3 Challenges Facing CMU Construction in Texas

Concrete masonry units or CMU” have been a part of the con­struc­tion landscape in Texas for over 100 years, and are widely used in com­mer­cial con­struc­tion through­out the state. CMU walls have been used in the con­struc­tion of ware­hous­es, indus­tri­al facil­i­ties, public safety buildings, schools and several other project types that require higher levels of durability.

Addi­tion­al advan­tages of building with CMU include:

  • Lower main­te­nance compared to other con­struc­tion materials
  • Concrete is not a food source for mold or pests
  • Increased fire resistance
  • Noise trans­mis­sion reduction
  • Sim­plic­i­ty of interior and exterior finishes

However, three recent trends have begun to make CMU con­struc­tion more chal­leng­ing and expensive to deliver in Texas.

1. Shortage of Labor

Concrete masonry con­struc­tion is labor intensive and requires a sig­nif­i­cant­ly skilled workforce in order to be con­struct­ed properly. CMU walls are often finished simply with block-fill and paint, which leaves the pattern of block and mortar visible for all to see. For that reason, it is critical to have skilled masons per­form­ing this work in order to ensure the completed CMU walls are struc­tural­ly sound and aes­thet­i­cal­ly attractive.

However, in recent years the Texas market has expe­ri­enced a sig­nif­i­cant shortage of skilled masons, making it very difficult for masonry con­trac­tors to provide enough labor to meet the demands of a very fast-growing con­struc­tion market. In many cases, masonry companies are having to pass on bidding new work because of fears of not being able to ade­quate­ly staff addi­tion­al projects.

While the recent growth in con­struc­tion has put heavy demands on the masonry trades, much of the shortage can be traced back to the con­struc­tion market downturn at the end of the last decade. The Asso­ci­at­ed Genral Con­trac­tors of America (AGC) found that many skilled trades who were having trouble finding work at the time found lucrative work in the oil and energy sector, which was expe­ri­enc­ing a boom period as a result of expanded hydraulic frac­tur­ing or fracking” activ­i­ties all across the state. When the con­struc­tion market recovered several years later, many of these former masons never returned to their con­struc­tion jobs.

The shortage is further fueled by the fact that very few younger people are joining the ranks of the skilled trades. As the existing masonry workforce ages, this trend will continue to cause sig­nif­i­cant shortages of masons across the state.

2. Lead Times for Materials

Another side effect of a very strong Texas con­struc­tion market is the increas­ing shortage of CMU inventory and stretched delivery lead times many con­trac­tors are expe­ri­enc­ing. Con­trac­tors must be very proactive in getting their orders in the man­u­fac­tur­ing queue to avoid delays. Delivery times for some CMU products can be 8 – 12 weeks, and even longer in some cases.

3. Continuous Insulation Requirements

CMU walls con­struct­ed in Texas have not tra­di­tion­al­ly been insulated. In some cases, the unfilled or ungrouted” cells of the wall were filled with ver­mi­culite or some other insu­lat­ing material to provide a fraction more energy effi­cien­cy to the building. However, the 2015 Inter­na­tion­al Energy Con­ser­va­tion Code recently adopted statewide now pre­scribes con­tin­u­ous insu­la­tion for CMU walls on both com­mer­cial and res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion. While there are some work-arounds in the code where con­tin­u­ous insu­la­tion can be avoided, many archi­tects have accepted the fact that spec­i­fy­ing a con­tin­u­ous insu­la­tion system is the way to go.

The addition of con­tin­u­ous insu­la­tion increases cost, but also creates more com­plex­i­ty in the design of the wall assembly. Archi­tects must choose to insulate the inside or outside face of the CMU wall, which also requires that they identify an appro­pri­ate and cost effective finish option.

A Masonry Alternative

For archi­tects, con­trac­tors and owners who want the benefits of CMU con­struc­tion while also meeting today’s building and energy codes, the inno­v­a­tive Bautex Wall System is a par­tic­u­lar­ly good solution. This system has similar struc­tur­al and greater fire resistant prop­er­ties of a CMU wall but also has the con­tin­u­ous insu­la­tion required to meet today’s codes built right into the block. 

A Bautex wall can also be built up to twice as fast a CMU wall, saving a lot of con­struc­tion time. The Bautex wall can also be con­struct­ed using fewer skilled trades which decreases cost to the owner and increases the number of projects a masonry company can win. With Bautex, masonry con­trac­tors can support more projects with broader scopes of work that includes insu­la­tion, utilizing less expensive and more available labor, thereby increas­ing profits.

Click here to learn more about the inno­v­a­tive Bautex Wall System.