Alternative House Building Methods for the 21st Century

With the boom in new home con­struc­tion, builders, archi­tects, and home­own­ers are look­ing to alternative house building methods that can meet the chal­lenges and require­ments for home build­ing in the 21st cen­tu­ry. Four alter­na­tive home build­ing meth­ods include struc­tur­al insu­lat­ed pan­els (SIPs), light-gauge steel, Bau­tex insu­lat­ed con­crete form (ICF), and adobe.

Builders Consider Alternative Building Methods to Combat Rising Material Costs and Labor Shortages

Many fac­tors are dri­ving new home builders to con­sid­er alter­na­tive build­ing meth­ods over wood frame home con­struc­tion, which has been wide­ly used in the Unit­ed States (U.S.) for over 100 years. Builders must con­tend with ris­ing lum­ber costs, due to Cana­di­an lum­ber tar­iffs. In fact, Robert Dietz, chief econ­o­mist for the Nation­al Asso­ci­a­tion of Home Builders (NAHB), pre­dicts that the tar­iff will increase the expense of an aver­age new­ly-built wood framed home by about $9000.

Anoth­er chal­lenge to builders is labor short­ages which have result­ed in a 5 per­cent annu­al increase in labor costs for res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion work­ers. The blame for labor short­ages is due to the dif­fi­cul­ty of recruit­ing younger and skilled work­ers, along with stricter immi­gra­tion poli­cies. Mate­r­i­al costs and labor short­ages are dri­ving builders to con­sid­er alter­na­tive house build­ing meth­ods over wood frame con­struc­tion.

Homeowners Want Energy-Efficient, Disaster-Resistant, Low Maintenance, Durable and Healthy Homes

The demands of new home­own­ers are also a dri­ving force behind the use of alter­na­tive house build­ing meth­ods over wood frame con­struc­tion. Today’s new home­own­ers want ener­gy-effi­cient, dis­as­ter-resis­tant, low main­te­nance, durable and healthy homes.

The chal­lenge, of course, is find­ing build­ing sys­tems that can help keep con­struc­tion costs down and increase build­ing per­for­mance. While this may seem like a lot to ask, many of today’s home­own­ers are expect­ing a true 21st cen­tu­ry liv­ing expe­ri­ence in thi­er new homes.

Four Alternative House Building Methods

New res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion spend­ing is pro­ject­ed to increase to about $672 bil­lion (cur­rent) U.S. dol­lars by 2022, a 62.4 per­cent increase over 2011 of $252 bil­lion. Builders and archi­tects that want to take advan­tage of the boom­ing mar­ket are wise to con­sid­er alter­na­tive build­ing meth­ods that address the increas­ing mate­r­i­al costs and labor short­ages and also meet the demands of today’s new home­own­ers.

Four alter­na­tive house build­ing meth­ods for new home con­struc­tion include struc­tur­al insu­lat­ed pan­els, light-gauge steel, Bau­tex insu­lat­ed con­crete form, and clas­si­cal adobe.

1. Structural Insulated Panel Homes

Structural Insulated Panel Home

Struc­tur­al Insu­lat­ed Pan­els (SIPs) are 4- and 8‑inch thick rigid foam pan­els, sand­wiched between two rigid sheath­ing mate­ri­als. Extrud­ed poly­styrene (XPS), expand­ed poly­styrene (EPS), poly­iso­cya­nu­rate (PIR), or polyurethane (PUR) is used to make the foam pan­els for SIPs. With XPS and EPS foam, the foam and sheath­ing is pres­sure lam­i­nat­ed togeth­er. With PIR and PUR, the liq­uid foam is inject­ed and cured under high pres­sure. The com­mon sheath­ing boards for SIPs are 716 inch thick ori­ent­ed strand boards (OSB). Oth­er sheath­ing mate­ri­als include ply­wood, gyp­sum sheath­ing, sheet met­al, fiber-cement sid­ing, mag­ne­sium-oxide board, fiber­glass mat, and com­pos­ite struc­tur­al sid­ing pan­els.

The Benefits of SIPs

SIPs have a high­er lev­el of insu­la­tion, air tight­ness, and strength over wood-fram­ing.

Also, because SIPs are fac­to­ry assem­bled, wall con­struc­tion is quick, which lessens labor costs and con­struc­tion waste.

How­ev­er, there are sev­er­al prob­lems with SIP wall sys­tems.

  • SIPs lack ade­quate fire per­for­mance rat­ings, espe­cial­ly those con­struct­ed with ply­wood, OSB, and com­pos­ite struc­tur­al sid­ing pan­els
  • SIPs can devel­op dura­bil­i­ty prob­lems, espe­cial­ly when using OSB and ply­wood fac­ings. When OSB and ply­wood get wet, the walls may mold and degrade.
  • SIPs have low ther­mal mass. Prod­ucts made of high ther­mal mass can sta­bi­lize the tem­per­a­ture with­in a home and ulti­mate­ly save ener­gy and mon­ey.
  • Because SIPs are pan­els, the design of a SIP struc­ture is best coor­di­nat­ed and planned with the panel’s dimen­sions, with­out many jogs, bump-outs, or non-90-degree angles. A non-pan­el friend­ly design will esca­late waste, cost, and dimin­ish the per­for­mance of the wall sys­tem.

2. Light-Gauge Steel Homes

Met­al sticks or studs are used to con­struct light-gauge steel homes. The ben­e­fits of steel are it won’t rot, burn, shrink, and it is resis­tant to ter­mites. When cor­rect­ly engi­neered, steel is stronger than wood. Also, because steel does­n’t warp or shrink, a steel home is less sus­cep­ti­ble to dry­wall cracks. Steel is also recy­clable, which makes it an envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly prod­uct.

There are sev­er­al dis­ad­van­tages of light-gauge steel homes.

  • Steel is not flam­ma­ble, but it is a con­duc­tor of heat. If a fire is in con­tact with steel, the fire will quick­ly spread to any mate­r­i­al the steel touch­es. Also, extreme heat can weak­en and warp steel, which will dam­age the struc­tur­al integri­ty of a home.
  • Untreat­ed steel exposed to out­side ele­ments is prone to elec­tro­chem­i­cal oxi­da­tion or rust­ing. Rust­ing weak­ens the cohe­sive­ness of the steel and makes it brit­tle.
  • Exces­sive ten­sion, caused by strong winds, will weak­en the steel.
  • Met­al fram­ing is more expen­sive than wood.

3. Bautex Insulated Concrete Form Homes

Insulated Concrete Form Home

The Bau­tex insu­lat­ed con­crete form (ICF) wall sys­tem is a sub­urb build­ing option for new home con­struc­tion. The Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem helps builders effi­cient­ly con­struct an ener­gy-effi­cient, dis­as­ter-resis­tant, low main­te­nance, durable and healthy home.

Bautex Wall System Saves Builder Time and Money

  • As wood prices increase, a shift towards alter­na­tive build­ing sys­tems, like Bau­tex Blocks, can save builders mon­ey. The Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem saves time and mon­ey because it is an easy and fast to install and reduces the num­ber of steps need­ed to build a home. It also pro­vides struc­ture and con­tin­u­ous insu­la­tion in one prod­uct. Con­trac­tors using Bau­tex can count on quick and easy con­struc­tion.

Bautex Wall System is Energy-Efficient

  • The Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem is a high ther­mal mass mate­r­i­al that pro­vides con­tin­u­ous insu­la­tion and reduces air and mois­ture infil­tra­tion, cre­at­ing the ulti­mate ener­gy effi­cient home. The Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem pro­vides an R‑14 con­tin­u­ous insu­la­tion that meets, if not exceeds, the lat­est ener­gy codes and stan­dards.

Bautex Wall System is Disaster-Resistant

  • Bau­tex Blocks are fire-resis­tant and achieve and holds the indus­try’s high­est stan­dard for fire resis­tance. The Blocks have an ASTM E119 fire rat­ing of four-hours and an ASTM E84 report­ed val­ues for flame speed of zero and smoke devel­op­ment of twen­ty. Because the Bau­tex Blocks meet the NFPA 286 and E84, they also meet the NFPA 101 basic life safe­ty code.
  • The Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem has the resilience and strength to resist heavy winds and fly­ing debris against even the strongest hur­ri­canes like Hur­ri­cane Har­vey

— The Bau­tex Blocks meet the FEMA 361 and FEMA 320 require­ments in storm zones with wind speeds of up to 250 miles per hour.

— The Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem also has the strength and mass to with­stand the impact of wind-dri­ven debris at speeds exceed­ing 100 mph.

Bautex Wall System is Low Maintenance and Durable

  • Bau­tex Blocks are durable and low main­te­nance because they are ter­mite-resis­tant and mois­ture-resis­tant so not prone to rot or decay.

Bautex Wall System Creates a Healthy Home

  • The Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem is mono­lith­ic and does not have air cav­i­ties or spaces where mois­ture-laden air can cool down and cause con­den­sa­tion and water accu­mu­la­tion.
  • The Bau­tex AMB 20 air and mois­ture bar­ri­er pre­vents water intru­sion into the build­ing.
  • The Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem does not con­tain any organ­ic mate­r­i­al and does not sup­port the growth of mold.
  • Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem has zero per­cent volatile organ­ic com­pound (VOC) con­tent.

4. Adobe Homes

Adobe brick build­ing is an ancient method com­mon in the Mid­dle East and Amer­i­c­as. Earth with high clay con­tent and straw are used to make Adobe bricks. The bricks are sun-dried. When used for home con­struc­tion, the adobe bricks are assem­bled into a wall using an earth-based mor­tar. The fin­ished walls are smoothed down before dry­ing. Typ­i­cal­ly, there is an appli­ca­tion of a sur­face coat­ing of clay plas­ter to the adobe wall.

  • The ben­e­fits of Adobe con­struc­tion include suit­able seis­mic resis­tance capac­i­ty, dura­bil­i­ty, excel­lent acoustics, a supe­ri­or ther­mal per­for­mance due to high ther­mal mass, healthy, and fire-resis­tant.
  • The dis­ad­van­tages of Adobe con­struc­tion are it is best suit­ed in dry, tem­per­ate cli­mates, high main­te­nance, labor-inten­sive to build, and sus­cep­ti­ble to crit­ters bur­row­ing through the bricks and weak­en­ing the walls.

Of the four, the Bau­tex Wall Sys­tem can best meet the demands and require­ments of both builders and home­own­ers.