next item.
2. The Truth Window
Apparently we are not alone with our “invisibility dilemma,” as I came across this when reading about a straw bale home. The owner-builder had built in what they called a “truth window” which was like a glazed picture on the wall. The picture was a life-size representation of straw. Actually, it was a place on the inside wall where the cementitious covering and finish had been left off and covered with this little framed glazed panel. In fact, as I recall, the “picture” swung open on a hinge so you could reach in and touch the straw bale and have the complete visceral experience.
We could certainly do the same with our SIP buildings. In thinking about it, I recommend a pyramidal or conical shaped hole which would go all the way through to a small hole behind the siding of about a square inch – just large enough to identify and recognize the back view of the siding without measurably compromising the thermal envelope. It could fan open to about 12” square (or round, as the case may be) on the inside and be glazed in with a hinged – and compression weather-stripped – panel. I suppose, to complete the job properly, there should be a little explanatory text mounted next to this feature for those on the self-guided tour.
I don’t think we should be running around in public in our underwear, but I do think it necessary and appropriate to let everyone know that our projects are built of SIPs and we are proud of that distinction. Rather than covering them up without leaving any evidence of their construction we should think of additional ways to let people know that SIPs are dream enablers, not dream detractors and that their homes can be the image they want to project to the community…and so much more.