New building products are coming out almost every week. Some of them may become new standards, as sheetrock replaced lath and plaster some years ago. Others are little more than a gimmick. In this book, you'll find materials for almost all areas of constructing a house, from the ground up. For each product described, you'll learn where you can get it, where to use it, what benefits it provides, any disadvantages, and how to install it -- including tips from the author. And to help you price your jobs, each description ends with manhours – for both the first time you install it, and after you've done it a few times.
New building products are coming out almost every week. Some of them may become new standards, as sheetrock replaced lath and plaster some years ago. Others are little more than a gimmick.
To write this manual, the author researched hundreds of products that have come on the market in recent years. The ones he describes in this book will do the job better, creating a superior, longer-lasting finished product, and in many cases also save you time and money. Some are made with recycled products – a good selling point with many customers. But most of all, they give you choices, so you can give your customers choices.
In this book, you'll find materials for almost all areas of constructing a house, from the ground up. For each product described, you'll learn where you can get it, where to use it, what benefits it provides, any disadvantages, and how to install it -- including tips from the author. And to help you price your jobs, each description ends with manhours – for both the first time you install it, and after you've done it a few times.
|Author||Leon A. Frechette|
|Publisher||Craftsman Book Company|
|Dimensions||8-1/2 x 11|
Alternative Building Materials
As you drive down the road, what do you see as you look around your community? Do you see new buildings and homes going up, old structures being restored, and others coming down? Have you ever wondered what could be done to save some of these buildings from destruction? And what about new construction — have you noticed anything new or unusual about building procedures or the types of materials used?
Personally, I’m always interested in seeing what kind of construction is going on. After all, that’s my business. But at the same time I really hate to see structures torn down. It particularly bothers me when a builder’s high-quality workmanship is wiped out in the blink of an eye. I guess you’d call that progress — here today, gone tomorrow. But the other side of the coin is that an enormous volume of valuable resources — the materials manufactured and used for these structures (which still have plenty of life) — are destroyed, discarded, dumped into landfills or, as is the case in my area, sent to a waste-to-energy plant. Why are we so eager to wipe out and destroy our past? Is it really "progress" or is it that we simply haven’t taken the time to understand the dramatic impact such actions have on the quality of life in and around our communities?
There are alternatives to everything we do in life. The decisions we make today will affect someone tomorrow or even a few years down the road. That’s why it’s important to try to make choices that won’t have a negative impact in the future. Unfortunately, it isn’t always easy to make those choices. As a builder and/or remodeler, you need to ask yourself if what you’re choosing to do will improve rather than harm your community. You can make a difference!
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not preaching against progress. But I do firmly believe that the small stuff we take for granted often has the biggest impact on our lives. So if we can move a building to a new location and save it for someone else to use, that’s also a form of progress. If we can refurbish or rebuild it using conventional materials or some of the alternative materials that are mentioned in this book, that’s even better. That’s a kind of progress that’s not destructive. It doesn’t promote waste. If everyone throughout the world worked toward the goal of nondestructive progress, just think of the impact it would have on our quality of life! Think of the resources we could save!
Let’s talk about the alternative materials that I just mentioned. What does the word "alternative" mean to you? To me, in its simplest form, it means "choices." In the construction trade, that means choices between kinds of materials and work techniques. As a contractor or builder, you have a responsibility to make good, well-informed choices for your customer. If you’ve been doing things the same way your dad did, and his dad before him, then making new choices may come hard. But to be fair to yourself and others, you need to take the time to examine new products coming to the market. Be open to change, even though these products may require different or new methods of installation.
I bet you think I’m going to tell you to get up to speed to stay ahead of the competition. Normally, I would — but the fact is that your customers may beat me to it! Today’s customers do their homework and they’re smart shoppers. If you’re going to stay in the game, you need to be one step ahead of them! Do the research, find the products — it could make a difference on which contractor the customer selects for their project.
Be careful though. Alternative products are simply flooding the market, and manufacturers do such a great job of promoting their products that it’s easy to be misled. It takes a few years to weed out products that don’t have good market appeal or that don’t really have the stamina that they’re supposed to have. You need to do your homework.
That’s where I got the idea to write this book. My purpose is to provide you with information about the alternative products on the market. Unfortunately, I can’t cover all of them — there are just too many. But I’ve tried to cover the ones you’re most likely to use. Some of them I’ve used myself, others I haven’t. Some now have established performance records and others are still fairly new to the industry. I hope to give you a basic understanding of how to use and install these products so that you can make an informed decision about whether to consider one of them for your next project. It’s that simple!
If you’re interested in one of the newer products, you can contact the manufacturers or supply houses to get samples, documentation and references. Talk to other professionals who’ve installed the product, and, if possible, visit a job site or two and personally view the results. To be successful, you need to educate yourself about the latest building technology.
Why Use Alternative Materials?
Do you ever wonder what happens to the plastic milk containers and the white plastic bags (post-consumer waste) that you give to the recycler? Well, some of today’s construction products contain components made from recycled plastics, while others include sawdust from mills (post-industrial waste) and similar by-products of other industries throughout the country. Local mandatory recycling programs, recycling drives, recycling vendors and waste-to-energy plants all generate waste that can be reused in new materials and products. When you use alternative materials made from recycled waste products, you help the environment. Tell this to your customers.
Some products are manufactured using alternative methods rather than alternative materials. Alternative manufacturing methods often make use of materials that at one time would have been considered waste. Mill ends (2 ´ 4 studs made up of short 2 ´ 4s with glued finger joints) are an example of a product produced by alternative methods. Other products are made from blends or combinations of virgin materials and manufactured materials that increase the product’s life expectancy. These also help the environment. Products that last longer are less likely to need replacing, and so cost less in the long run. The result is a reduced need for new materials as well as fewer materials discarded into landfills.
Using alternative materials, or products that take advantage of alternative manufacturing methods, not only helps protect and restore our natural resources, but also creates employment, which is healthy for our economy. It can also make your business more profitable. As you can see, everyone benefits!
Can You Save Money or Time?
Do alternative materials and procedures save time and money? I’m not sure there’s an easy answer here. Most of the products I’ve worked with cost about the same as conventional materials — some a bit more. This may be because some of these products just haven’t been on the market that long.
For products made with recycled materials, it’s possible that a shortage of available recyclable materials may develop. This doesn’t mean there isn’t enough to be recycled, but not enough people are coming forward and doing their part to recycle. When demand for the product is high and natural resources diminish, then the price goes up. I suspect in this case it won’t be the demand that will drive product costs up, but a shortage of recyclable materials. My question is, how much of a demand can we put on recyclable resources before they dry up?
Generally, after a product has been on the market a few years, demand for it increases. Also, new facilities are built to produce the products from recycled materials, and manufacturers make production more efficient. Together, those factors begin to drive the cost down.
As for saving time, it’s just like any new product that comes to the market. There’s a learning curve; it takes time to understand the characteristics and the feel of the product. This means (in some cases) that it’ll take longer to install these products, at least for the first couple of jobs. You can probably reduce that labor time once you’ve had the opportunity to install the product a few times. I know when I first started using TREX decking (a product of TREX Company, LLC), it took me a while to get used to it, especially handling a board 16 feet long. Once I’d worked with it a few times and understood its characteristics, I was able to cut my labor time, in some cases by almost 50 percent. But don’t count on any alternative product necessarily saving you 50 percent on your labor. You may be able to save on the job costs for the overall project, but some savings may come from labor, others from less maintenance, while others come from fewer callbacks.
It’s probably too early to tell whether or not installing alternative products is cost effective, especially for products that haven’t been on the market that long. Only you can make that decision on your jobs. The records you maintain could provide valuable information for the manufacturer and also serve as a selling tool for potential customers. Not only that, it will help you to understand the products better and to evaluate whether you’re really helping the environment and saving money with the new materials. Set your own track record when it comes to these products!
Do They Meet Building Codes?
Do alternative materials meet building codes? Most of them do — but not necessarily! What does that mean? Not all new products have the track record required for acceptance by building code departments, and some products are accepted by building departments in some areas and not in others. That’s why it’s important when researching alternative products to request information from the manufacturer on the product’s physical and mechanical properties. They should have a report on product testing by an independent, nationally recognized, certified testing corporation. In some cases, this documentation will be enough to get the product accepted.
Better yet, check to see if the product has been evaluated and listed with the National Evaluation Service, Inc. (NES). If so, they’ll have an evaluation report that you could provide as evidence of code compliance to your local building department. Don’t assume that the building department in your area knows of the product you plan to use. When you approach them, it may actually be the first they’ve heard of this product. If this is the case, the flags will go up immediately. Be prepared to show some type of documentation or an evaluation report on the product. The National Evaluation Service Secretariat is located at:
National Evaluation Service, Inc.
900 Montclair Road, Suite A
Birmingham, AL 35213-1206
www.nateval.org (Web site)
Local building departments follow their own adopted codes or one of the three widely-accepted model building codes:
National Building Code
Building Officials & Code Administrators
4051 West Flossmoor Road
Country Club Hills, IL 60478-5795
Uniform Building Code
International Conference of Building
5360 Workman Mill Road
Whittier, CA 90601
Standard Building Code
Southern Building Code Congress
900 Montclair Road
Birmingham, AL 35213
Each of these organizations supports an evaluation service. If the manufacturer plans to market the product on a national level, they’ll submit the product to NES. But if they plan to market only in their own geographic area, they may go to their model code evaluation service to have the product evaluated at a certified testing laboratory and quality agency.
The evaluation reports are available to the member building department jurisdictions and other users. Some organizations may charge for this report, but others will send it to you automatically through a subscription service. If you want to use a product in an area that’s not under the model code where the evaluation took place, get an evaluation report for the building official in your area. Of course, it doesn’t guarantee the product will be accepted, but it may meet local codes.
Here are the numbers for the evaluation services of the three model code agencies:
BOCA Evaluation Services, Inc.
www.boca-es.com/~boca-es (Web site)
ICBO Evaluation Service, Inc.
http://www.icbo.org (Web site)
SBCCI Public Safety Testing &
You’ll get along better with inspectors if they know beforehand what you plan to do. In other words, don’t pull any surprises on the inspector in the field. Get your materials or method of construction approved before you start work. The building department staff knows that new products hit the market every day. They do have some latitude and can help you both comply with the codes and satisfy your customer. It’s in your best interests to keep an open mind, work with the departments involved, be willing to compromise, and encourage your customer to do the same.
Here’s the bottom line. Work with the building department. And, of course, know the products you want to use. Do your homework and get the proper documentation supplied by the manufacturer or the evaluation report supplied by the model code agency’s evaluation service.
Will Your Customer Benefit from These Products?
Can alternative materials be beneficial to your customers? Of course! Anything you do that makes your customers feel more comfortable within their environment provides a benefit. But it’s important to find out what your customer needs, then use the right products to fit those needs. You could inadvertently select a product that causes health problems for the customer. Certain paints, carpets, caulks, and adhesives contain chemicals that could affect asthmatics or people with certain allergies. It’s your responsibility to ask your customer and check with the manufacturer on any new products you’re considering.
In other words, work with your customer and know the products you want to install. Remember, you walk away from the completed project. Your customer, on the other hand, has to live within the environment you create. Walking away isn’t an option for them.
Selling Alternative Materials
When selling alternative materials and construction techniques, you need to know your customers as well as the products. It could make the difference in whether or not you close a sale. So, what types of customers do you work for? Looking back on my own customers (and I assume they’re pretty typical), I’ve outlined the most common types of customers you’ll be dealing with on a regular basis:
Perhaps you could add a few additional types to this list. If so, then you’re on the right track to really knowing your customers. It may seem trivial, but this knowledge can really help as you prepare your bids. You can select just the right product at just the right price. It really could make a difference whether or not you get the job!
What about salvaged materials? Earlier I mentioned all the old buildings that are being torn down. While many are salvaged for their materials, others are simply dismantled and hauled off to the dump. Why not salvage all that can be salvaged and reused, and then — and only then — discard what has to be discarded? Reusing building materials is actually very cost-effective and requires far less energy than recycling.
When Expo 74 came to Spokane, all kinds of buildings were constructed to house the exhibits. When it closed, the city recycled those buildings and their contents. A subcontractor friend of mine bought the hardwood flooring from one of the buildings and I helped him install it in his rec room. He now has flooring that was once part of a major historical event. People from all over the country — all over the world — walked on that very floor! Reusing materials like that creates a history for the home and makes living in it a more unique experience.
It can be the same for you and your customers. Just think of using beams that may have once been in a ship, an early industrial building, or even an 18th or 19th century warehouse. In many cases suppliers can actually provide documentation to go along with these historical products. Customers get excited about building with items that belonged to a different era. They’re conversation pieces that add interest to their home, and you know how your customers like to show off their castles.
There are a few salvage companies in Seattle with huge warehouses filled with furniture, building components and materials. When I walked through the doors of one, I swore I had stepped back in time. You wouldn’t believe the things they had on display! What especially caught my eye was a beautiful oak staircase, fully intact, including balusters and handrails, that had been salvaged from a turn-of-the-century mansion. It was absolutely stunning! The asking price plus shipping was less than it would cost to recreate and install such beautiful workmanship, even if you could find someone who could do it. As a matter of fact, it would probably be difficult (if not impossible) to duplicate it today at any cost. This piece, with its class and heritage, warranted installation in a very special home. Don’t you agree?
My point is that if you can use salvaged materials, you’re recycling not only material, but history as well. And installing an existing component rather than using virgin materials is a choice to use alternative methods of construction. Other materials you might want to consider recycling are bricks, fixtures, hardware, and metal and tile roofing. Speaking of roofing, you should have seen the brass and copper weathervanes on display at that salvage company!
Looking into the Future
As you can see, whether you use new materials made from recycled materials, new but longer-lasting products, or salvaged materials, you’re still helping to conserve natural resources and the environment.
Are alternative materials right for every facet of every job? Not always. You’ll want to carefully compare their costs against traditional construction materials and techniques. The consensus seems to be that alternative methods and materials may have higher initial costs than virgin wood products, but may offer other desirable advantages well worth considering. These include increased thermal efficiency, fire resistance, or durability.
Of course, some products could be more cost-competitive if their structural properties were fully used. Engineered wood products (EWP) are a good example of this. Better use of the longer spans now offered by some EWP manufacturers could eliminate the need for intermediate framing supports, and their related costs. Continuing lumber price increases and reduced availability of raw materials will eventually make alternative methods and materials more cost-competitive. However, this process will take time.
Where do you go from here? You only have to turn the page to begin . . .
Build Smarter with Alternative Materials
This book is for construction professionals who want a clear understanding of alternative materials and how using them can enhance their projects – both residential and commercial. It covers the materials - including their strengths and any limitations – as well as installation tips and manhour estimates.
Here you'll find the true facts, not the hype, about a variety of alternative materials. These are quality components that can help you deliver a better overall product – something your customers will enjoy and benefit from long after you leave their projects!
All the products covered here have been used or well-researched by the author and represent a cross section of available products. Build Smarter with Alternative Materials covers materials used in each phase of a project in order – from the foundation to the ridge peak:
And it doesn't stop there. Build Smarter with Alternative Materials lists the manufacturers that make the products and associations that research them. You get the phone numbers, and mailing, e-mail, and Web site addresses so you can connect with the companies, obtain samples, or ask questions about a product or its installation.
Every builder needs a niche – an opportunity to land good jobs without having to underbid every other builder in town. This reference is full of new, exciting materials that you can offer to your customers with confidence. You may be the only builder in your area that knows about them. And this book is your key to that knowledge.
Leon A. Frechette received his license as a general contractor at age 22, and has over 20 years' experience in construction, remodeling, and related fields. As a business owner, he has hands-on experience in both residential and light commercial projects, including designing, bidding, and managing the job. He serves as an expert witness in litigation, and created The Contractor's Helping Hands™ Packet, a series of business forms that help construction managers organize their jobs and communicate with the customer about actual job costs. This is Mr. Frechette's sixth book, and he continues to work on other book projects, columns, and feature articles. He welcomes input from his readers through his Web site at www.asktooltalk.com