When I built my tiny in 2012, I considered a SIPs tiny house. “Build a tiny house with SIPs?” I wanted to learn how to stick frame before I would even consider building a SIPs tiny house.

Hold on, though. What are SIPs?

They're Structural Insulated Panels and they are essentially a sandwich made of OSB plywood with foam insulation in the middle. They have a number of big advantages, and one is that they result in a tiny house that is highly insulated and efficient.

But I think that the best part is that a SIPs tiny house shell can be constructed in just a few days.

Many tiny house builders who I respect are building with SIPs already, including Lina Menard and many of the professional tiny house building companies. Lina even hosted “Build Blitzes” for her T42 house and was able to finish it in a very short amount of time.

The T42 Tiny House
Photo by Lina Menard

However, when most people build a tiny house out of SIPs, they send their plans to a SIPs manufacturer, who cuts out the panels based on their design. The SIPs arrive ready to assemble with all of your rough openings pre-cut.

I didn't realize anything else was possible. But then I met Kent.

Kent with his SIPs tiny house design

Kent Eaton with an early sketch of the Lightship Tiny House

Kent Eaton is a fellow Vermonter who has been working in the design field for 30 years. He's been obsessed with small spaces pretty much the entire time, too! And so when Kent saw the tiny house movement blooming all around him, he knew he wanted to be a part of it.

I think it would be really cool to empower, even just a few people to be able to build a house for themselves. The knowledge and skills required to build full sized, stick framed houses are way beyond what I think most people possess, and I'm not the guy to fill in those gaps. Tiny Houses built with Structural Insulated Panels are a different story. The scale of a Tiny Structure, as it relates to safety especially, and the straight forwardness of building with SIPs, are a combination that lives inside me as a person. Something that gets my motor running and floats my boat, so to speak.” -Kent Eaton

You can cut your own SIPs panels (and why you'd want to)

In my first meeting with Kent, he showed me some sketches of the house he had in mind and we got to talking about SIPs. And I must admit, I didn't know how versatile they really can be! Kent's plan was to order full, uncut SIPs and make use of them as efficiently as possible.

By cutting your own SIPs, you can save money by doing more of the work yourself. You can also save materials by designing a house that makes use of as much of your SIPs as possible.

Enter: The Light Ship

The Lightship is Kent's design for his SIPs tiny house. He built the model in SketchUp.

This video is a quick animation of the SIPs tiny house assembly process. Kent will use the virtual model frequently to verify real time construction decisions. It's a powerful tool!

Here are some additional photos of the Lightship Design:

Follow along with the construction of the Lightship

Kent is documenting his entire project and producing extremely helpful videos along the way! And in partnership with TheTinyHouse.net, Kent is allowing us to share his SIPs tiny house how-to building videos for all to enjoy and learn from.

Kent has also been hanging out in the Tiny House Engage online community, answering members questions about SIPs and even doing a dedicated Q&A for designing a tiny house with SIPs.

Video 1: The Basics of Building with SIPs

In this video Kent Eaton describes the basic premise of building with SIPs which is to install “lineal nominal dimensional lumber” (2x4s) into the perimeters.


Video 2: The Tools Needed for Building with SIPs

In this video Kent Eaton does an overview of the tools required to process SIPs panels. There's also a little bit at the end where he discusses how he designs to use SIPs cut-outs for wall sections in other locations.


Video 3: Plowing a SIPs Panel with a Hot Knife

In this video, Kent plows a channel in the first SIP panel in his stack using the Hot Knife. The channel is the perfect depth to be able to catch a lineal 2×4 (the 2×4's that run the perimeter of the panel and all openings).


Video 4: How to Maneuver large SIPs Panels

In this video, Kent offers some tips on how to move and maneuver SIPs panels, which are quite heavy.

“Structural Insulated Panels are available in a variety of configurations, most common being 4′ widths, 8′, 9′, 10′, 12′, 16′ lengths. (They also use a variety of cores, skins and joint configurations.) A 4'x8′ panel can be maneuvered by a single person but more comfortably by two people. I chose the 8'x24′ SIPs for the Lightship project because they align so handsomely with the size of the building. Conversely I designed the building to align with the size of the panels. Even though the panels are more difficult to maneuver, being in excess of 600 lbs each, the large panels mean less processing and fewer joints which equates to less labor and a more efficient structure.”


Video 5: Installing a Lineal 2×4 in a SIPs panel

In this video, Kent demonstrates how to install and fasten the lineal 2×4 in the channel he plowed in an earlier video. This lineal 2×4 is what allows Kent to fasten the SIPs to one another and to the trailer.

I know that Kent is a great carpenter and has a lot of ideas for the finished house.

For one lucky person or couple, The Lightship will be available for sale when it is done! If you're interested in learning more, contact Kent through the Lightship Facebook page!