These metal SIPS panel homes by Artspan come in various sizes from this tiny ice shack, like the one pictured/featured in this article, to a full-size house.
This article is a review of materials, costs, timeline, and challenges that would be useful for anyone building this ice shack or a bigger-sized unit with these panels.
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This ice shack shelter is 9’x12’ (108 sq ft) and this one has no plumbing in order to stay within the “no permit” zoning in Ontario, Canada.
The R-Value of the panels is 28.5!! That is excellent. Your average North American wood-framed house has an R-Value of R-15.
This shelter, as well as their tiny houses and regular house options, are suitable for all climates. Including the coldest and wettest climates. However, if you are sea-side, the metal is a lot more prone to rust from the salt (and I would not use it in that location myself).
They currently have designs for 108 sq ft, 153 sq.ft, 162 sq.ft., 252, 954 sq.ft, 1,026 sq.ft, 1,458 sq.ft and 1,701 sq.ft. They make all kinds and sizes of homes and buildings made of these same metal panels. A 12 x 27 is the largest they can make it without interior framing of the SIPS, so it will be WAY more economical this way. Plus this size can be made without any wood whatsoever.
You can leave it as a bare box, or add the usual plumbing and electrical with or without a kitchen and bath, depending on your needs and local building codes. They only provide the shell.
The ice shack is around $7,000 and the panels ship from Canada. You can get 5% with Shannon’s code 3752, or message her to connect with the company.
Summary of Materials
The ice shack does come with everything pre-cut for a 6ft roof. If you want to raise the roof to 7 or 8ft then you won’t have everything precut. The ice shack comes with windows and doors but if you want something different you will have to buy it.
The website says precut window opening and precut panels. The kit did come with all the fasteners and connection angles etc. It came with the Sikaflex 1a as well and 2 tubes of silicone (the guys used like 8 so that wasn’t enough for silicone). It also came with panel clamps.
You have to buy your own spray foam for the walls where they connect at the corners (unless your kit comes with the corner panels, this one didn’t, but that is a good upgrade to ask for).
The owner also ended up using spray foam between all panel joints, they recommend that on their large builds in the assembly instructions but that step is skipped in the ice shack kit instructions. The client wanted a good seal so she bought the spray foam and did this at joints even though they said I didn’t need to (I would do this for sure if you’re planning on using it as living space).
Why it’s good for people who are sensitive to chemicals
The panels are made from rigid foam (polyiso specifically, which does not offgas) with steel on each side. Other than the glue that holds the foam between the metal panels there is no offgassing from these materials.
The paint on the panels is factory applied, it looks like it’s powder-coated to me, which does not have any offgassing.
You are going to have spray foam and sealant at the seams of the panels, and these do offgas, so it’s important to choose the sealants carefully.
Canned spray foam for most people is quick to offgas (relatively). Not for the most extremely sensitive. Sikaflex 1a is also recommended but lower offgassing sealants can be substituted like AFM Almighty.
Be sure to test all material ahead of time by getting samples.
You can add extra sealing to the interior seams to help block offgassing by sealing them with silicone caulk at the end.
Also, remember that in a small and very airtight space the offgassing of everything you bring in will be more pronounced.
Is it Mold Proof?
It’s about as mold-proof as you can get. Be sure to stay under 12 x 27 feet to avoid all wood.
The other caution you need to take is that if you use AC inside you should not finish out the metal walls with drywall or wood as you could get condensation on the interior walls. Leave them unfinished.
You could also get condensation when it’s very cold outside at the corners potentially when heating inside. Another reason why it’s best to leave the walls unfinished and a non-organic material for the flooring.
Build this up with the panel foundation that they make and not on a concrete slab which is safer for the panels and safer as a foundation type in general (since slabs often go moldy).
How long does it take to deliver from the time to order?
When the client asked, she was told from purchase to delivery it should take about 6 weeks. But when she placed the order that had changed to 12+ weeks. It arrived at 16 weeks.
How long did it end up taking to build?
In total, it took 27 work hours and there were 2 guys working. The company says it takes 1-2 days which isn’t realistic if you have never installed this before.
Can you DIY? If you bought the ice shack kit with the 6 ft ceiling and the pre-cut everything then it’s possible you could do this yourself. Otherwise, you will at least need some knowledge of tools.
How much time does it need to offgas?
It was 3 weeks before the client could spend a long time in there (like an hour+ without the offgassing affecting her. She did use Sikaflax 1a caulking which is strong and slow to offgas (a better alternative is AFM Almighty Adhesive). The thing is it’s SO airtight that when she added a new couch in there this also added to the offgassing.
How much did it cost in total?
This was the total cost of my client’s build in Canadian dollars in 2021:
ARTSPAN SIP PANEL BUILD: $20k
$6.6k 9 x 12 Kit (8 ft ceiling)
$1.3k Shipping from Manitoba to Ottawa
$3k Windows & Patio Door (install included)
$2.2k Electrician to wire the 30 amp panel
$400 LVP Flooring & Underlayment
$200 Flooring Install
$200 Gravel & Ground Cloth
$100 Concrete Blocks
$100 PVC Baseboards
$300 Wall Heater (1500 watt metal Stelpro Mirage convector wall heater.)$700 Other (including silicone, sealants, tarps, shims, paint, etc)
(Shipping to the US costs more, $4,900 CAD/$3,800 USD is the 2021 shipping quote to Charlotte, NC)
You can get 5% if you tell the company Shannon’s code 3752.
More Technical Details
Window and door install and flashing
In regards to the window installation, on the ice shack kit assembly guide it doesn’t mention any flashing at all, but on their “general” assembly guide the window instructions are more detailed and they use liquid flashing. It’s definitely a good idea to use liquid flashing.
Avoid acrylic latex caulks around the window and use 100% silicone instead and it will offgas faster. Sikaflex a1 is specified which is strong, and slow to offgas. (Also note, it needs to be over 5 degrees C to apply this). AFM Almighty would be better.
But going back and using silicone on every seam, inside and out will help to block that as well as keep it airtight. It might smell a tonne for the first couple of days but don’t panic about silicone smell, it will go away. (My post on caulking looks at silicone brands)
They are also calling for 1-part canned spray foam at the seams which for most people offgasses enough in a day or two. (Highly sensitive folks will need to test it for sure).
If it’s the vinyl window itself that is offgassing you can seal that with pure shellac, SealCoat Shellac or BIN Shellac (and then paint over that if you like, or else just remove the pure shellac later with alcohol because it will look a little yellow).
On the exterior, for windows, they said they use Supra Professional. It’s a “thermoplastic” sealant. Thermoplastic is a very broad term they’re just trying to not say what it is. The client ended up using Sikaflex.
On their Instagram, they have a few examples of finished builds with what looks like drywall. Or you can just paint them with Annie Sloan paint or Allback linseed oil paint and leave the corrugated look. The electrical will have to be exposed that way. Regarding electrical, if you want it concealed you would build out additional framing for the wires since there are only vertical channels built-in, not horizontal. I don’t think they recommend drilling horizontal holes in the panels.
In the interior photo at the start of the article, the walls are not painted, they are the original white panel. The interior trim was painted white with Annie Sloan Chalk Paint which can go over almost anything.
Cheryl Ciecko recommends a drip edge flashing at the bottom of each wall on the outside side if you are on a raised foundation to move water away.
I only recommend a raised foundation (a panel foundation with these metal SIPS). Building these metal panels directly on a concrete slab means they at are risk of getting wet and rusty (Cheryl Ciecko does not recommend that).
In regards to the foundation, the contractor said screw piles are kind of overkill for this size build and that he’d recommend the foundation in the Artspan video: https://youtu.be/K6vroAs1Tro
The owner ended up doing a very simple foundation, just two 12 ft long steel C channels (provided by Artspan) running the length of the build, sitting atop 6 concrete blocks (3 per channel).
The steel channels were purchased from Artspan for $75. Concrete blocks we bought locally. They did 6 inches of packed gravel under each of the blocks and then a couple of inches all over top.
There is no exact requirement for how high off the ground something like this should be. I would err on the side of caution and I would try and make it a foot high so that there is not a lot of moisture getting trapped there and the ground could start to go funky/ swampy that way.
Adhesive for the Walls/Roof and Floor Panels
They said you could use a different adhesive if you wanted and have the Sikaflex costs refunded from your kit.
When looking up the Sikaflex 1a – they say it says “odorless” but it’s not in my opinion. The VOCs are less than 40g/l and this SIkaflex 1a offgasses for months in my opinion/to my nose. I would say it hit close to odorless between 2-3 months.
AFM Almighty Adhesive is a polyether which is far better.
Keep in mind that the longevity/life span of this whole house rests on the warranty of the foam and sealant at the seams.
Interior Flooring Material
The owner spoke with Artspan and they said they usually lay a plywood subfloor because the steel facing is not perfectly flat (the design has grooves). You can use plywood if you don’t plan to use AC inside.
You could also go with a really wide and really long non-organic plank flooring, for example, Cali bamboo has a vinyl plank that is absolutely huge called Longboard. If you run that perpendicular to the grooves that are already there, you won’t need anything else.
The client used Golden Select Antique Oak 18.2 cm (7.16 in.) Rigid Core SPC Vinyl Flooring. Plank dimensions: 122 cm × 18.2 cm (48.03 in. × 7.16 in.), thickness: 6.5 mm (0.25 in.) There was no need to fill in the groves in the metal, it was laid perpendicular to the groves with the DMX 1 step underlayment.
All of this is referring to the shallow groove side up – as one side of the panel has shallow grooves and the other side deep grooves.
They said it’s up to you if you want the thick corrugation side on the interior or exterior for the floor panels (for walls and roof it’s on the interior). They said for small builds like this they usually just do the shallow groove side up since it’s easier. If you do the larger corrugation side up it can take slightly more weight, but that doesn’t matter for making a small shelter or tiny house.
Final Sealing of Interior and Exterior
Any 100% silicone can be used on the seams. They come in clear or different colors so you might want to check that out. Some companies make custom colors.
You will need some air exchange unless you want to leave the window cracked at all times (which is what Shannon ended up doing in the end anyway, as it’s easiest! Be sure to monitor CO2 in such a small airtight space).
If you do use an air exchanger, you want a really really low CFM here. Even 20 CFM is going to be overwhelming and could make you quite cold in the winter. So I want that to dial down to 10 CFM or maybe even less. If it’s not comfortable you’re just going to want to turn it off all the time. Also, make sure that you can turn it off. I’m sure any of them could be wired into a switch but I would check or make sure they wire it that way! Think about the placement too, and make sure that it’s not blowing on you.
Without a kitchen or shower in there, with no wood and no AC, this isn’t about trying to control the humidity really, but just making sure the owner has enough oxygen and doesn’t have the CO2 go too high. However, that can definitely be accomplished by opening a window and turning up the heat.
The CFM for the Blauberg Duo is 10-40. It’s cheaper than the Lunos because you only need one. It’s around $900 CAD.
The owner was worried about the roof, being that it’s just the same panel connections as the walls. She wanted to be sure to really seal those joints well. She considered an RV tape roof sealant on the seams like this:https://www.amazon.ca/gp/aw/d/B094XP9PR2 though didn’t install it.
The contractor siliconed the seams and they also did all the roof trim, roof panel seams/ wall panel seams (Artspan says just do roof panel seams but she wanted to be safe).
She did end up with a roof leak in the first year. I would recommend a liquid RV roof sealant at the seams.
Cheryl Ciecko said the cut edges where the steel is raw are vulnerable to rust so that may need to be painted. She also thought that it could use a drip edge on the edge of the roof panel, though she did not have an exact specification there.
Alright, so those are the main deets for this tiny house. This is really the best option I have seen for a fast, easy, well-priced prefab house that you can install as a safe haven for mold and chemical sensitivities.
Thanks so much to Shannon for going first and sharing the build with us. You can see more pics of her house here. Don’t forget you can get 5% if you use Shannon’s code 3752 when you talk to the company.
Addendum: Now We Are Getting into the Real Nitty Gritty of the Installation
This is for those in the throes of the install:
Dealing with Exposed Foam Corner Pieces
There are small air pockets on each corner between the female side of the panel (with exposed foam) and the trim piece. It’s at the corners of the build, so there’s a 3/4 inch gap of metal but no foam that runs the height of the build before it meets the trim that covers the corner.
Artspan says since it’s on the outside there will be no condensation there. My contractor seems to agree. And it’s covered by trim.
I suggested she cover the exposed foam with a paint so that it’s not permeable to water, and make sure that it has a drainage plane so that if water gets back there, and it will, that it can drain out at the bottom. Most exterior paints work on foam.
The problem is the panels sit directly on top of floor panels (vs just on trim). So to make a hole under would mean drilling through the 5 inch metal/ foam floor panel, in which case any water draining would repeatedly come in contact with the foam interior of the panel. So we could not go with a drainage point there. You could poke a hole in the bottom of the corner trim piece as low as you can go to find that out if you suspect it taking on water.
In this video you can see the exposed parts before trim is placed. (At 30 seconds it’s the front 2 corners). https://youtu.be/K6vroAs1Tro
For large builds, they actually have a “corner panel”. You can probably get them with any package at an additional cost (which I would recommend). The ice shack/ similar kits don’t come with them by default. Their larger builds also come with a heavy-duty metal frame on which the build sits on. The ice shack kit comes with “skids” and with this one the owner added 2 steel channels for $75 extra to sit it on (you can also put it on whatever you want, concrete pad, wooden frame, etc).
The owner thought that they really need to do a better job with their instructions. There is a lot that’s not clear especially if the builder has never worked with these panels before. She said with clearer instructions we could have easily shaved a day off the build.
Tips and tricks for Installation
The biggest issue is that they send drawings specific to your build but with no actual “steps” or order of how to do things. They have the measurements and trim angles etc. But it’s nowhere close to enough for someone who has never put one of these together.
She printed out their “general assembly guide” because she figured it was better than nothing. She thought that ended up being more confusing as it’s geared towards their huge builds that are like 20 by 40 and 20 ft tall. Eventually they told her to try to follow the ice shack kit instructions, as it was more in line with this build. By this point the guys had already put the base trim on upside down, but the ice shack guide did help. Except the base is different and the trim is different. So again they were confused. They had to call them to verify they had flush trim (ice shack shows a box type trim).
They spent almost a whole day trying to figure out if the wall panels were pre-cut or not. She was under the impression that all the panels were totally pre-cut— the only cuts on site would be rough openings. On the drawings the only mention of cutting is a generic “some field cutting may be required”. You then have to piece together which panels require cutting. They finally figured it out by looking at the measurements on one of the drawings, and seeing that one panel on each wall measured less than the others, then they measured those corresponding panels on site and found they were the same size as all the others. So they deduced they had to cut them down to size. But this made no sense because by that point they had the floor assembled, and no cutting was required. Why are the floor panels cut to size but not the walls? She then found out from calling Artspan that all the panels are cut to height or length only, NOT width. For the floor and roof panels, no cutting was required, but 4 wall panels needed to be cut. It would have helped it they said “Panel 1, 5, 6, and 8 have to be cut to size on site.”
The next issue came as they were assembling the walls after they’d made the appropriate cuts. The contractors started with one corner and worked their way around clockwise. At the end of the day they had done all 4 corners and just had 2 more front panels to do. She figured out that one of the end pieces had to be the last to go in to make it work, as the end pieces are only connected on one side and just exposed on the other, nothing to slip into. It should note: “The last panel placed must be one of the corner panels”.