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Five: SIP Panel Building

Spider Lake Crash Pad Series 1

As I began to write this, it was almost exactly one year to the day that The Crash Pad was erected.  October 11-14, 2022 was build week.  After laying all of the ground work (literally), we departed Minneapolis in the afternoon of October 10, 2022, arriving at ROAM as the sun set, and stopping over at the construction site in darkness before our ‘cabin’ delivered the next day.

Reflecting on this milestone week now, there are very mixed feelings.  We remember the excitement of seeing the SIP panels arrive after so much planning, but we also remember the dread we were feeling by the end of the week as snow started to unexpectedly fall.  But before we get to the ‘end’, let’s start at the beginning.

SIP Design Phase

Once we decided to move forward with a SIP (Structural Insulated Panel) build in the architectural design phase (see Three:  Why An Architect?), the final design and engineering was completed by our architect, Extreme Panel ~ the SIP manufacturer, and the structural engineer.

Extreme Panel was suggested to us by our architect (Steven of Loon Architects) who knew the owner of the company, Josh.  Extreme Panel is based out of Cottonwood, Minnesota, located west of Minneapolis and about a 5-6 hour drive to the Crash Pad site.  Steven and Josh were able to have multiple conversations about our project before a structural engineer was brought into the final phase.

Structural Engineer

A structural engineer signs off on all the structural elements of the building before the panels are constructed and the building goes up.  This is a pretty crucial step so that your cabin does not become a house of cards.  And even more comforting to have had done when it turned out to be one of the snowiest winters on record after it was erected. 

For some reason it was ‘optional/advised’ to have a structural engineer involved on our project.  Although normal, we do not know why this wasn’t an inherent part of the architectural design phase.  Our advice:  ask your architect during the design phase if they have a structural engineer lined up for your project, even if it is a SIP Build.  It is crucial to have the structural engineer’s review and drawing set before anything is constructed or built.  

At this phase, there was a three-way conversation that took place between the Architect, Extreme Panel, and the Structural Engineer.  Once everyone was in agreement, it was our architect who signed off on the ‘Red Line’ drawings which would then be used for the SIP Panel build and subsequent construction of the panels at our job site.

But before we could even get to this phase, there was the final nail-biting phase before the panels could be manufactured of finding a structural engineer during the Summer of 2022.  Our architect’s ‘usual guy’ had what we all felt was a pandemic price increase compared to previous projects they had worked together on, so our architect set about trying to find someone else within our budget.  Not an easy task during pandemic times.

It is important to note that although it was Summer and the build seemed months away, we had very tight timing in this phase of the project.  We had to have final approved structural engineering drawings for Extreme Panel, and make our payment to Extreme, long before we wanted the panels at the job site in order to get in their build queue.  Every day that went by that our architect could not find a structural engineer, our build date would move back, and at a certain point it would not be possible for the stars to align before winter.  The cabin dream would be over before it really began.

And at this phase, we foolishly thought we would be able to use the cabin over the winter.  Oh goodness…  What we didn’t know.  

Back to the search…  Email to Steven on July 20, 2022:

Hi Steven,

Nice talking with you yesterday and I am glad you have had a few nibbles from Structural Engineers.  We hope you get a full on bite ASAP!

Just to let you know, on our walk this morning Kurt said he is about ready to pull the plug on this year on Friday because of the challenge with finding a Structural Engineer.  That is sounding like his deadline if that helps in your discussions.

Good luck rounding someone up!!!




I remember exactly the day Steven called me saying he had found a structural engineer for the Crash Pad.  July 21, 2022 around 10 am.  I had met a friend for coffee when my phone rang.  I dashed over to my car and sat in the car having THE conversation with Steven that this project was going to be a ‘go’ ~ he had finally found a structural engineer!  Friday, July 22, 2022 email to Steven:

Thanks for all your work this week, we had literally 90% given up for the year and it seems we might be ready to rock and roll (fingers crossed).

This was what Kurt had come to call, another ‘cabin miracle’.  There have been so many moments along the way where this build could have been a non-starter, but through whatever forces - every time we thought we might run out of our ‘luck’, another miracle moment would happen propelling us further along on the Crash Pad journey.

If you have never worked with a structural engineer before, they are the ones that are sure that the architect has put enough structure into the building so it does not fall down.  For the Crash Pad, this was adding footings in the cement foundation for the load bearing walls to rest on, understanding and ensuring load disbursement was correct, ensuring load bearing walls were correctly engineered and in the right places, ensuring structural beams were correctly placed, and reviewing the SIP ‘red line’ drawings with Steven and Extreme Panel, and ensuring that the panels were constructed in a structurally sound way. 

In mid-August 2022 our cement slab was going to be poured, so our structural engineer was vital in that process so that we had drawings of where the structural footings needed to be poured.  We also needed approved foundation drawings to pass on to the concrete company.  The foundation is vital to have done correctly.  We’ve had some nerve wracking moments with that, but so far we believe all is well.  Another story for another day.

SIP Builder

When you act as your own general contractor, there are many concurrent deadlines happening, one of which in regard to this story is finding a SIP Panel Builder.  It is important to note that there is a difference between a ‘builder’ and a SIP Panel Builder.  People will ask ‘who is your builder’, it is not the SIP builder, they don’t do all the work a ‘builder’ does.  Essentially after the SIP build, we were the ‘builder’.  Anyhoo..

Well before we were finalizing the drawings with the architect and the structural engineer, we were working hard to secure a SIP Panel builder.  Extreme Panel has a network of people who only build SIP Panel buildings.  Steven had passed on two names to us in March of 2022, and only one of the people called us back, Ryan.  By May of 2022 we were already firming up with Ryan that he would work on our project and we stayed in close contact with him right up until that ‘green light’ moment when we had a structural engineer in July.  Finding Ryan was another ‘Cabin Miracle’.  Ryan had a full schedule, but he liked our project (many people have told us that) and agreed to work with us.  If Ryan had not been interested, this would have been another moment where the build did not happen.  

It was also during this time that we were completing the window order and hearing the words ‘backorder’ now and again.  Ryan, who does not regularly install windows and doors, agreed to install ours.  It was vital that we had the window and door delivery during a specific day during the SIP build week.  We had to coordinate closely with Ryan and our window supplier when to have the windows and doors delivered to work with his schedule right up until the week of the build.

The schedule of the build depended on both Ryan’s schedule, and Extreme’s Schedule.  Already in May Extreme was booked out until September, so we needed to sign contracts quickly to make sure our project stayed on track before Winter set in.

On July 22, the exact same time we were working hard to firm up the structural engineer, we signed a contract with Ryan to build our cabin.  It was also on July 22 that we signed our contract with Extreme Panel and wired them the money to get us on the schedule.  From that moment on everything was moving forward, and moving quickly!

We had so many questions for the build.

  • Does Ryan have insurance?  Yes.

  • Do we need insurance?  Yes, you should have insurance.

  • How do we get insurance on a build?  It is really hard!  I was initially working with the insurance company for my small business, but it was going nowhere.  Finally we found someone in Hayward after Mo from ROAM once again gave us good advice.  We connected with State Farm in late September 2022 and had the right insurance in place by early October 2022.  They have been great to work with.

  • Do we need to rent a container to store things in?  Our SIP builder did not need one, and he did not want any extra things on the property because he had limited room to move around and put the equipment and panels.  Additionally, he had his own trailer.  

  • Do we need a dumpster?  Again, no room for it during the build, but we would recommend having a dumpster onsite immediately after the build, we were not able to do this part until 2023 and had to live with a lot of piles that made good homes for mice.

  • Should we rent a port-a-potty?  Everyone said no, but we suggest you do it throughout the construction.  Even if like us your project is in the middle of the woods. We rented one.

Between the panel delivery timeline and Ryan’s availability, we set a schedule for the second week of October, 2022.  And that brings us to build week…

Build Week

A few days prior to the build, Ryan had the Terex crane delivered to the site.  This is the key piece of equipment his team used to move around and install the SIP panels.  [Side note:  one of the many emotional challenges about a build is you have the land graded by your excavator before any work starts, and then big equipment like the Terex, and cement trucks, and well digging equipment, and the list goes on and on and on… are onsite for the build and pretty much destroys the grading.  You have to have your excavator come back and do a final grade; which thankfully was finally done in late 2023].

On the afternoon of October 10, 2022 we packed up the Jeep, hooked up the Silverhytten (our Airstream Basecamp), and drove off into what was truly the unknown.  We were excited, nervous, and everything in between.  The schedule was for the SIP Panel build to be completed by the end of the week.  But first the panels needed to arrive.

Extreme Panel schedules the delivery of the panel with a third party trucking company.  When we got the confirmation on October 10 that the truck was coming on Tuesday October 11, 2022 it was game on.  We confirmed our schedule with Ryan and would all meet on site Tuesday morning.

Early Tuesday morning the trucker with our panels called while we were getting ready for the day back at the campground.  He wasn’t sure he was in the right place, and he wasn’t.  Unfortunately Google Maps didn’t quite understand where our property was and this huge loaded truck was about a mile too far down the narrow gravel road.  We drove over to meet him and after discussing that he needed to turn around he pulled off amazing maneuver #1 - turning that huge truck around at a Y intersection down the gravel road!  Once he was turned around, he followed us back to our property.  

At The Crash Pad we have an even more narrow driveway than the road he just turned around on, and the plan needed to be for the driver to back that huge loaded truck down our driveway!  When your entire cabin is on a truck backing down a driveway, we can attest - it is nerve wracking.  Too far to the left and the truck started looking like it was going to tip.  Too far another way and the truck might hit some trees and ruin your panels/cabin.  Eeks.  But damn this driver was GOOD at what he does, he backed that thing down our driveway and got it to exactly where it needed to be.

At this point the SIP crew moved into high gear unloading the truck and sorting out the panels and started prepping for the build.  This was THE moment!  We went back and forth to the campground checking up on the progress on a gorgeous Autumn day (in the 70F temps!). Leaves were falling, the Crash Pad was going up ~ this was really happening!

Windows and Doors

Window and door installation is not usually part of the work Ryan does, but he agreed to install ours at the end of the build.  

We were concerned before the build about being able to coordinate the delivery and if we would need to have a container on-site for storage.  But Ryan didn’t want a container on-site due to space issues.  Luckily the window supplier was able to coordinate a delivery for us during the build that worked with Ryan’s schedule.

Windows were another thing Kurt and I had to rely on our architect for ~ where the heck does one get windows and doors?  Also, windows and doors are something you need to have planned well in advance.  Backorders were common during the time we were building and our delivery date did get pushed back.  If we had been unable to have the windows and doors delivered during the SIP build, it would have been challenging to get the SIP crew to come back and do that work.  Luckily we were able to get the delivery scheduled on the day the SIP crew was ready.  Except the front door, which we had to go pick up.  Driving with glass is terrifying, you don’t want to do it.  Trust us.

What we didn’t know when we had our architect connect us with someone to do our windows, was that we could have worked with Cable Lumber.  Which became, and remains, our go to for many things during the build and is much closer to the Crash Pad.  Instead, we used our architect’s connection from another project up in Ashland, WI.  It all went well, but if we had known about Cable Lumber in the planning stages, we would have worked with them and they would have been much closer for deliveries and any needed pickups.

We used all Anderson Windows and doors specified by our architect and so far have been very happy with them.  We only have had two issues and Anderson has been great working with us.  We found out during the install that the window by the front door was not executed properly and a new one was ordered without hesitation, or expense to us.  The front door has never closed properly, so over the summer this year Anderson sent out ‘their guy’.  He could tell us what was wrong, but was sadly not the one to fix the issue (it was not installed properly and is not level in multiple places).

Final Day(s) of the Build

Unfortunately our beautiful build week weather declined by the end of the week and it snowed.  The decision was made to stop all work on what would have been the final day (Friday, October 14) and resume work the following week pending weather.  On Thursday, October 13, 2023 in the darkness of night the SIP crew tried to wrap up getting the skylights in and getting the weather wrap on the roof.  And then we all drove home in the dark.  We had hoped to resume Monday, but…

Monday, October 17, 2022 6:07 AM:

We’re going to postpone until tomorrow due to road conditions and high winds today. ~ Ryan

On October 18, 2022 we were all back at the job site.  The SIP crew finished up in the morning, and Kurt and I took over on the next project that needed to be completed before winter.  The final days felt a bit like the beginning of the biggest stress of our lives that lasted pretty much until early Summer of 2023. 

And this is where we will leave it until the next story, which we call ‘The Time of Despair’.


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Cabin Stories
These are our stories about building our cabin in Northern Wisconsin.