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According to a recent survey from the Associated General Contractors of America, 83% of construction firms struggle to fill positions for qualified craftworkers.  TotalFlash, LathNet and BlockFlash, MortarNet, CompleteFlash, and DriPlane are all products that provide superior performance while being quick to install. They are specifically designed to save labor time and costs, and to help contractors get more productivity out of the workers they have.

From the online news source, “Business Insider “: According to the NAHB, homebuilder sentiment rose more than expected in June and to the best level since January after holding steady during the four months in between. The National Association of Homebuilders’ housing market index for June climbed to 60 from 58, topping the forecast for a rise to 59.

To compile the index, the NAHB surveys its members for how they rate the current sale of new homes, as well as their outlook for sales and buyer traffic. Members across the country reported higher traffic and more committed buyers.

“Rising home sales, an improving economy and the fact that the HMI gauge measuring future sales expectations is running at an eight-month high are all positive factors indicating that the housing market should continue to move forward in the second half of 2016,” said Robert Dietz, NAHB chief economist.  The components gauging current sales, sales expectations and buyer traffic all rose.”

Since many houses use adhered masonry veneers, this indicates a growing opportunity for LathNet sales, as well as an indicator that commercial construction will probably be good for the rest of this year too.  While commercial and residential construction don’t move in lockstep, positive economic conditions such as a relatively low cost of money and the overall economic outlook influence both markets.

According to federal employment data released by the Associated General Contractors of America, construction employment increased in 244 out of 358 metropolitan areas in the USA and was unchanged in 44 areas. 70 areas saw a decline between March, 2015 and March, 2016. AGCA data shows that the building recovery continues to be broad-based geographically and by construction type.  Declining areas are in the parts of the country that are most affected by declining energy prices. The data also indicates that skilled labor shortages will continue and will probably grow as demand for new building increases.  An AGCA survey showed that 70% of firms are having a hard time finding qualified workers.  Please spread the word to any young people you know that jobs in the construction industry are plentiful and that a college education isn’t necessary for most of them.  Masons, for example, can be collecting a paycheck with as little as 2 years of training.

The International Masonry Institute (IMI) position on the value of designing sustainable masonry cavity walls as systems rather than as a grouping of individual components reinforces the value of designing and building with CavityComplete. CavityComplete is the first and only tested and warrantied total cavity wall system.  www.cavitycomplete.com

CavityComplete includes Mortar Net Solutions products MortarNet, TotalFlash, CompleteFlash and WeepVent.

According to IMI: “Masonry systems provide maximum contribution when they are recognized as a system. The masonry system addresses moisture penetration, air infiltration, thermal performance and life-long resiliency. Therefore, in the case of a masonry solution, we are talking about much more than the installation of a finished material and are instead focused on the delivery of a high performing system that continues to provide payback to the owner in terms of energy and maintenance costs. Masonry systems are the most cost-effective options to arrive at energy-efficient and environmentally healthy buildings today.”  http://imiweb.org/system-thinking/sustainability/

A lack of skilled workers in the masonry industry and construction in general continues to make it difficult or impossible for contractors to keep up with building demand.  Ironically, according to this article from the Associated General Contractors of America, hiring has actually slowed recently.  The question is, has hiring slowed because demand is falling off, is this just a temporary dip in hiring, or are there simply no more people available to hire?  Read the article to learn more.

Mortar Net Solutions products help combat the labor shortage because they are designed to be installed quickly and easily, so they help reduce masonry contractors’ labor time, can frequently be installed by lower skilled workers, and let contractors get more done with fewer people.

http://www.masoncontractors.org/2016/02/27/construction-firms-add-18000-workers-in-january/

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, https://wufi.de/en/,  “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 https://wufi.de/en/service/free-wufi-versions/ 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.