Adopting Cost-effective Alternatives to Wood Frame Construction Changing for The Right Reasons

We do not make changes for the sake of making them, but we never fail to make a change when once it is demon­strat­ed that the new way is better than the old way. We hold it our duty to permit nothing to stand in the way of progress — in the way of giving better service.” These were the words of Henry Ford as he discussed the future of auto­mo­tive man­u­fac­tur­ing nearly a century ago.

While the auto­mo­bile industry has evolved sig­nif­i­cant­ly over the preceding ten decades, the same cannot be said about the con­struc­tion industry. The risky and cost-sensitive nature of the con­struc­tion market makes many con­trac­tors reluctant to change building materials and con­struc­tion processes. In most cases, they would prefer to continue on the more familiar path regard­less of poten­tial­ly better, less risky and more cost-effective alter­na­tives being available in the market.

For Judd Olson, owner of Design Build Austin, a suc­cess­ful res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial building and ren­o­va­tion company located in Austin, Texas, the oppor­tu­ni­ty to demon­strate that the new way was better than the old way opened up about the time he and his wife Denise were getting ready to start con­struc­tion on their personal home in the Texas Hill Country. That was when he was intro­duced to the Bautex Wall System, an insu­lat­ing concrete form (ICF) building system that promised fast con­struc­tion and sig­nif­i­cant­ly better per­for­mance for his future home.

Being both the builder and the homeowner, Mr. Olson was in a unique position to fully analyze both the costs and benefits of using an alter­na­tive wall system like Bautex. His­tor­i­cal­ly, you would find most builders hesitant to change late in the project, but making the best con­struc­tion decision for his personal home was important to him and his family.

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It was par­tic­u­lar­ly important to the Olson family that their new home provide a high degree of comfort and a low cost of operation at an afford­able cost of con­struc­tion. While he was able to meet some of these objec­tives with his existing wood frame design, several sig­nif­i­cant com­pro­mis­es were made during the design process. As he evaluated the Bautex solution, however, he quickly realized that he could meet more of his pri­or­i­ties without having to adjust his budget.

In fact, the home redesigned with Bautex would improve the energy effi­cien­cy and liv­abil­i­ty of his home, while simul­ta­ne­ous­ly reducing long-term main­te­nance costs and removing any concerns of mold and damage from insects, flood, wind­storms or fire. In his own words, walking into a Bautex building gives the same feel of safety and security as walking into a castle.”

However, for this con­ser­v­a­tive builder, nailing down the con­struc­tion budget was the most critical step, espe­cial­ly given how far along the project was in design. Mr. Olson worked with his project manager to rebuild the budget, swapping out the exterior wood framed walls with Bautex insulated concrete walls. After analyzing the cost dif­fer­en­tial for all of the materials and labor for the exterior walls, Mr. Olson dis­cov­ered two very inter­est­ing conclusions.

For one, the increase in the cost of materials between wood framing and Bautex was a lot lower than expected — about the cost of a few high-end light fixtures. The labor, however, was where the savings for Bautex really played out. By using Bautex, he would remove four or five materials and three or four steps in building his exterior walls, which would, in turn, shorten his build time fairly sig­nif­i­cant­ly. At the end of the analysis, the cost impact to him as a builder was at worst a break-even propo­si­tion and, at best, a cost savings to him.

Con­struc­tion on the Olson’s hill country home will be starting soon, but it won’t be with con­ven­tion­al wood framing. Being willing to consider a new way of doing things gave Mr. Olson the oppor­tu­ni­ty to explore proven alter­na­tives for building a superior castle-like” home — without sac­ri­fic­ing his budget.