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The Evolution and Benefits of Insulated Metal Panels in Modern Construction

  • April 11, 2024

The commercial construction industry is always looking for better building materials that are cost-effective and provide strength and sustainability. 

Insulated metal panels (IMPs) have definitely made that list. 

Although it took a while for these wall and roof panels to catch on, with the increased focus on green buildings and energy efficiency, they are more popular than ever. 

This article will cover the evolution of insulated metal panels and how your project could benefit from using this revolutionary material.

Contents:

1. What Are Insulated Metal Panels?

2. The Story Behind IMPs

3. The Evolution of Insulated Metal Panels

4. The Benefits of Using Insulated Metal Panels

5. Are There Any Drawbacks to IMPs?

6. How Much Do IMPs Cost?

7. Applications of Insulated Metal Panels

8. Recap

What Are Insulated Metal Panels?

Insulated metal panels are building materials made from composite exterior wall or roof panels. They have an insulating foam core covered by two steel sheets.

The foam can be made from polystyrene, polyurethane (PUR), or polyisocyanurate (PIR).

Insulated metal panels are also known as sandwich panels because of their appearance. The steel sheets are the bread, and the foam is the filling. 

IMPs come in many different:

  • Thicknesses
  • Finishes
  • Profiles
  • Lengths
  • Widths
  • Colors

The Story Behind IMPs

The first insulated panels were made from honeycomb paper insulation covered by wood or aluminum panels. These were called SIPs (structural insulated panels).

SIPs were developed by the FPL in the 1930s when the Great Depression hit, and more efficient building processes were needed. SIPs were used in Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian Homes, which were constructed to be affordable for the average American.

Dow Chemicals created the first official IMP by introducing polystyrene foam as insulation.

This material provided much better insulation, resulting in the energy efficiency we see today. By the 70’s, these panels became a prevalent building material in North America and then in Europe.

The Evolution of Insulated Metal Panels

As with most materials developed for construction, the original product evolves into a better version as time progresses to meet the needs of the masses. 

1980’s 

In this decade, new coatings for exterior and interior panels were developed to increase corrosion resistance.

Structural engineering research was also conducted into wind loading (walls) and wind uplift (roof), ensuring that building codes are adjusted to meet engineering findings. 

1990’s 

In the 90’s, OSHA regulations were created for the handling, transporting, and construction of IMPs. 

More structural engineering research was conducted, this time into snow loads for metal roof panels. 

2000’s

After insulated metal panels took on stronger and better forms, more focus was placed on style. 

New aesthetic options became available, including multiple finishes, trims, and colors. Additional panel shapes also entered the market, such as bent corners, curved panels, and trimless ends. 

New roofing choices were offered. While in the past, metal panels could only be installed vertically, horizontal metal panels were developed for even more styling selections. 

Smooth surface solutions became an option for both interior and exterior facings, making it difficult to even tell that a building was made from metal panels. 

Even more research went into energy performance as well as seismic solutions for areas with frequent earthquakes. 

Halogen-Free Fire Protection

Halogenated Flame Retardants (HFRs) are hazardous to your health due to the release of bromine and chlorine into the air, which are considered Persistent Bioaccumulative Toxins (PBTs).

Yet, that was the standard fire protection applied to IMPs. 

Halogen-free fire protection is now on the market, offering a much safer alternative than the original option. 

Sound Absorbing IMPs

Although IMPs were one of the most efficient building materials on the market, some industries did not benefit fully from using these panels in their structures. 

Acoustics were important in buildings such as auditoriums, theatres, and concert halls. For IMPs to be an option in their construction, they needed to be adjusted to be more sound-absorbing. 

To meet this need, sound-absorbing panels were created to help reduce echo and noise reverberation. 

It was found that these panels were also very helpful in noise reduction. These were beneficial for industrial and mechanical structures, which can improve production due to decreased disruptive sounds. 

Medical facilities also found these panels fantastic for patient comfort and privacy. 

The Benefits of Using Insulated Metal Panels

Why are IMPs becoming such a popular building material for the commercial and industrial sectors? It’s because of the following advantages.

Energy Efficiency

The R-values (a measure of thermal resistance) of insulated metal panels are higher than many other building materials; the thicker the foam, the higher the R-value. 

IMPs can have an R-value between R-10 and R-48. The R-value is also changed depending on the type of insulation used. 

There is virtually no thermal bridging in a structure built with IMPs. The thermal performance with a building envelope that is fully sealed means there is no loss of temperature through the studs.

Learn more about another energy-efficient building material: insulated concrete forms.

Durability

Galvanized steel is one of the most durable building materials available in construction, and most IMP panels use this for the exterior sheet at a minimum, if not both the exterior and interior sheet.

IMPs that contain mineral wool as insulation are extremely fire-resistant and fire-rated for up to three hours.  

Depending on your choice of paneling and finishing of insulated wall panels, structures using these materials can last over 60 years.

Aesthetically Pleasing

Metal buildings are not usually known for their beauty. This may sway some people from considering IMPs for their commercial building, fearing it won’t be welcoming to their customers. 

However, insulated metal panels come in various facades that are aesthetically pleasing, such as striated, corrugated, or flat. With some choices, you can’t even tell that they are metal buildings. 

Structures built with IMPs combine the strength of steel with beauty.

Design Flexibility

Insulated metal panels need less structural support, allowing longer spans without beams or joists. This is especially helpful for structures that require a wide open area. 

Using insulated metal panels makes it easy to meet building codes and provides the benefit of sustainable design. You aren’t limited to the size and capabilities of the panels. Instead, IMP vendors will build panels to meet your structural plans.

Lightweight and Easy to Install

Single-component wall systems make installation simple. Panels can be made to order based on structural drawings, creating a complete building kit.

These panels provide thermal, vapor, weather, and air barriers, taking care of many of the extra steps needed with other materials. 

IMPs are created to fit together perfectly with a closed seam and connected by an easy-to-follow fastener system in the side joints that streamline installation.

Unlike some building materials that are sensitive to weather conditions, IMPs can be installed in the elements, ensuring faster construction. 

Low Maintenance

In some situations, benefits can quickly become less noticeable over time due to the constant upkeep or maintenance needed. With insulated metal panels, this is not the case. 

IMPs are easy to wash and can maintain their integrity under harsh chemical cleaning. You can patch, overlay, or replace damaged panels, although they rarely need repair due to their durability.  

Related: What’s the Best Type of Metal Building Insulation?

Are There Any Drawbacks to IMPs?

With all the pros listed above, you may wonder whether insulated metal panels are too good to be true. Although they are one of the best materials for commercial structures, nothing is flawless.

When building with IMPs, it’s important that you are aware of these three potential drawbacks.

Storage and Transportation Risks

Due to the sandwiched nature of IMPs, they require careful handling. 

These panels must be stored in a waterproof building. Any moisture that gets into the insulation can become problematic, and the metal can rust. 

Corrosion of the metal panels will reduce its R-value and durability. Store the panels at an angle so that any accumulated condensation will drain off with gravity. 

Improper Installation

IMPS must be properly installed to maintain their benefits.

First, if you drill into a panel, you’ll release metal shavings that aren’t rust-resistant. This can cause corrosion in the entire panel. Writing on the surface with a graphite pencil can also cause decay. Again, corrosion can come from placing IMPs directly onto concrete.

Additionally, panels must be installed at the exact alignment with no gaps around the seams or joints to prevent moisture from entering. 

Lead Times

It may take longer than expected to receive your required IMPs, especially if you have a special order or shaped panels. Plan accordingly to ensure you have plenty of time for delivery, or this may hold up construction. 

How Much Do IMPs Cost?

This can be a difficult question to answer, since prices change depending on the thickness, finishes, and choice of exterior and interior liner.

However, insulated metal panels typically cost between $20 to $30 per square foot. Specialty panels, such as sound-absorbing or curved, will cost more. 

Of course, you will save on labor since IMPs are easy to erect and come precut and prefinished.  Much of the extra initial expenses is offset by the energy savings in the years to come. 

Applications of Insulated Metal Panels

While IMPs are beneficial in just about any type of project, there are certain applications in which they really make a lot of sense, including:

Cold Storage

Their thermal properties make IMPs perfect for warehouses that keep products at cold temperatures. Like a styrofoam cooler, a structure built with IMPs will lock the cold air in the building. 

Agricultural Structures

Hydroponic or indoor farming buildings also need to maintain stable temperatures.

IMPs don’t only work for keeping the internal temperature cold, but steady as well. If you set your environment to a specific temperature, insulated metal panels will help to maintain that climate for much longer. 

Schools

Insulated metal panels are a popular building material for schools and universities because they are easy to keep clean, modern, and energy-efficient.

Retrofitting

Adaptive reuse is becoming increasingly common as sustainability grows more important and prime realty becomes more scarce. You can make older buildings more energy-efficient while keeping some of the original structure, often required for retrofitting projects. 

Modular Construction

IMPs are easily transported, installed quickly, and provide on-site assembly. All of these features make them a perfect building material for modular construction. 

Clean Rooms

Clean rooms require a more sophisticated construction to maintain the integrity of the sanitized environment. IMPs provide an airtight seal, ensuring no dirt, dust, or airborne particles enter the clean room.  And since IMPs are so easy to clean, they allow for fast and thorough maintenance. 


Recap

With any commercial project, weighing the pros and cons of using one material over the other is critical. 

The information in this article clearly explains the benefits and drawbacks of using IMPs for commercial construction to allow project owners to make a fully informed decision.

It’s imperative to consider insulated metal panels for your commercial project if they fall within the categories listed in the applications of IMPs. If you think your project would benefit from this building material, contact FMP Construction to get started. Our skilled expertise in building insulated metal panel structures will allow you to fully benefit from its unique features.

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