Using structural insulated panels plugs major energy leak SIP building system can make a home up to 70% more energy efficient dramatically reducing CO2 emissions. If all 2 million new home starts in the U.S were SIP homes, it would be equivalent to removing 3.1 million cars from our nation’s highways. Running the numbers makes for a powerful environmental argument on behalf of this industry in saving the emission of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide. Thanks to low interest rates and a variety of other factors, the new housing market in the U.S. continues to post record numbers. Housing starts climbed back to the highest pace of the year in August, reaching a seasonably adjusted annual rate of 2.0 million units, the U.S. Commerce Department reports. The 2-million-unit pace, which matched the pace set in March, was 0.6% above July’s upwardly revised rate of 1.988 million. Total housing starts were up by 10.4% on a year- to-date basis. “ It’s now clear that single-family home production will hit a new annual record in 2004,” says NAHB Chief Economist David Seiders. “The housing market recently has been buoyed by a healthy combination of strong demographics, improving employment and income growth and a downshift in long-term interest rates.” Mixed Blessing This is wonderful for those of us who build and remodel homes. However, it’s a mixed blessing at best for the environment, particularly air quality and greenhouse gases. One might think that driving a motor vehicle is society's most egregious act of air pollution. Consider that in year 2000, 210 million motor vehicles in the United States alone were responsible for emitting 302 million metric tons of carbon dioxide - a greenhouse gas that forms a heat-trapping blanket in the atmosphere. However, that jaw-dropping number is dwarfed by the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the average home in the U.S. Residential housing produce twice as much greenhouse gases as the average car. Due to emissions produced by power plants that generate the electricity used to run modern homes -- plus home emissions from such things as oil or gas-fired furnaces -- an average house releases 22,000 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2) annually compared to a typical car’s 10,000 pounds of CO2, estimates the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The U.S. currently emits 45,000 pounds of CO2 annually per person, which most scientists say is a major contributor to global climate change. In 1995, households used one-fifth of the energy consumed in the United States. About three-fifths of the energy Americans use at home is from electricity. The remainder comes from natural gas and oil. Unfortunately, we don’t even benefit from a lot of the energy we use. Energy dollars pour out of homes through drafty doors and windows and un-insulated attics, walls, floors, and basements. Even some idle (turned off) appliances use energy 24 hours a day. Using structural insulated panels can plug this major energy leak, of course. Those of us building with SIPs know that our homes are resource and energy efficient. Total annual heating and cooling cost for four the SIP “net zero” research homes has been averaging 45 cents a day, according to the latest results from the research houses being monitored by the Oakridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Sensors reveal that heating costs for SIP homes were only half as much as those for a comparably sized conventional wood frame house across the street. (The total heating cost for one year was $92. The total cooling cost was $74.) The results recorded by these test homes proves what the SIP industry has been saying from the start—that this building system can make a home up to 70% more energy efficient. If the SIP construction system controlled more of the market, would it benefit the environment? Consider a market the size of Dallas-Forth Worth, which saw a record number of homes built for the year ending July 2004. This region saw a full 42,000 home starts during this period, up 12% from the same period a year ago, according to Residential Strategies, a Dallas research firm that analyzes the residential market. If all of those were SIP homes using 70% less energy, it would be equivalent to taking nearly 71,000 vehicles off the streets of Dallas-Fort Worth--from CO2 emissions standpoint. The Big Picture What of the 2 million new home starts in the U.S.? If all these were SIP homes, it would be equivalent to removing 3.1 million cars from our nation’s highways. In addition to the lower energy use of SIP buildings resulting in fewer carbon emissions every, SIPs are made with environmentally safe materials including oriented strand board (OSB), foam insulation and sealants. OSB skins are made using smaller, faster growing tree species such as aspen and southern yellow pine, a renewable resource. The foam core insulation is recyclable, has zero vapor permeability, and no physical degradation over time. The SIP system is 15 times more air tight than typical wood frame construction resulting in much less energy loss. That puts SIP construction on better terms with the environment throughout its total life cycle making it a key component of sustainable building practices and qualifying SIPs for many green building programs. Other environmental benefits include a reduction in the size and cost of the heating and cooling distribution system, and greatly reduced job site waste. This means less material goes toward our landfills and less potential pollutants ending up in our water supply. There are other savings—to the buyer’s bank account. The average household in the U.S. spends about $1,300 each year on home energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). If a buyer were to opt for a SIP home over more conventional construction, he or she would likely reduce their electric bill from $90 a month down to $45. If the buyer were to invest that savings at a 4% return over 30 years (including a 2% annual increase in electricity cost) the buyer would save $39,702 in 30 years—a tidy next egg for retirement. SIPs are good for the earth and good for our bank accounts as consumers. It’s a win-win construction system. About SIPA The Structural Insulated Panel Association (SIPA) is a non-profit association representing manufacturers, suppliers, fabricators/distributors, design professionals, and builders committed to providing quality structural insulated panels for all segments of the construction industry.
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