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.