A cross-section of a SIP panel superimposed above a row of palm trees.

Structural insulated panels (SIPs) consist of foam sandwiched between two oriented strand boards (OSBs) pieces. They are suitable for insulation and affordable heating and cooling costs, but many question their strength. 

As a Florida homeowner, you may wonder whether this building material is suited for your climate.

In this article, we’ll go into more detail about the strength of structural insulated panels and what you need to know before building with them in the Sunshine State. 

an aerial view of sip construction panels installed on a house foundation with nothing else there yet

Can You Build With SIPs in Florida?

You can build a home with SIPs in Florida, as they can easily withstand high winds and pressure. However, while structural insulated panels are renowned for their strength, they are susceptible to water damage when exposed to moisture over time. 

How SIPs Hold Up in Hurricanes and Ominous Weather in Florida

There are many concerns with building homes in Florida, from hurricanes to flooding. You must be confident that your home will stand against these elements. Thankfully, quite a few examples show the strength of SIPs panels when it comes to natural disasters. 

Withstanding Strong Winds

A 2008 study by the ICC NTA measured the impact that structural insulated panels could handle to show how well they would stand against wind and other damage. The test showed that SIPs can withstand 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour) of strong winds and that they did this without splintering or damaging the material. 

In another example, the University of Florida tested structural insulated panels and how well they could withstand strong winds. This test showed similar results to the one conducted by the ICC NTA. The research concludes that SIPs can withstand 9,000 wind cycles up to 200 miles per hour (322 kilometers per hour) with no damage.

Both tests demonstrate the panels’ incredible ability to withstand wind damage.

Vulnerability to Water Damage

The OSB pieces that line the inside and outside of SIPs are two pieces of wood that house an inner layer of foam. When it comes to water exposure, any wood can experience issues, and OSBs are no exception.

Cross-section of a SIP with the OSB portion prominently displayed

While OSB boards are more water-resistant than plywood, wet structural insulated panels can still threaten your home’s structural integrity over time. 

Common Problems With Wet Structural Insulated Panels

Swelling and mold are the two main problems with wet SIPs. As OSBs get damp and remain exposed to water for long periods, they’re prone to swelling. Then, as the wood dries, it will shrink again.

Here are a few problems swelling and shrinking of wood can cause over time:

  • Change in appearance – wood will no longer look as it did before the swelling and shrinking. While this is a cosmetic issue, it can devalue your home as it affects its appearance. 
  • Splitting – over time, as wood expands and returns to a smaller size, it is likely to split. Not only will this allow more water into your panels and potentially into your home, but it also gives holes for pests to enter.
  • Change in size – one of the biggest concerns for wood swelling and shrinking is that it can affect the overall size of the SIP. This issue can lead to some panels of a home no longer fitting as they should. Similar to splitting, changes in size can cause leaks, pest infestations, and lower the value of your home. 

The swelling and shrinking of structural insulated panels can create a nightmare for roofing. There are plenty of benefits to using SIP roof panels, which we discuss here, but shrinking and splitting can cause a leaky roof that can damage the interior of your home. So, you must be careful when using structural insulated panels.

Mold growth and wood rot behind the wall in our second Net-Zero home
Mold growth and wood rot behind the wall in our second Net-Zero home.

As with any wood prone to moisture damage, another issue SIPs users may face is mold. Mold can grow wherever moisture and carbon meet. They can begin to develop if the panels get wet enough. 

While the construction of SIPs allows for maximum insulation, it can also be a breeding ground for mold. If the water soaks through the OSB exterior and reaches the foam inside, mold can spread quickly. 

This process happens because the foam interior of structural insulated panels does not have access to air that would allow it to dry. So, the water will sit in the foam, allowing mold growth. 

Dangers of Mold in Your Walls

  • Respiratory issues – exposure to mold, especially long-term, can drastically affect your respiratory system. As a result, you may experience breathing problems and shortness of breath. People with preexisting respiratory conditions like asthma will see the worst symptoms. 
A woman reaching for an inhaler and clutching at her throat.
  • Fatigue – mold can cause fatigue as our body attempts to deal with exposure. It can lead to headaches and, in severe cases, even memory loss. 
  • Rotten smell – while this isn’t as dangerous as respiratory issues, a putrid smell in your home can indicate mold. Unfortunately, getting rid of this stench is nearly impossible without entirely eradicating the mold from your home. 
  • Warping – prolonged mold exposure can cause your walls to warp, just like swelling and shrinking can. 

Final Thoughts

The strength of SIPs makes them great for withstanding hurricane-level winds. However, potential water damage can make some homeowners quickly search for an alternative. Therefore, you must consider water resistance and strength if you are looking for hurricane-proof materials to build your Florida home.

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