Safe, sturdy and savvy

08/26/2006 – JUDY STARK, Times Staff Writer

Structural insulated panels, or SIPS, are made of expanded polystyrene or rigid foam insulation sandwiched between two structural “skins.” Those skins may be oriented strand board, steel, aluminum or, as in the case of the Katrina cottage, fibercement siding made by James Hardie Co.

The panels lock together with a tongue and groove, often a wood strip. Home Front Homes of Englewood uses a patented galvanized steel spline that functions as a tongue and groove. The panels are 4 feet wide and vary in length.

Decorative siding can be applied over the panels on the outside of a home. Inside, a variety of finishing techniques are possible. Furring strips and drywall can be applied. In a Katrina cottage Home Front Homes built in New Orleans, James Hardie batten siding was used to create a cottage look.

SIPS are common in commercial construction.

Large-scale use of SIPS to rebuild housing in Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina was recommended recently by the John C. Stennis Institute of Government at Mississippi State University.

The Stennis Institute cited SIPS’ energy efficiency, hurricane resistance and ease and speed of construction. No elaborate tools or extensive training are required to assemble a house.

Last year the industry (there are 67 manufacturers in the United States and Canada) produced 64.4-million square feet of SIPS. In 2005, one-fifth of all SIPS were used in the hurricane-prone South Atlantic region. Another fifth went to the earthquake areas of Alaska, California and the Pacific Northwest. Sales of SIPS increased to $329.8-million last year from $201.2-million the year before.

The Structural Insulated Panel Association maintains a Web site at