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The Passive Possibilities with SIPs

Turning the page into 2022 is both breathtaking and nail-biting for the building industry. Environmental science metrics in 2021 revealed the sobering impact and responsibility the built environment has on our planet, and this data hinges worldwide climate change progress on these next 12 months. More than ever before, building and design professionals are encouraged to cease archaic building practices and adopt low-embodied carbon building materials. The stick-built home era and all its inefficiencies is coming to an end, but it doesn’t have to be painful.


Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are a high-performance building system for residential and light commercial construction. The SIP building envelope has been in use for more than 30 years, achieving the industry’s highest accolades. LEED-certified homes and EPA Indoor airPLUS are common honors for large and small SIP buildings. The crown jewel of high-performance building principles is the Passive House (PH) or PHIUS+ (Passive House Institute U.S., Inc.) standards where a structure’s carefully managed ventilation offers greater control over indoor air quality, radically reducing energy needs.


Reducing a project’s ecological footprint begins with the building envelope, and this is a key component for any PH project. A SIP manufacturer with state-of-the-art technology produces panels that are engineered to the highest quality, ensuring each structure is dimensionally correct. SIP walls, floors and roofs are then delivered onsite where they can be quickly assembled. This level of control ensures a virtually airtight building envelope while eliminating the frustrating errors often found with jobsite measurements and crews.

To be a passive building, projects must consume 40-60% less energy than conventional buildings. Heating and cooling accounts for 50% of energy use in the average home, making insulation the natural starting point to profoundly impact a structure’s energy performance. SIPs provide a high-performance continuous insulation that maintains its stated R-value for the lifetime of the structure.


The climate-specific comfort and carbon reducing criteria found in the PHIUS+ 2018 Passive Building Standard offers the most durable, resilient and energy-efficient building geographically possible.

In the residential sector, ENERGY STAR, EPA Indoor airPLUS and Zero Energy Ready Home specifications are prerequisites to the PH program. PHIUS has courteously provided a PDF charting the “staircase” to high-performance.

The PHIUS standard is an evolving, scientific metric adopting advancements in renewable energy technology and offering tiers of certification. PHIUS+ 2015 was the first climate-specific passive building standard and it was later replaced by the PHIUS+ 2018. Early in 2021, PHIUS made further adjustments with an emphasis on “emissions down, scale up” to establish PHIUS 2021. This standard will fully replace PHIUS+ 2018 on February 1, 2022.


This PHIUS+ 2018 Kilmarnock, Virginia house is lavished with custom design feature


s focusing on harnessing natural light while maximizing landscape views from indoors. Built by Transitions Design-Build LLC with SIPs manufactured by The Murus Company, this 3,557 sq. ft. home achieved an impressive HERS rating of -4 and 0.22 ACH50 score.

This Seattle apartment complex achieved PHIUS+ 2015 standards, consuming 90% less heating and cooling energy than a comparable building. Each apartment is equipped with ENERGY STAR appliances as well as energy-efficient lighting and plumbing fixtures. This project was built by Cascade Built and the SIPs were manufactured by Premier Building Systems.

Use the right-hand side Awards filter in SIPA’s Project Library to see the full list of SIP PH projects.

There are many alternatives to stick framing, and SIPs are a time-tested, high-performance choice. This year is not just about closing the chapter on excessive lumber usage and expensive, untrained, hard-to-find crews. Building science points to SIPs as a solution for increased housing demands, volatile lumber markets, and exceeding the latest building energy codes. SIPs are the gateway to climate-friendly communities, energy savings and healthier homes. Start your journey to passive with the SIP building envelope.

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