miles miller

material sustainability

The Big Issue
Nationwide, it is estimated that as much as 40% of the raw materials consumed in the United States – steel, concrete, glass, and so on – are used in construction. When building stock turns over, all of these materials become waste. This C&D waste stream is enormous: about 130 million tons per year, or about 25% of all of the solid waste that is discarded in the United States.

Structural Insulated Panels
Most SIPs have a core of EPS sandwiched between two OSB facings

SIP Facings
Mostly OSB Foam-core panels can be manufactured with any number of materials bonded to the core to make a building component, but OSB is the main material currently used for facings. The trend toward using different facings for specific applications is likely to continue to evolve.

OSB Facings:
There are 2 main reasons why OSB is the material of choice for SIP facings. First, it is an engineered wood product that has been extensively tested and found to be suitable for use as a load-bearing material. Second, it is a readily available material in demand by the SIP industry. Common thicknesses for OSB facings are 5/16” 3/8” 7/16” ½” 5/8” and ¾”. Theoretically, any of these thicknesses can be ordered for SIPs, but engineering test results aren’t available for each panel thickness, so the SIPs might not be covered under current code compliance reports. In addition, panels ordered in unusual thicknesses aren’t as readily available as those ordered in standard thicknesses. Because of the tendency to absorb moisture on the edges and swell, many panels are treated with and edge sealant. OSB’s place in the market has grown significantly also as a result of a dwindling availability and shrinking demand for old-growth wood. OSB uses woods that are harvested from young, fast-growing trees and can be milled into large sheets. Many new OSB mills are scaled for large production, and most can make panels up to 8’ x 28’. Several companies can also produce sheets as large as 12’ x 24’ 10’ x 28’ and 10’ x 36’. With both OSB and SIPs, the limitations in size are not in the production but in the transportation and placement of the products.

Core Materials
EPS, XPS, Polyurethane, Others

There are three main categories of foam cores: EPS, XPS, and urethane foam. Each has unique properties, but all provide the structural and fire resistance characteristics required by the various building codes while offering the dramatic energy efficiency associated with the SIP construction system.


Expandable Polystyrene – Today, 85% of SIPs have and EPS core. EPS foam has a closed-cell moisture resistant structure composed of millions of tiny air-filled pockets; it is manufactured from beads that are formed by the polymerization of a styrene monomer along with an expansion agent. The beads are heated and the expansion agent causes a very fine cellular structure to develop within the polymer. Because the blowing agent in EPS is a pentane, no CFCs or HCFCs are used in the manufacturing process.


Extruded Polystyrene – Has greater compressive strength, slightly higher R-values per inch of insulation, and more resistance to water vapor than EPS. Besides the cost, one of the major limitations of XPS is that the extrusion equipment can only produce 4 in. thick sheets of the material. XPS also is not as dimensionally stable as EPS and the gluing surface isn’t as flat. This can create signicant issues such as interfering with the bond between the facings and the core. This is probably why none of the current major manufacturers are using XPS in their SIPs.


Polyurethane and polyisocyanurate – (Generally referred to as urethane and isocyanurate) – Are foams that are chemically similar, but their manufacturing processes differ. The 100% isocyanurate foam is expensive to produce and has a low thermal conductivity but tends to break down over time. The urethane foam is less costly to produce and is less susceptible to breakdown but does not produce as high an R-value per inch as does isocyanurate. One problem with these foams is that the blowing agents were originally CFC-based gases with ozone depleting potential in the range of 1.0. Other materials such as straw-bail are also emerging to compete in the SIP market. However, their lacking R-Value make them less attractive to buyers.

Bonding the core and shells

Industrial adhesives are used to bond the OSB to the respective foam core. The glue has to resist the forces of buckling and racking, resist moisture penetration, and keep the panel from delaminating. There are 2 major adhesive suppliers of adhesives for the SIP industry. One is Rohm and Haas (Chicago, IL) and the other, Ashland Chemical Co. (Columbus, OH), is a more local asset. Rohm and Haas claims that the adhesives it supplies to the SIP industry are water based, solvent free, and don’t have a negative impact on the environment. Urethane adhesives can bond metal and various types of plastic skins to foam cores or, in the case of structural panel, bond these different facings to the OSB structural skins.

Corporate Image
Whate Companies are saying about their SIPs

“SIPs promote green building benefits, as they are 100% recyclable and generate considerably less jobsite waste in comparison to conventional stick-framing building methods. This means less waste material being put into our landfills.” “Studies linking respiratory disease, allergies and other diseases to indoor air quality have spawned an array of less toxic products and improved indoor ventilation. Our panels are very airtight giving you precise control over the indoor air quality of your home, which helps to keep out allergens, humidity, dust, etc.”

“Our panels are made of renewable materials that are 100% recyclable. The UN has approved this material for green building projects. The added insulation of the polystyrene creates a far more efficient home than conventional timber or concrete building methods. The polystyrene insulation of the panels provide great sound proofing & thermal resistance qualities.” “The polystyrene insulation of the panels provide great sound proofing & thermal resistance qualities.”

Life Cycle of Materials
Are the SIPs Materials Recyclable?

SIPs are being sold based on their structural strength, ease of construction (based on contractor experience), insulation properties, resultant reduction in waste through factory fabrication, and most importantly, they are 100% recyclable (according to their manufacturer). Let’s look at the life cycle of these products. Are they recyclable?


The answer here is yes. The waste materials from the site can be reused for other industrial purposes making them techically recyclable, but not reused as OSB. However, because it is biodegradabe, proper disposal can return them to the Earth in a sustainable life cycle.


Yes and no. Some recycling centers claim that they can recycle XPS, but these are rare. It appears that companies are claiming that these materials are recyclable, but neglect to mention the cost the person who cares enough to not throw it in a landfill has to pay to have it shipped to an appropriate facility. This transportation is provided through an infrastructure based on unsustainable fossil fuel consumption.


XPS is not recyclable.

Not even close.


Rohm and Haas claims that the adhesives it supplies to the SIP industry are water based, solvent free, and don’t have a negative impact on the environment.

Case Study

Are Contractors Recycling Even Though They Can?

Houseboats to Energy Efficient Residences. Ahead is what I noticed when I visited the construction site with my studio to talk to the manager. The contractors didn’t have time to talk to the architects of the follow-on project so I was left to talk to the general manager of Stardust Houseboat Company (commissioned to build the project based on their extensive custom construction experience) about the projects already built. My first observation was that SIP panels were used in the wall designs with energy efficient windows. This is good. However, the ceiling was altered from the original design, using conventional 2x8 wood members and standard blown-in foam insulation. This apparently was altered to bring down the up-front cost of the building, already sitting around a modest $100,000. After observing this, I thought I should ask the manager if they were recycling the waste materials from the project. The answer was “No, but these buildings are especially efficient and you will understand more about what we are doing when you see it in context with the houses around it.” Then, I asked him another question: “See this foam? What do you think will happen to it when the building gets demolished? Will they be able to recycle it?” Even though SIP companies don’t address this particular issue on their sustainability-green internet splash-screens, the answer must be: the same as you would recycle it before you put it into a SIP wall or as waste during construction. The manager didn’t have an answer. Even in a project with “Energy Efficient” in the title, builder is not thinking about the long-term environmental impacts of the building.

The big take-away: The good ideas are there, but contractors lack the leadership and enforcement required to put the good ideas into practice.



Let’s Make our Own Materials

Many fabricators are builders want to manufacture their own panels to increase the custom possibilities for their clients. Below is the machinery you would need to manufacture a SIP with a maximum size of 4’ x 16’ -2 infeed transfer carts to stage stock prior to the glue spreader -1 top and bottom glue spreader -1 4’ x 16’ scissors lift for layup of panels -1 end-loading air-pod laminating press -1 16’ offloading transfer cart Total cost for all the equipment: $100,000 In order to ge the materials tested by a Federally Recognized third party testing agency and obtain BOCA and ICBO approvals, the cost is upwards of $1,000,000

We Need $$
More companies would be using custom SIPs panels if someone would front the cost of experimenting and officially testing new panels and materials.

Fruit of the Loom
Sustainability Statistics

According to their website: Our Success… In 2009, there were 80 process improvement projects throughout the Fruit of the Loom, Inc. organization. These projects showed annual savings/reductions of: Waste in the following categories: -Cloth by 711 tons -Paper by 241 tons -Aluminum by 0.48 tons -Metal by 49.5 tons -Plastic by 149 tons -Wood Pallets by 3.61 tons -714,045 pounds of process chemicals -12,310,337 gallons of water

Fruit of the Loom
Sustainability Statistics

Recycling Program
Cloth As an apparel manufacturer, Fruit of the Loom, Inc.’s biggest potential for waste generation is cloth. Our facility personnel are continually searching for ways to reduce cloth waste from our manufacturing processes. In addition, it is our goal to recycle all cloth waste. In 2009, we recycled over 54 million pounds of cloth. Yarn By-Product The final by-product of our yarn manufacturing process that cannot be reworked is given to local farmers for use as cattle feed. Over 1.3 million pounds of briquette waste were recycled in 2009.

HBEER & Future Research
Semester Goal

Alternative Material Testing
The next step in my research is to collaborate with the University of Kentucky College Of Engineering (Chemical Engineering Dept.) to try to find an appropriate sustainable resin/binder to use in creating a custom SIP panel core. The project will maintain the conventional SIP panel “model” (for now) : OSB > Custom Insulation Core > OSB Material Testing Sheme Build 2 large boxes: one box made from coventional SIPs panels donated from FischerSips, and one box made from OSB plywood and waste-material insulation core. Conduct heat testing and compare efficiency.

IF the project succeeds in heat testing, I will implement the new DIY SIP panels in

my current HBEER design. Eventually, I would show the results to the research and development team at Fruit of the Loom to obtain funding for official testing for a new sustainable SIP design to be used industry-wide.

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