Jose Noe Martinez won the 2016 Fastest Trowel on the Block Contest at this year’s World of Concrete.  The contest pitted journemen masons and their tenders against one another to see who could build the best 30 foot-long 8″ CMU wall in twenty minutes.  Contestants were judged on both the number of block they laid and the quality of their walls, including plumb, level, and joint consistency and size.  Mr. Martinez took home an $8,000 check for his twenty minutes work.  This was the first time he had competed in the Fastest Trowel contest.

The Fastest Trowel on the Block Contest is part of the Bricklayer 500 event sponsored by SpecMix.  Mortar Net Solutions was a proud Gold Level Sponsor of this event.

WUFI sounds like a Star Wars character, but it’s actually an extremely useful software suite that calculates simultaneous heat and moisture transport in multi-layer building components.  It can account for literally hundreds of variables, from insulation size and type to window and door sizes and types to siding to typical weather conditions for the building site.  According to the WUFI website,,  “WUFI® is a family of software products that allows realistic calculation of the transient coupled one- and two dimensional heat and moisture transport in walls and other multi-layer building components exposed to natural weather. WUFI® is an acronym for Wärme Und Feuchte Instationär—which, translated, means heat and moisture transiency. The thermal and moisture conditions and transport in buildings and building components are coupled. It is well known that high moisture levels result in higher heat losses, and the temperature conditions in building components influence the moisture transport. Analysis of the coupling of heat and moisture is known as ‘hygrothermics.’”

The older method for assessing moisture performance in a building is the Glaser method.  To greatly simplify how it works, the Glaser method looks at static hygrothermic performance of each individual building component in an ideal situtuation, but it can’t look at how components effect each other’s performance, and it can’t simulate the effects of a specific climate in a specific location over time.  WUFI can.  WUFI rates a range of performance of the entire building in a specific location over a specific time period, so somebody building two identical office buildings, one in Denver and the other in Cleveland, will get different WUFI analysis results.  With the Glaser method, they would get the same results.

Given the number of variables WUFI can handle, it is, as you might expect, a very complex program and can take considerable time to master completely.  However, there are free “lite” versions available at that can help designers get started using WUFI.  May the force be with you.

According to the below article, second tier cities like Indianapolis, Kansas City, Denver, Portland, Austin, and other cities in the 1-5 million population range will be where the growth and therefore building demand will be during the next 5 years. Distributors and good contractors in these types of cities will be the hottest prospects for new products and for upgrading stock of lines they already carry.  Building growth should also compound as more skilled workers become available during the next 2-5 years in response to high demand.

As an anecdotal confirmation of this trend, I have a niece who works at Ebay in Silicon Valley.  She pays $3200/month for a studio apartment in San Francisco and commutes on a company bus 75 minutes each way to her job.  She is young and single and just building her career.  Anyone over 30 with a family and saleable skills will be looking for alternatives to this kind of expensive and energy-depleting lifestyle, and technology that allows telecommuting plus employers’ willingness to hire telecommuters in exchange for high quality workers will support second tier city growth.  The article is about home building, but hospitals, schools, government buildings, office buildings, big box stores and other commercial projects always grow around population growth areas.


Fast Company staffer Stephanie Kasriel writes about the four ways that our economy will change in coming years. One of them has big implications for home builders, who are always considering where to build their next project.

The 20th century saw big, cosmopolitan cities boom. The best jobs and top talent were concentrated in a few “first-tier” urban centers like San Francisco, New York, London, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Paris. If you wanted a job, you had to move to one of those places.

That’s already changing. The major urban hubs have largely exhausted their stores of opportunity. The cost of living is now outpacing salaries in many of those places. In Los Angeles,  rents are rising twice as fast as inflation ; in San Francisco earlier this year, rents grew a massive 15% . As a result, residents’ purchasing power is shrinking.  Kasriel posits that in the next five years, more Americans will live in smaller cities while telecommuting to jobs based in large urban centers.

Gilbane, a national construction and real estate development company, said in its Summer 2015 Construction Economics Report, 2015 will see record-breaking spending growth for some sectors of non-residential construction.  Spending on manufacturing buildings was up 50% in 2015 over last year to $86.4 billion, an unprecedented year-over-year growth increase.

Other growth areas include education buildings, which grew 7.1% over 2014, the sector’s first substantial increase since 2008.  It is expected to grow 6% in 2016.  Total spending for healthcare was up 7% over last year and is expected to rise 6% in 2016.  Commercial/retail buildings are predicted to jump 8.8% this year over last, and office building spending in 2015 is on track to grow by an impressive 21.2%.

Gilbane is cautioning that productivity will probably be limited by the ongoing industry labor shortage.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics Job Openings and Labor Turnover survey has been over 100,000 for 26 of the last 28 months through June, 2015, and has been trending up since 2012.

According to Brian Libby writing in Architect Magazine, increasingly stringent energy codes and an industry-wide push for greener materials are motivating insulation manufacturers and building scientists to rethink insulation’s role in the wall system. Sales of the material across the residential and commercial supply chains are forecast to rise 6.6 percent annually through 2019 to roughly $10.3 billion in 2019, reports Cleveland-based market research firm The Freedonia Group.  Mr. Libby says three factors are poised to change how insulation is made, sold, and installed.

Stricter Energy Codes

The 2012 and 2015 versions of the International Energy Conservation Code include climate zone–specific requirements for insulating and sealing commercial and residential buildings. Though these two versions are largely identical, they depart significantly from the 2009 code with regards to wall-cavity insulation. For metal- or wood-framed walls, projects must now achieve a minimal thermal resistance of R-13 in the cavity and have a continuous exterior insulation layer with a minimum R-value of 3.8 in the warmest climate zones to 17.5 in the coldest, says Ryan Meres, a senior code-compliance specialist at the Institute for Market Transformation, a Washington, D.C.–based nonprofit. Alternatively, wood-framed projects can opt to have just an R-20 cavity.

“Cavity insulation insulates between the framing members, but continuous insulation insulates over [them], preventing thermal bridging through the much lower R-value framing material,” Meres explains. While fiberglass batts, cellulose, and spray foams are common for the cavity, rigid foam board is typically used for the continuous portion, a pairing that has architects and engineers reworking the math on their approach to wall systems.  “We want these continuous insulations, but in their use we’re violating the rules we were taught,” says Lucas Hamilton, a building-science applications manager at Malvern, Pa.–based building-products manufacturer CertainTeed. Adding continuous insulation to the outside of the wall cavity changes how air and water move through it, potentially trapping moisture in the wall and requiring versatile air and vapor barriers to keep the cavity dry as temperature and humidity change year-round.

The change is also requiring new kinds of product testing. Typically air and water barriers are combustible, as is continuous insulation, which lately is specified often as plastic foam, says Herbert Slone, manager of commercial building systems at Toledo, Ohio–based building-products maker Owens Corning. As a result, he continues, “you have this dichotomy where the code says these types [of installations] need non-combustible walls but the energy code says to wrap those in materials that are combustible.” One result is the National Fire Protection Association’s Standard 285, which now tests new combustible materials for use in typically non-combustible wall applications.

Better Materials

Insulation’s ingredients are also becoming more efficient. Spray-foam makers, such as Canadian manufacturer Icynene, are adding low-VOC insulation to their lineups to cut re-occupancy times down to a few hours following installation. The addition of compatible through-wall flashing and sealant details to create water-resistive barriers are allowing spray foam to be used as continuous insulation, says Paul Duffy, vice president of engineering for the company. According to Freedonia, fiberglass has long led the industry as the prominent insulation type, with foamed plastic (both spray and rigid) not too far behind it. Foamed plastic is expected to overtake fiberglass within a decade as some of the largest-volume producers in the category—Owens Corning, Dow, and Johns Manville among them—report roughly equal sales of the two materials, the research firm found.

Other improvements include the addition of graphite to plastic-foam mixes, which multinational chemical producer BASFfound can cut heat transfer by up to roughly 20 percent. Mineral wool, made from various types of slag or stone, is projected to double in production over the next decade in part due to its ability to insulate in hot and cold temperatures, Freedonia reports, as well as its sound-abatement and fire-prevention qualities, says Michael Bennetti, who manages commercial sales at Canada-based mineral-wool insulation manufacturer Roxul.

More insulation products made with plant-based materials like waste wood, cork, and kenaf (a cousin of hemp) are on the horizon, reports Freedonia as well as a July report in the journal Sustainable Materials and Technologies. The latter recommends that these alternatives be explored particularly in developing countries with large volumes of agricultural and industrial by-products.

Systems Thinking

Manufacturers are also helping project teams understand the complexities of the new wall-system requirements by packaging insulation, cladding, and weather barriers into wall assemblies that can be specified like one product. Owens Corning’s CavityComplete, BASF’s a  HP+, and Dow’s Thermax wall systems, for example, integrate multiple products and can be customized to meet a specific R-value.

“You’d never buy a car by ordering your brakes from Ford and your chassis from General Motors,” Hamilton says, “yet we do that with houses [and other buildings] all the time and expect them to work. If you can work out the wall system in advance and provide that packaged performance, that’s a goal we see everyone shooting for.”


Brian Libby is a Portland, Ore.–based journalist covering architecture and design.

A relatively new Graphite Polystyrene (GPS) rigid insulation is now available from a number of manufacturers. The graphite allows the insulation to be thinner while exhibiting comparable R-value to thicker expanded polystyrene (EPS) boards, and it enhances the material’s R-value as temperatures decrease so it retains more of its R-value in colder temperatures.

Depending on the insulation thickness and density, GPS has a permeability rating ranging from 2.5 to 5.5, which allows for movement of water vapor out of the wall assembly. It also dries quickly and has minimal long-term moisture retention. These two attributes make GPS insulation well-suited for high-moisture environments.

Thanks to Walls and Ceilings Magazine.  Click below to read the full article.

Mortar Net’s new 0.4″ WallDefender mortar dropping collection device  has been featured in Contractor’s Supply Magazine and Masonry Construction Magazine.  To read the articles, click the links below.

0.4″ WallDefender is ideal for the smaller cavities common in residential and light commercial masonry cavity walls.  It joins 1″ and 2″ WallDefender as the most economical mortar dropping collection devices on the market.  If you’re building a cavity wall and want to get the best possible price on a mortar dropping collector, always ask your distributor for pricing on WallDefender.

Contractors Supply Magazine

Masonry Construction Magazine


Stephen Sumple to Represent Mortar Net Solutions in New England.

BURNS HARBOR, IN and Southbury, CT — (July 20, 2015) Stephen Sumple and Mortar Net Solutions, Inc. are pleased to announce that, effective immediately, Mr. Sumple will represent Mortar Net in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

Mortar Net is the leader in developing and providing moisture management solutions for masonry construction.  During its over 23 year history, Mortar Net has introduced multiple innovations to improve the sustainability and performance of masonry structures.  Among the products introduced are:  MortarNet, a breakthrough in mortar collection devices; WallDefender, the lowest cost mortar collection device; BlockFlash, the most effective moisture control solution for single wythe concrete masonry unit structures; and TotalFlash, the first integrated flashing and drainage solution for cavity wall masonry construction.  The company’s most recent innovation is LathNet, the first product to combine metal lath and a mesh drainage plane in one integrated, factory-assembled system for use with adhered masonry veneer, including manufactured stone and stucco.

“Mortar Net is pleased to add its name to a growing list of masonry products represented by Stephen Sumple,” said Mortar Net’s president, Gary R. Johnson.  He continued, “The technical expertise, industry knowledge, and focus on total solutions for wall systems that Stephen brings fit well with Mortar Net’s approach.  We are confident he will bring excellent service and support to the design professionals who specify, to the masons who install, and to our partners who distribute our products.”

Mr. Sumple commented, “I am very pleased to add the Mortar Net line to my offering of masonry products.  They are an important, well established supplier of moisture control products with a strong record of quality, service and innovation.  Their products, reputation and approach will increase my ability to serve our customers.  I have been in masonry sales since 1999 and see a strong need for Mortar Net products in this area and I’m enthusiastic about starting this relationship with Mortar Net.”

Stephen Sumple is an independent sales representative with solid construction and construction material knowledge, and with an extensive background in the masonry supplies industry.  He also represents one of the nation’s leading cast stone manufacturers.  He prides himself on the relationships and trust he has built over the past 15 years to create value for vendors and customers.  Steve will continue to educate customers about the newest product innovations while consistently offering outstanding customer service.  He works directly with architects and contractors to develop their product specifications and has solid distributor experience.

For more information about Mortar Net Solutions and Stephen Sumple, please visit

According to ENR Midwest, multi-family housing starts are increasing throughout the Midwest thanks to Millenials’ reluctance to commit to home ownership and other major project types are under way as well, but the state of Illinois and the city of Chicago are still struggling.   ENR Midwest says:

“Some 17 high-rises, nine of which broke ground last year, currently are under construction in Chicago. The majority are apartment buildings, along with a handful of hotels and office towers. It’s been years since so many cranes have swung across the skyline, but Ken Simonson, chief economist with Arlington Va.-based Associated General Contractors of America, isn’t prepared to concede that “either Chicago or Illinois has turned a corner yet.

First-time buyers typically account for 40% of U.S. home sales,” says Anirban Basu, chief economist with Washington, D.C.-based Associated Builders and Contractors. “More recently, they’ve accounted for less than 30%.” Having watched home values rise, and then collapse, “many millennials have no interest in home ownership or prefer the geographic mobility afforded by apartments,” Basu says.”

Click here to see a list of the top 75 construction project starts in the Midwest:

The outlook for commercial construction, especially for apartments and private non-residential looks very good.


March 6, 2015

Construction Jobs in Highway and Transit Sector are at Risk, However, if Congress and the Obama Administration Can’t Find a Way to Pay For and Pass Long-Term Transportation Bill, Officials Warn

Construction employers added 29,000 jobs in February and 321,000 over the past year, reaching the highest employment total in six years, as the sector’s unemployment rate fell to an eight-year low of 10.6 percent, according to an analysis by the Associated General Contractors of America. Association officials cautioned, however, that construction jobs in the highway and transit sector were at risk because of Washington gridlock.

“Despite challenging weather conditions in much of the country, both the number of workers and their average weekly hours rose last month to the highest levels since the recession,” said Ken Simonson, the association’s chief economist. “There are lots of good-paying, full-time jobs available in construction, with more work on the way.”

Construction employment totaled 6,353,000 in February, the highest mark since February 2009, with a 12-month gain of 321,000 jobs or 5.3 percent, Simonson noted. Average weekly hours of all employees climbed to 39.6 hours and weekly earnings averaged $1066 in construction, the highest levels in the nine-year history of both series. Weekly earnings in construction were 24 percent above the private-sector average.

Residential building and specialty trade contractors added a combined 16,700 employees since January and 167,800 (7.4 percent) over 12 months. Nonresidential contractors—building, specialty trade, and heavy and civil engineering construction firms—hired a net of 12,000 workers for the month and 153,400 (4.1 percent) since February 2014.

The number of workers who said they looked for work in the past month and had last worked in construction fell from 1,098,000 a year earlier to 906,000—the lowest February mark in nine years. Although winter conditions typically result in a high February unemployment rate for construction, the 10.6 percent unemployment rate for these workers was the lowest February rate since February 2007 and represented a steep drop from a year earlier, when the rate was 12.8 percent, Simonson noted.

“Contractors in most states appear optimistic about the prospects for construction, especially for apartments and private nonresidential projects,” Simonson added. “In contrast, the highway funding outlook is murky.”

Association officials said that employment in highway and transit construction was at risk if Congress and the Obama administration fail to find a way to pay for, and enact, a long-term federal highway and transit bill.  They said that even as many states take measures to cope with declining federal transportation funding, if Washington can’t pass a bill by May 31 when current legislation expires, some firms may have to reduce staff.

“The highway and transit funding shortfall is one of those classic Washington-created problems that could easily be fixed,” said Stephen E. Sandherr, the association’s chief executive officer. “For just a few dollars more per year, Washington could save commuters and other road users thousands of dollars by cutting commuting times and improving road conditions.”