Renewing the Dream
Renewing the Dream
This fall, two houses will be built on adjacent lots in the community of Jackson, WI, a suburb just north of Milwaukee. While the neighborhood is unassuming, and the homes themselves are of average size (2,200 sq. ft.), their impact on the structural building component (SBC) industry will be significant.
Why? Because these homes will be the next chapter in Framing the American Dream (FAD), an initiative that started more than 20 years ago. To fully understand the impact of this project, and what it may mean for component manufacturers (CMs) across the country, it’s important to explore where this project started and then look at today’s residential construction market and what FAD can potentially accomplish within that market.
The First FAD
FAD was initiated in 1995 with the idea that building two identical homes side by side would provide a good comparison of stick-frame and SBC framing methods. In January of 1996, two homes were built in the parking lot of the Astroarena in Houston, TX, as part of the International Builders Show (see below). This project provided a real-world comparison of framing techniques that show attendees could tour.
It was quickly apparent, however, that the process of constructing the two homes in this manner could yield an even more beneficial outcome. During construction, time, labor, material and cost comparison data was collected to finally have a true apples-to-apples comparison between the two framing methods of these identical projects.
The data collected in 1996 has been used by CMs since then to successfully market the many advantages of engineered and componentized framing, with the focus on reduced labor costs for installation. While the resulting marketing materials have aided many CMs to convince their builder customers to switch from conventional framing to components, several SBCA members recognized that much has changed in the industry over the past 19 years in terms of design, manufacturing, component costing and installation techniques.
Renewing the Dream
Over the past few years, the SBCA Board of Directors has considered a few proposals to collect new FAD data. These efforts culminated in a discussion during the CM & Supplier Roundtable in Madison, WI, in August of 2014. The roundtable discussed a proposal to frame homes at the SBC Research Institute (SBCRI) to collect FAD information, but also conduct structural testing on the two framing methods. Ultimately, the Board decided that it was not the right time to conduct testing of this type, given the current need and value of FAD data was time and materials based. The SBCRI-based FAD testing project was ultimately tabled for a later date.
During the initial planning stages of BCMC Build 2015, it became clear there was the potential to collect new FAD data in a relatively economical way. BCMC Build has proven to be a successful annual charity build project for the SBC industry, allowing BCMC attendees the opportunity to come together and help construct a home for a deserving individual in the city hosting the trade show.
In preparation for the BCMC Build project in Milwaukee, two local homebuilders, Tim O’Brien of Tim O’Brien Homes and David Belman of Belman Homes, enthusiastically stepped forward to participate in the project. Almost as fortuitous, a regional real estate developer, Mark Neumann of Neumann Communities, donated two side-by-side lots in a development in Jackson.
Jason Blenker, 2015 BCMC Chair; Steve Szymanski, 2015 BCMC Build Chair; and Rick Parrino, 2015 SBCA President, proposed the idea of using this year’s BCMC Build to renew the FAD project to the SBCA Executive Committee and Board of Directors. The Board agreed this year’s BCMC Build offered a cost-effective way to accomplish both the goal of the charity build as well as FAD data collection.
The housing downturn that started in 2006 and lasted through 2012 had several impacts on the residential construction industry. One that is starting to get a lot of attention in the media today is how it limited the availability of framing labor. Indeed, according to a recent MetroStudy report, framing labor is the contractor position builders find the most challenging to fill. There are also reports that some builders are finding subcontractors recruiting in highly creative and increasingly aggressive ways.
As the housing market continues to grow, the constraint caused by a shortage of labor will get worse. One of the most logical solutions is to reduce the amount of time individuals need to be on a jobsite to frame a building. It follows that, the less time it takes to frame a building, the more buildings a builder can construct using the same amount of people. This solution is exactly what components offer to builders who are currently relying on framers to conventionally frame homes one board at a time.
Thanks to advancements in digital photography, video, Internet-based tools and mobile devices, the new FAD data collected through this effort will be more complete and comprehensive than what was captured in 1996. Further, with all the design and production advancements that have occurred within the industry over the past 20 years, the comparison data will paint a starker and more accurate picture of the labor and material savings that can be achieved through componentized framing.
Points of Comparison
The two homes built by Belman Homes and Tim O’Brien Homes are virtually identical, with small aesthetic changes to the exterior facade to differentiate the two. Again, the homes are modest in size, but there are plenty of framing challenges to highlight the differences between the two framing methods (see below).
For one, there will be tray ceilings in the master bedroom and the front study/bedroom. While not difficult to incorporate into truss designs, these ceiling details, which are common in many markets today, may provide a challenge to conventional framing methods. Second, storage was added above the garage. With a walk-out basement that may be fully finished and utilized by its occupants, storage space may be at a premium. Attic trusses will provide a competitive alternative to rafter-framed storage in this case. Third, the span and vaulted ceiling in the great room will present a significant challenge. Incorporating both the hip-end roof and the vaulted ceiling into the construction will provide an excellent contrast in structural capabilities of trussed and rafter systems.
Finally, the floor system in the component-framed house will be built using 16" floor truss panels, preassembled in the manufacturing plant. Not only will the floor truss panels install quickly, but the CM is working with the other trades to incorporate ductwork and plumbing into the design of the chase openings for easier installation of conditioned air and water distribution systems.
The value of updating the FAD data cannot be overstated. Builders in many markets are scrambling for solutions to the lack of adequate framing labor. Having the ability to offer proof on how much labor and materials componentized framing can save a builder will be an incredibly powerful tool for CMs looking to grow their market share.
Through the help of Operation FINALLY HOME, these two homes will go to wounded veterans, individuals who have given so much in service to our country. That outcome provides even greater value to the project. Indeed, the homes BCMC Build has built in the past have proven to be transformational in the recipients’ lives.