Re-evaluating Evaluation : New Materials, New Methods

In today’s world of energy-efficient building requirements, structural insulated panels (SIPs) remain an attractive option. Modern SIPs combine the strength of wood with the energy-saving attributes of cutting-edge foam plastic insulation, to create a cost-effective solution for construction professionals. These sandwiched panels stand ready to meet the building codes of tomorrow, but many fear that the lack of adequate, systematic testing of these new materials may hinder their popularity and stifle their widespread implementation.

The Forest Products Laboratory (FPL), APA – The Engineered Wood Association, and the Structural Insulated Panel Association are on a mission to change this. Because of their unique construction, researchers believe SIP walls must be tested differently than more common light-frame walls. Unlike traditional walls, SIP walls are required to bear weight on their cap and sill plates, so that vertical loads from the story above are effectively transferred down to the foundation.

Creep test setup for a structural insulated panel.

A structural insulated panel undergoing performance testing at FPL.

This “restrained” method of evaluation yields the most accurate data for SIP performance.

Until recently however, SIP walls have been evaluated in the same way as their conventional light-frame counterparts, using an “unrestrained” configuration. Researchers fear that these tests may not realistically reflect the lateral load-bearing ability of the SIPs.


A diagram illustrating how the 24 full-size SIPs will be tested.

Between May 2015 and August 2016, 24 full-size SIP walls will undergo a carefully monitored regime of restrained, lateral load performance tests, which represent the most common configurations used by industry professionals. Researchers will consider a wide range of variables — from the obvious, such as wall thickness and type — to the minute, such as nail size and nail spacing. The final report will be prepared by December 2016.

Results of this project will not only increase the accuracy SIP performance data, it may help guide further evaluations of similar building materials in the future. Most importantly, it will provide construction and design professionals with the data they need to make informed choices when considering these new building materials, so that they can keep tomorrow’s buildings efficient and safe.

For more information, please see this Research in Progress.


Turning Research Into Reality: Demo House Showcases Energy-Efficient Engineering

Although researchers can accomplish amazing things from the comfort of the laboratory, sometimes all the testing, computer modeling, and scientific theory in the world is no substitute for the real thing. Sometimes, researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) need a real-world example in order to convey the exciting discoveries and developments happening every day at FPL’s home in Madison, Wisconsin.

In the world of wood science, sometimes that means you have to build a house.

Just a few hours south of Madison in the suburbs of Chicago, Illinois,  FPL researchers, in cooperation with APA – The Engineered Wood Association, have recently completed a demonstration house to showcase energy-efficient building technologies. The project, dubbed The Inside View Demonstration House, is focused on educating residential homebuilders, designers, and building code officials across the country on how to cost-effectively construct an energy-efficient house with 2×6 advanced framed walls.


The Inside View Research Demonstration House will help educate builders, designers, engineers, and industry professionals on utilizing high-performance wall systems.

Thicker walls constructed with 2×6 lumber offer a larger wall cavity than conventional walls built with 2×4 lumber. In addition to increased structural integrity, this method of construction allows for more insulation, increasing the energy efficiency of the building. FPL is leading the charge in evaluating these wall systems, and also hopes to release a comprehensive guide focused on using 2×6 walls with optimized framing in residential construction next year.

The demonstration house, built by Beechen & Dill Homes, will be used primarily for training and education, and will advance the use of advanced frame walls through seminars, open houses, articles in construction trade magazines, and educational videos produced through APA.

In addition to the walls, the cutting-edge floor system featured in the Inside View Home uses high-performance wood I-joists and 7/8 Performance Category OSB and plywood structural panels. This combination creates a cost-effective floor that drastically reduces construction time and increases efficiency.

Projects like the Inside View Demonstration House help put FPL’s research directly into the hands of those that can use it. This transfer of knowledge from FPL and its industry partners to the American public, complete the chain of scientific research, and realize the Forest Service’s motto of “caring for the land and serving people.”

For more information, please see the FPL Research in Progress publication Advanced Framing/Energy-Efficient Technology Transfer Demonstration Home.

You can also view the APA press release here.

Providence, R.I., Carbon Challenge Winners Announced


Winners were announced Tuesday night in the Providence, R.I., Carbon Challenge Residential Design Competition.

The Forest Products Laboratory and the APA — The Engineered Wood Association challenged designers to create a new model home design for Habitat Providence while considering the impact that building materials have on the environment.

Cash prizes totaling $10,000 were awarded to the winners across multiple categories:

  • Grand Prize ($5,000): ZeroEnergy Design, Boston
  • 2nd Place ($2,500): Kyle Bamrick & Christopher Armstrong, Providence
  • 3rd Place ($1,000): Joseph P. Campanella — Design Alliance, LLC, West Hartford
  • Best Use of Wood Products ($500): Anne Lissett & Benjamin Monroe — LEAF Architecture, West Hartford
  • Best Curb Appeal ($500): Erik Rhodin & Taina Rhodin — Line Company Architects, Waltham
  • Most Cost-Effective ($500): Christen M. Robbins — Vision 3 Architects, Providence

Fossil fuel use and climate change are important environmental issues facing our nation today. The common denominator for these concerns is greenhouse gases that are emitted into the atmosphere when fossil fuels, such as oil and coal, are burned for energy or when organic materials decay.

While most people are aware that North American forests help to address climate change by absorbing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, less well known is the fact that wood products continue to store carbon, thus keeping it out of the atmosphere indefinitely. Substituting wood products for fossil fuel-intensive alternatives also results in significant amounts of “avoided” greenhouse gas emissions.