Seal all seams between Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) with foam and/or tape per manufacturer’s instructions.
- Apply manufacturer-approved sealant inside the joints of all panels and at the sub-floor or foundation connections.
- When applying tape to walls, center it on the joints and provide overlap of tape to meet manufacturer’s specifications.
- When applying tape to roof panels, start from the lowest point of the panel and continue upward.
See the Compliance Tab for related codes and standards requirements, and criteria to meet national programs such as DOE’s Zero Energy Ready Home program, ENERGY STAR Single-Family New Homes, and Indoor airPLUS.
SIPs consist of two layers of plywood or OSB that “sandwich” an inner core of insulating rigid foam. Panels are spliced together using splines, consisting of strips of OSB, SIPs, or 2x4 or 2x6 lumber. The seams where one panel joins another are susceptible to air leakage. To form an air tight bond, spray foam or caulk is applied to the seams before the panels are connected. Many SIP manufacturers will provide the caulk and instructions. The wall-floor, wall-wall, and wall-roof seams can each require as many as six beads of caulk, and the roof ridge seam can require up to 8 beads of caulk.
After caulking, the panels are fit together to assemble the structure. To ensure that joints lock tightly together, a belt winch can be used to pull wall assemblies together; this is especially helpful with larger panels. Before drywalling, the seams can be covered with peel and stick tape as a second layer of protection against air leakage. Before installing drywall is also an ideal time to test the air tightness of the seams with a blower door test and smoke pencil to visually identify the location of any leaks.
Air barrier effectiveness is measured at the whole-house level. High-performance branding programs and the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) require that builders meet specified infiltration rates at the whole-house level. See the “compliance” tab for these specified infiltration rates.
For more information on SIP installation, see Structural Insulated Panels.
How to Seal SIP Seams
- Connect the panels with splines. The three most common splines are surface splines, insulated splines, and structural spines (see Figures 1, 2, and 3). To minimize thermal bridging, only use structural splines when needed to carry the structural load. Splines can be installed on one side of the panel in the factory; this can save assembly time at the site.
- Caulk on each side of the spline. Use caulk from the manufacturer, if provided. Follow the caulking schedule required by the SIP manufacturer for the number of beads of caulk to use at each type of seam. Make sure the beads are continuous. Consider using a power caulker; even in a small (1,200 sq. ft.) home, the amount of caulk required can total over 5,000 lineal feet of caulk.
- Assemble the walls and roof. Use a fork lift and crane to place panels. Use lift plates and a belt winch (available from the manufacturer) to pull panels together tightly, if needed (Figure 4).
- Install peel-and-stick tape at panel-to-panel seams and at the ridge and wall-roof interface (See Figure 5).
- Prior to drywalling, conduct a blower door test and use a smoke pencil to ensure that panel seams are tight (Figure 6).
The air tightness of the envelope assembly of a home constructed with structural insulated panels can be easily tested by conducting a whole-house blower test prior to dry wall installation. While the house is depressurized, inspect all panel seams with a smoke stick. An infrared camera may also be helpful in spotting air leakage, if a sufficient temperature difference exists between the outside and the inside of the home.
No climate-specific information applies.
The Compliance tab contains both program and code information. Code language is excerpted and summarized below. For exact code language, refer to the applicable code, which may require purchase from the publisher. While we continually update our database, links may have changed since posting. Please contact our webmaster if you find broken links.
National Rater Field Checklist
Thermal Enclosure System.
2. Fully-Aligned Air Barriers.7 At each insulated location below, a complete air barrier is provided that is fully aligned as follows:
Walls: At exterior vertical surface of wall insulation in all climate zones; also at interior vertical surface of wall insulation in Climate Zones 4-8.9
4. Air Sealing (Unless otherwise noted below, “sealed” indicates the use of caulk, foam, or equivalent material).
4.1 through 4.10 describe air sealing details for specific components of the building envelope.
Footnote 7) For purposes of this Checklist, an air barrier is defined as any durable solid material that blocks air flow between conditioned space and unconditioned space, including necessary sealing to block excessive air flow at edges and seams and adequate support to resist positive and negative pressures without displacement or damage. EPA recommends, but does not require, rigid air barriers. Open-cell or closed-cell foam shall have a finished thickness ≥ 5.5 in. or 1.5 in., respectively, to qualify as an air barrier unless the manufacturer indicates otherwise. If flexible air barriers such as house wrap are used, they shall be fully sealed at all seams and edges and supported using fasteners with caps or heads ≥ 1 in. diameter unless otherwise indicated by the manufacturer. Flexible air barriers shall not be made of kraft paper, paper-based products, or other materials that are easily torn. If polyethylene is used, its thickness shall be ≥ 6 mil.
Footnote 9) All insulated vertical surfaces are considered walls (e.g., above and below grade exterior walls, knee walls) and must meet the air barrier requirements for walls. The following exceptions apply: air barriers recommended, but not required, in adiabatic walls in multifamily dwellings; and, in Climate Zones 4 through 8, an air barrier at the interior vertical surface of insulation is recommended but not required in basement walls or crawlspace walls. For the purpose of these exceptions, a basement or crawlspace is a space for which ≥ 40% of the total gross wall area is below-grade.
Please see the ENERGY STAR Single-Family New Homes Implementation Timeline for the program version and revision currently applicable in your state.
Exhibit 1 Mandatory Requirements.
Exhibit 1, Item 1) Certified under the ENERGY STAR Qualified Homes Program or the ENERGY STAR Multifamily New Construction Program.
The 2009 IECC does not specifically address sealing SIP seams. Table 402.4.2 Air Barrier and Insulation Inspection Component Criteria, Walls: Corners, headers, narrow framing cavities, and rim joists are insulated.
The IECC does not specifically address sealing SIP seams.
Table R402.4.1.1 Air Barrier and Insulation Installation, Walls: Junction of foundation and wall sill plates, wall top plate and top of wall, sill plate and rim-band, and rim band and subfloor are sealed. Corners, headers, and rim joists making up the thermal envelope are insulated.
Section R101.4.3 (in 2009 and 2012). Additions, alterations, renovations, or repairs shall conform to the provisions of this code, without requiring the unaltered portions of the existing building to comply with this code. (See code for additional requirements and exceptions.)
Chapter 5 (in 2015, 2018, 2021). The provisions of this chapter shall control the alteration, repair, addition, and change of occupancy of existing buildings and structures.
The 2009 IRC has several diagrams in Section R613 Structural Insulated Panel Wall Construction that illustrate the placement of continuous sealant.
The IRC has several diagrams in Section R610 (Section R613 in 2012 IRC) Structural Insulated Panel Wall Construction that illustrate continuous sealant as well as the requirements for SIP wall panels.
Table N1188.8.131.52 Air Barrier and Insulation Installation, Walls: Junction of foundation and wall sill plates, wall top plate and top of wall, sill plate and rim-band, and rim band and subfloor are sealed. Corners, headers, and rim joists making up the thermal envelope are insulated.
Section R102.7.1 Additions, alterations, or repairs. Additions, alterations, renovations, or repairs shall conform to the provisions of this code, without requiring the unaltered portions of the existing building to comply with the requirements of this code, unless otherwise stated. (See code for additional requirements and exceptions.)
Appendix J regulates the repair, renovation, alteration, and reconstruction of existing buildings and is intended to encourage their continued safe use.
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Structural insulated panels (SIPs) are a sandwich made up of foam insulation glued between two layers of sheathing (e.g., oriented strand board, magnesium oxide board, or drywall). SIP wall and roof panels are produced in a factory and come to the job site clean, dry, straight, and precisely made to the wall dimensions specified in the house plans with precut openings for doors and windows. They assemble quickly, producing a sturdy, well-sealed, well-insulated structure. Because there is minimal to no framing, the foam core provides a nearly continuous thermal blanket around the entire structure so heat transfer through the framing is greatly reduced.