As lumber prices remain higher than normal, builders may be eyeing alternatives to wood and different construction methods to help mitigate the impact material costs and supply-chain disruptions are having on their businesses. Members and partners of NAHB’s Building Systems Councils have recently been spotlighted for their impact and innovations in the home-building industry, including updates to modular construction processes and resilient building materials, which could provide potential solutions.
“Whether it’s manufacturing with precision-cut lumber alternatives more efficiently in a factory setting or lumber alternatives like structural insulated panels [SIPs], prefabricated concrete walls or log home packages, systems-built construction can help home builders mitigate supply shortages,” stated Brian J. Sielaff, P.E., P.Eng, 2021 Building Systems Councils chairman and CEO of Tamarack Grove Engineering, a structural engineering firm in Bosie, Idaho.
Modular construction has been highlighted for its potential to combat housing affordability, in part because of the speed and efficiency it offers — which are also pros when dealing with supply-chain challenges. MiTek recently made headlines for its efforts to further streamline modular construction by providing the parts, instead of full modules, for general contractors to assemble on site and automating its manufacturing process, comparable to car assembly line. The company will launch a new modular venture next year, with a focus on hotels and apartment buildings — including a partnership with an architectural firm that aims to build the world's tallest modular hotel.
Resiliency is also beneficial in combating lumber needs by creating longer-lasting materials — especially when the product in question doesn't include lumber at all. RSG 3-D’s panels — comprising foam insulation, a steel grid and concrete covering — were utilized in a northern California home that was able to withstand a devastating wildfire, prompting the question why the majority of homes are still made of wood. Time pointed to NAHB statistics regarding not only the number of homes constructed with wood, but the financial impact that the lumber crisis has had on the cost of single-family homes as potential reasons to revisit building with different materials for today's homes.
“It’s important to look at total costs,” shared John Barrows, owner of P3 Group in Bridgehampton, N.Y., during a recent NAHB webinar exploring lumber alternatives — specifically SIPs. “As codes are becoming more stringent … conventional construction costs are being driven higher and higher by some of the things that we have to do. And by using a system such as SIPs, you're able to accomplish that in a much more cost-effective manner to achieve the same outcomes.”
“I found on the last eight projects that building a SIP house is 2% to 3% less in direct costs over the whole project than a conventional system with insulation and air sealing to the same level,” he added.
As lumber prices remain volatile, builders may want to explore similar alternative methods and materials for their own business. To help builders continue to navigate the impact of increased lumber prices and supply-chain challenges, NAHB is offering a number of webinars to members and industry professionals. To view the current schedule, as well as replays of previous webinars, visit nahb.org/supplychain.