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.