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.


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.