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Robert Vis is the director and co-founder of SIPs Industries, a company based in Western Australia that manufactures and supplies structurally insulated panels across Australia to the residential and commercial building industries.
Established in 2009, the multi-award winning business is driven to providing a sustainable building solution that offers energy efficiency and comfortable living conditions without affecting the environment. The SIPs building product assists industry professionals in creating off-grid, zero net carbon or Passivhaus buildings, using sustainably sourced materials.
Q: How do structural insulated panels produce sustainable housing?
RV: SIPs offer simplicity, speed and savings in the construction process, with its highly insulated building envelope that significantly reduces thermal bridging and air leakages to produce more energy-efficient homes that are comfortable and environmentally responsible.
The average Australian home may leak up to 20–30 times its volume per hour, meaning more energy is required to heat or cool the building. SIPs homes can reduce this to as low as 0.25 air changes, and with air exchange units, can recover up to 85 per cent of energy while introducing fresh air to the building. This offers massive performance gains and cost savings to occupants.
Q: Have you seen an increase in demand?
RV: We have seen steady growth in demand Australia-wide from multiple market segments, from young couples to empty nesters wanting to improve their comfort and quality of life while reducing living costs. There has been significant uptake by architects focused on more sustainable products, the government sector which wants to be seen to be developing environmentally responsible buildings, while commercial builders are adopting SIPs for speed of construction, and to reduce site costs and overheads. There is a clear shift in demand for better buildings and prefabricated building products.
Q: Is there more the building industry could be doing to improve environmental outcomes?
RV: There is significant opportunity in Australia to instigate change and improve our current environmental performance. Changing consumer attitudes and legislation that supports better environmentally responsible housing will demand that industry keep up and work collaboratively.
We are becoming more willing to invest in our future and the wellbeing of future generations. Companies are seeing the benefit of being environmentally responsible, manufacturers are demonstrating how it can be done, now we need the will and leadership to instigate real change.
Q: What could the future of sustainable building look like?
RV: Sustainable buildings are the hallmark of economically sound business decisions, thoughtful environmental decisions, and smart human impact decisions. I see a great future in what we can do as a building industry to drive sustainable housing. Innovation, coupled with a focus on better living, will see us embrace many systems and principles, such as renewable energy and storage, more durable and environmentally friendly materials, and new technologies.
We may see more of a hybrid approach to building off-site (flat pack) rather than full prefabricated houses. Shorter lead times and demand for higher performance at a better cost point, while managing overhead and logistics, are still big challenges for industry. The development of smaller, narrow lots may push hybrid building, which will assist with limited space onsite and shorter build times.
Q: What sustainable projects are you most proud to have worked on?
RV: Since we opened in 2010, our panels have been included in thousands of homes across Australia. Recently they were included in a project called Desert House located near Alice Springs. The custom built home – designed as an off-grid dwelling – was designed and engineered in NSW, SIPs' panels manufactured in WA, and built by a local builder in the NT. This home won several national awards and accolades in recognition of our ability to team up across the country to design and construct a sustainable dwelling with a high level of detail.
We have continued to team up with industry professionals in different states and territories to implement sustainable buildings for individuals and organisations. Offices building and childcare centres have been created in WA to promote an environmentally sustainable to business even among the mining industry and a clean, toxic-free environment for children.
Q: What R&D is SIPs involved in now?
RV: Currently, we are working with industry, in apartment and single-residence dwellings, to better communicate the effect of condensation to the causation of wall and roof damage in the form of moisture build up within buildings that are increasing insulation layers to meet building codes.
If moisture is not expelled from the structure it builds up on the inner face of the external cladding causing mould and ‘Sick Building Syndrome’. This in turn can lead to the growth of mould within the home causing potential health problems, such as chronic inflammation of the respiratory system (CIRS), to the homeowner.
To overcome this, SIPs' external wall and roof panels are coated with a breathable lining that allows moisture to escape and evaporate away from the building.
Q: Do you think COVID-19 will influence the way we design and build eco-friendly housing to improve occupant health and wellbeing?
RV: On observation, we are seeing a shift in attitude that is leading to a change in behaviour. People are recognising that through mandatory restrictions during COVID-19 that we have a direct responsibility in how we manage our environment, taking into consideration its fragility and how it is directly impacting us as individuals.
People are now asking the right questions, wanting to make a difference to our environment beyond just saving money on home utilities, it is the need to be kind to our planet, starting with the home. We are becoming more willing to invest in our future and the wellbeing of future generations. Companies are seeing the benefit of being environmentally responsible. I would expect to see some benefit from our recent misfortune.