A tiny house on wheels represents many possibilities and freedoms traditional homes don’t. In reality, THOWs aren’t as limitless as some people make them out to be.
Tiny homes on wheels are actually subject to strict road limits that make towing and traveling a little more challenging. This is especially true for tiny house owners outside in the United States who have to work with weight limits as low as 7,700 lbs.
In a reality where weight limits are a top concern for tiny house owners, innovative solutions have to be taken into account to create that perfect traveling abode. That’s where SIPs come in.
Can you build a tiny house with SIPs? Although traditionally used in bigger homes and commercial properties, the tiny house movement has been quick to adopt SIP tech precisely because it’s lightweight, durable, and eco-friendly. It’s a great alternative to heavy wooden homes, without compromising anything at all.
What Are SIP Panels Made Of?
A structural insulated panel or SIP is a construction material that is a manufactured material that has two primary components: an insulation material at its very core, and sheathing materials serving as a protective outer layer.
SIPs are built in-house and can be created with a variety of materials depending on the manufacturer. This also means that costs vary depending on the construction.
What is a SIP panel home?
A SIP panel home is any home that has been built with structural insulated panels. These homes are pretty indistinguishable from homes made with wood studs or metal frames.
Do you need framing for a SIP?
The SIP is the frame of the home. Think of it as a complete wall ready to be installed and set up. Unlike traditional stick framing, structural insulated panels are delivered to your home as a complete package. The frame, insulation, and interior and siding casing are already part of the panel. These are precut and prefabricated based on the design you send to a manufacturer.
SIP vs Steel Frame
SIPs (structural insulated panel) and steel frames are the two most common options for lightweight tiny house builds. Compared to the standard wood studs, SIPs and steel framing are lighter but still sturdy framing options for tiny homes that need to hit a certain weight limit.
|Structural Insulated Panel||Steel Frame|
|Cost||Varies greatly depending on materials and manufacturer. Contact local builders for a precise quote||Ranges from $3,000 to $15,000 depending on the size of your tiny home|
|Insulation / Thermal Bridging||Varying R-values depending on insulation material used. SIPs with the highest R-value typically use expanded polystyrene (EPS) as insulation||Notorious for high thermal bridging potential, but can be easily fixed by using thick insulation material|
|Fire Resistance||SIPs using wood are not fire-resistant but fire rating can be improved by using a thermal barrier or fire proof materials on the interior. For better fire ratings, use metal SIPS instead||More fire-resistant than wood studs and wood SIPs|
|Durability||Can withstand major weather conditions||Can withstand major weather conditions|
|Assembly and Installation||Built in-house and delivered to the jobsite. Can be assembled without professional help||Built in-house and delivered to the jobsite. Can be assembled without professional help|
Steel frames are manufactured in-house. Individual studs and frames are “printed” out by a specialized machine, and then delivered to the owner. Compared to the cost of wooden studs, steel frames can be a little more expensive upfront.
Pre-designed kits using a CAD (computer-aided design) software can be bought. Alternately, you can send a design of your tiny home and manufacturers can create a frame layout specific to that design. Most steel frames are delivered assembled, making it easier to install and eliminating additional labor costs altogether.
Structural Insulated Panels
Standard sheathing materials are made from plywood, oriented strand board (OSB), and corrugated steel. These three are among the lightest and cheapest wood-alternatives in the market.
Different insulation materials can be sandwiched between the sheathing. This can range from rigid foam insulation such as EPS, XPS (extruded polystyrene) and polyiso, as well as fiber insulation, such as mineral wool or densely packed cellulose. The materials you choose will determine the insulation and fire rating of your tiny home.
Why choose SIPs over wood studs?
- SIPs are much lighter than wood studs. This material will allow owners to build a tiny house on wheels even with strict road limits
- SIPs are faster to assemble than wood framing. Stick construction has to be laid out one-by-one. Tiny homes built with wood take weeks to finish. When done properly, a SIP-framed tiny house can be up in as little as three days.
- SIPs allow creative freedom. These customizable panels can be built however you want it. Choose the right materials and you have a durable tiny house that’s lightweight and road-friendly.
Can SIPs Be Used As Flooring?
SIPs aren’t just made for walls. SIPs can also be used as a flooring and roof. If you’re using SIP panels for your tiny house on wheels, you might have to build a layer on top of the trailer before laying out the panel. No subfloors will be required since the SIP can act as a barrier of effective insulation for the tiny house.
Finding the Right Manufacturer
SIPs manufacturers are scattered all around the globe. Here’s a list of some of SIPs producers in different locations:
Find reliable manufacturers using the Structural Insulated Panel Association’s directory. These SIPA-approved manufacturers and suppliers can be found in various states.
Pros and Cons of Building Tiny House With SIPs
1. SIPs are airtight and energy-efficient.
In construction, air leakage is the one thing that can make or break your home’s energy efficiency. No amount of insulation, no matter what the R-value, can save a home with air leaks. An airtight home means all spaces are closed off from the outside. This means better soundproofing and insulation.
2. SIPs are eco-friendly.
SIPs are minimalistic in nature. Manufacturers only produce what you need. Fewer materials are scrapped since computer-assisted designs calculate just how much material is needed to produce a panel. An airtight home also means having to use less energy to warm or heat your space.
3. SIPs have reduced overall cost.
The cost of ordering SIPs might be more than buying a couple of wood studs but it pays for itself in the long run. Less installation time means less money spent on labor and materials. Installation can be done with a professional team or on your own.
Building a tiny house with SIPs isn’t exactly a foolproof plan. Just like building with other materials, creating your tiny house with SIPs can also pose a variety of complications including:
1. You have to plan your tiny house from start to finish.
SIPs are a bit trickier to work with than steel or wood frames. Each panel is assembled as a whole and precut with holes for doors and windows. Making adjustments on the spot won’t be possible with SIP homes. Most builders also require you to include wiring and plumbing plans so they can fit this into the design.
2. Not all SIPs are created equally.
It’s important to check the manufacturer’s credentials before signing with a project. We recommend looking for SIP manufacturers who have completed successful tiny homes built with SIPs.
Make sure to look into the materials they are using. For instance, OSB might be cheaper than plywood, but it’s more malleable and moisture-loving than plywood. If you’re living in a humid environment like Florida, you might want to consider metal SIPs over wood SIPs.
3. You have to keep it away from moisture.
Wood SIP panels are highly sensitive to moisture. During the build, keep your panels away from moisture as much as possible. Install air seal plastic around the structure as soon as the walls go up to prevent the OSB or plywood from taking in moisture. When unprotected, these materials can rot or produce mold.
How Long Will a SIP Tiny House Last?
Don’t let the weight fool you. Just because a SIP home can be 70% lighter than a wood-framed one doesn’t mean it’s any less durable. SIP tiny homes can last for decades when built right.
Keep in mind that SIP construction isn’t entirely exclusive to tiny homes. SIP panels are being used to construct traditional homes and even commercial spaces - from factories to hotels and everything in between.
Build Your Own SIP House
Complete SIP tiny house kits can be bought online. These kits are typically inclusive of the plan and SIPs used for the build. In some cases, builders will throw in the appropriate trailer as part of the deal.
If you’re the DIY type, here’s a little guide to get you started on building your tiny house:
Step 1: Know your trailer
If you’re building a tiny house on wheels, get a trailer before anything else. SIP construction depends on precise measurements, so you’ll have to know your trailer dimensions before anything else. Knowing its height and weight will also help you make necessary adjustments in order to accommodate local road limits.
Step 2: Create a design
Manufacturers will ask for your custom design so they can create the panels based on your sizes. They will render your design for accurate measurements and produce the panels as needed. In some cases, builders can assist you in creating a design if you don’t have one created for yourself.
Step 3: Find a manufacturer
When selecting a manufacturer, you should take into consideration their experience, distance, materials used, and credentials. We like to think that tiny home construction has a lot of nuances that can really make or break the build; we prefer working with contractors who have proven experience with tiny houses.
Choose a manufacturer that’s close to your build site to mitigate any hassle and shipping expenses. Work with SIP manufacturers that use high quality materials. Read online reviews to see their previous work and understand the durability of their panels.
Step 4: Install panels
The panels arrive with some form of instruction that can help you build the house from the ground up. Installation is pretty straightforward; just follow the instructions and diagrams provided by the manufacturer as you go through the build.
Installation isn’t always inclusive of the fee. You’ll have to hire an additional pair of hands to get the job done. On the other hand, it’s also possible to install a SIP tiny house without any professional help.
SIPs Tiny House Design
From afar this tiny house looks like it was constructed with timber. What if we told you that you’re looking at a 100% SIP tiny house?
The Vagabode is a 175 sq. ft tiny house built with structural insulated panels - from the roof down to the floor. They used 26 SIPs to construct everything in their cozy abode, which only set them back $3,700. This extremely travel friendly tiny house on wheels was built by its owners Jenna and Sean.
Off-Grid Modern SIP Tiny House
Antje’s completely off-grid tiny home only cost $55,000 to make. One of her top challenges to the builder was to create a tiny house that was completely insulated. With SIPs, the builders were able to create an incredibly spacious and welcoming tiny house that looks great on the outside as it does inside.
Building Tiny House SIPs From Scratch
Patrick and his friends build a tiny house on wheels from scratch. This time-lapse video includes everything from laying out the floor layer to installing the home’s very first walls. This tiny house design utilizes SIPs for the floor, walls, and roof.
Are SIPs Worth It?
SIP tiny homes may cost a couple hundred bucks upfront compared to wood studs, but they pay for themselves in the long-run. With airtight construction and little to no thermal bridging, you don’t have to worry about lucrative heating and cooling costs.
Because of its lightweight design, you can finally travel around with your house in tow just as you’d always planned, without having to worry about penalty fees and other unforeseen expenses.
Remember: every penny you spend on your dream home is a step closer to the lifestyle you’ve always wanted. And to us, that’s always worth it.
Hey, there! We're Ivan and Manuela from Croatia, and we're crazy about tiny houses. We don't own one (yet).
This website is a result of our passion to share all the knowledge, photos, tips and tricks that we were able to learn while studying everything possible about the tiny house movement.