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.