ICE Panels vs SIPs: What’s the Difference and Why does it Matter?

August 24, 2020

Structural Insulated Panels, or SIPs as they are commonly referred to, are a manufactured building system similar to the Greenstone ICE Panel building system. They are constructed from a foam core with structural sheeting on both sides, usually OSB (oriented strand board). SIPs are a well-known building system, but like every option out there, has their good and bad reviews. Are they good? Are they bad? How do they compare to other panelized assemblies like ICE Panels?

As an alternative building envelope product, we frequently face questions as to whether ICE Panels are just another iteration of SIPs, or something new entirely. They do share some similarities, but how similar are they? What makes ICE Panels the future of efficient building? In short: SIPs and ICE Panels are similar regarding structure and insulation, but that’s where it ends.

Let’s go over the top 5 differences between these two building products:

1. ICE Panels do not include organic material.

SIPs combine materials with different life cycles. Generally speaking, SIPs are constructed of wood framing, sheathing and some type of foam insulation. Enclosed organic material like wood doesn’t perform very well long term when sealed up inside a building envelope. That’s when the phenomenon called Vapour Drive occurs. Vapour Drive is the natural diffusion and movement of moisture from the air through wall structures that when blocked by the vapour barrier layer of the wall assembly, it condensates on the cool surface and results in pooling inside the wall structure. This creates accelerated decay problems inside the wood portion of a typical SIPs assembly. This can lead to delamination (when the material fractures into layers) between the wood and foam products, affecting the structural integrity of the walls. Most foam materials have a longer life cycle than wood, so using dissimilar materials means the insulation may outlast the structure, or may lead to premature joint failure inside the SIP assembly.

ICE Panels combine materials with similar life cycles. ICE Panels are made of EPS (Expanded Polystyrene) and G90 galvanized steel. These materials are both inert and unaffected by moisture or vapour drive. Having similar performance characteristics means there is no part of the assembly that is susceptible to premature failure causing possible structural or other decay related issues. This also ensures stable connections inside the building envelope.

2. ICE Panels do not contribute to mould or mildew, providing cleaner, healthier air quality.

SIPs rely heavily on wood. When wood is used in the building envelope, there is a risk involved because of its organic nature. Organic components generally start to decay when wet and warm. This can lead to mould, rot, and premature structural and building envelope failure. This can also lead to health complications such as nasal congestion, wheezing, chest tightness, coughing, throat irritation, and could even lead to asthma.

ICE Panels use steel instead of wood. Using steel as the structural component in a building envelope, with no-thermal bridging, creates an inert structure for the building. Galvanized steel is not affected by moisture or vapour drive and will last for many generations, avoiding premature structural failure. Steel does not support mould growth making it a wise choice in health-conscious environments.

3. ICE Panels provide structural transparency.

Traditional SIPs are sandwich panels. There has been resistance from building officials to allow SIPs in their jurisdictions due to the fact that SIPs are closed-in when they arrive on site. This makes it harder to verify the structural integrity. Reliance on sheathing, specifically OSB, for strength does pose risks as well.

ICE Panels are exposed framing and insulation. Building officials have been much quicker to accept an assembly that has exposed structural elements and has no reliance on sheathing for strength. Even installing mechanical or electrical penetrations in the ICE Panel is simplified, as you can access the insulation between the framing.

4. ICE Panels do not provide thermal bridging.

Building with SIPs requires wood framing to construct the wall. By relying on conventional studs to complete the structure, this provides opportunities for external temperatures to make their way into the building. This is called Thermal Bridging. The studs act as a bridge from the outside of the building to the interior. These studs conduct energy through the panel which causes heat loss and potential cold spots in the assembly.

ICE Panels do not utilize conventional stud framing. ICE Panels have no thermal bridging from studs through the assembly by utilizing a double steel stud framed wall. The result is the elimination of thermal bridging in the ICE Panel assembly, which in turn creates a more comfortable space with lower heating costs.

5. ICE Panels are lightweight and do not require on-site modifications.

SIPs are heavy and may require on-site modifications. SIPs often require openings to be cut on site. This adds to the labour and time components for the builders. SIPs are also quite bulky, so the use of heavy equipment will be required for installation.

ICE Panels require no on site modifications and are lightweight: ICE Panels come with openings pre-framed as a part of the building package; no site cutting required. With the exception of panels over 12′ tall, ICE Panels are light enough to be installed by man power alone.

With SIPs becoming more popular and consumers becoming more aware of building options available, it is important to do some research. Understanding and comparing the differences between building products allows owners and builders alike to ultimately choose the product that will benefit the project long term.

If you are looking to find out how you could benefit from building with ICE Panels, connect with our sales team at

Want to learn more about the Greenstone ICE Panel system? Check out our YouTube channel for more info, and follow us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram.


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