Save Time, Money, and Energy When Building Your Dream Home
Do you have the housing itch?
In many markets around the country housing prices are so astronomical that home buyers are opting to build their dream homes with the money they would have used to buy a resale. This is a great idea if you have the time to spare, but if you are planning on selling your home first, it may not fit into your allotted timeline. The average home takes about 7 months to build. If you live in rural areas, it could take as long as 9 months. If your city is backed up on building permits, however, it could take much longer.
But it really doesn’t have to.
There’s an alternative type of home building that is growing in popularity for many reasons, the length of time it takes to build being one at the top of the list. It’s called panelized home building, or building with prefabricated structural panels, and it’s exactly what it sounds like: structural insulated panels (called SIPs) are fabricated in weather-proof factories before being brought to the construction site and assembled to create the exterior shell of your home. Equal parts revolutionary and jaw-dropping, building a home with SIPs is the way to save time, money, and energy when building your dream home. (Sometimes structural panels are prefabricated without insulation and instead insulated on site.)
This lakeside home is being erected using prefabricated wall panels that are lifted and set in place by the crane in the background and then fastened and tied together by a small crew on the gound. A house can be closed in and weather-tight in 2 or 3 days (courtesy of Harvest Homes).
Pre-made things have developed a lackluster reputation in today’s society. Pre-made foods are deemed unhealthy, pre-made furniture and clothes are dubbed as run-of-the-mill. How do you know that building a home with panels doesn’t belong in that category, too? We’ve done the research and have gathered up the pros and cons for you to analyze for yourself.
There are few restrictions on the type of house plan that can be built using structural panels. The designer of this single-story 2035-sq.-ft., 3-bedroom, 2.5-bath house regularly works with panel manufacturers for getting his homes built (House Plan 138-1355).
Advantages of Panel Home Building
Let’s scroll through the pros first. If you’re a “bad news first” type of individual, feel free to jump down to the cons and read those first. Make sure you come right back up to these pros, though. They really are pretty great.
You’ve already heard a bit about the amount – or lack – of time it takes when building a home with panels, taking an average of 90 days to build compared with the 180-270 days it takes to stick-build a house. That means it cuts the build time at least in half and could even shave off up to two-thirds of the build time.
For those who need a bit more visualization, this means you could start building your house in spring and have a built home by summer. If you were building a stick-built home and started in the spring, you will see a finished home in the fall or even winter time.
This timeline even includes stormy weather. When you build a conventional frame house, you’ve got to pad the timeline for rainstorms, that sudden mid-spring blizzard, and the bout of the flu that seems to tackle the entire construction crew at once.
Weather and crew issues could cause a number of costly issues in stick-built homes. Some of these issues include
The foundation not setting correctly
Rain and/or snow accumulating inside the house
The wooden frame warping
Panelized construction, on the other hand, eliminates those variables. It could be pouring every day for a month and the home would still be completely on schedule. That’s because each panel is created in a warehouse where the elements can’t touch it and the on-site assembly can be scheduled around the weather.
If the timeline sounds pretty great, you are going to love this next part.
Top: a structural panel is manuvered into place by a crane before being tied to the foundation and other panels by the ground crew. Bottom: This home is assembled and ready for roof sheathing and final weatherization one day after construction started. Time-saving is a big advantage to building with structural panels (both courtesy of Wausau Homes).
2. Quality You Can Count On
As mentioned previously, pre-made and quality aren’t usually synonymous. In panelized home building, however, those words are commonly used together. Each panel is designed and built in a weatherproof factory by machines that precisely measure, cut, and complete it to specifications.
Where stick-built homes (homes built onsite) typically have a difficult time packing in the insulation, a panel home has the insulation packed tightly between the interior and exterior wall in each SIP.
Once delivered, each panel is connected and set up like stick-built homes. The walls are connected like the seams of a fine suit and, and the joints and corners are as sturdy as in conventional building, if not better.
You would never know that this home was built using structural panels and not in the conventional stick-built framing process. Not only did the home go up in a shorter amount of time than a conventional home would be built, but the quality of the build is as good as if not better because most of the structure of the house was fabricated in controlled conditions (courtesy of Hamilton Building Sevices).
While each SIP is prefabricated, that doesn’t mean you have to choose from the same 100 house plans that are capable of being built in this manner. Virtually any home could be built from structural insulated panels. You could choose a home as elaborate as a 6563-square-foot European style home (Home Plan #161-1077) or as sleek as a 780-square-foot bungalow (House Plan #157-1054) and not have to worry in the slightest about it not being compatible with structural insulated panels homes. That means you can toss out those cookie cutter house plans and choose from a number of exciting house plans.
Gorgeous courtyard entrances like this one in a 4-bedroom, 4.5-bath Contemporary style house are well within the abilities of comapnies that fabricate structural panels and build homes using them (House Plan #107-1015).
4. The Bottom Line – Cost
Depending on what view you have, the cost could be a pro or a con. While most love saving money, exchanging money for quality satisfies most of us every time. Although strictly speaking the cost could be a bit higher than your average stick-built home in materials, on the back end it will likely end up saving you money in manpower and time.
One couple, after comparing several bids for stick-built homes, wound up going with building a home with structural insulated panels because it saved them about 20%! As with most home building projects, it’s a good idea to get many different bids to get an idea for what it will actually cost you.
Cons to Building a Home with Panels
The pros are pretty great, but there are a few downsides to building a home with panels.
1. Lack of Flexibility
While you have your pick of SIP panel house plans, changing it up in the middle requires a lot more in a panel-built home than a stick-built one. In stick-built homes, you can decide to add a courtyard entrance or an extra bedroom, and the contractor won’t have to do much to make it happen. If you make the same choice when building
Sips panels house plans, however, be prepared to pay for it in time and money. Home building is SIPs is a great idea for those who are sure of their house plan. If you go with structural insulated panels homes and think you might need to change up the plans in the middle, it’s a good idea to find a contractor who can work with that.
Bedrooms like this one in a 2470-sq.-ft., 4-bedroom, 2.5-bath Country style home that are added, modified, or moved mid-construction as a design alteration may be an issue when building a home with panels (House Plan #153-1781)
2. Finding A Contractor
This may be the trickiest part of home building with insulated panels. Not all contractors build with panels, and you want to be sure to work with one who has done it before. A scarcity of contractors may also equal a price elevation, so be mindful of that as well.
A great way to find a contractor who works with structural insulated panels is to contact the company that creates the SIPs. They typically work with certain contractors and would be able to give you a nice list of those who would be qualified to build your house.
Building a house is stressful no matter if you choose stick-built, SIP-built, or any other type of home. The best way to decide what works best for you is to figure out your priorities. If having a flexible schedule and last-minute home design are important to you, then home building with SIPs probably isn’t for you. If having a high-quality home built fast and efficiently is on the top of your list, they you will definitely want to check it out more in depth.
So, which is it? Do you think building a home with panels is in your future?
Footnote: The photos in the lead image are courtesy of Wausau Homes.