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Author: Leah Cooper
As American industry begins to resurface from the flood of Corona Virus-era setbacks of 2020, many investors and contractors are looking to the lumber industry to find its equilibrium once again. Perhaps we can expect to see lumber prices drop a little closer to normalcy in the days to come, but there are plenty of warning signs that predict that the sun is setting on lumber as the go-to material for builders across the states. Two reasons stand out as the greatest limiting factor to lumber’s lifetime:
On the other hand, as our natural resources face increased peril, sustainable alternatives to life’s necessary commodities have only risen in popularity. Despite the lack of uptake on biofuel, aside from its cousin diesel’s use for shipping freights, alternative energy has finally gotten a leg up in the automotive industry in the recent decade. Although the recent scare of a gas shortage from the Colonial pipeline was short-lived, questions stemming from the viability of petrochemical fuel in the long term are spurring new conversations: how do we live more sustainably? Just as electric vehicles are riding the tide, similarly, the lumber shortage points to embracing alternative build materials.
If it’s your first time seeing the phrase “alternative build materials,” you may be surprised also by its other names, such as “sustainable materials,” “innovative materials,” or “eco-materials.” Alternatives go beyond our basic ideas of recycling. Many natural materials have been studied as replacements for current building supplies, from the unusual to the ingenious.
Bamboo is a tame example of sustainable materials— we’ve seen bamboo in construction for years, although mainly as a flooring substitute. Bamboo is fibrous enough to be processed into fabrics, but its durability and strength make bamboo excellent for structural applications. The Conbou panel capitalizes on the lightweight tenacity of bamboo. However, Conbou panels use less material: rings of bamboo are glued between two solid sheets, giving enhanced strength without a solid panel. Bamboo boards, like the Conbou, are also cost-saving due to the availability of bamboo. Bamboo grows at a significantly faster rate than hardwood or even pine. Among the different subspecies of bamboo, it is reported that the most rapid growth of any bamboo plant is almost 3 feet per day. Switching to bamboo would give a much-needed reprieve to our hardwood forests without worrying about the rate of supply.
Oriented Stand Straw Board (OSSB) may look remarkably similar to wood OSB. However, it is interestingly made from wheat straw fibers— a byproduct of the wheat industry. The wheat fibers and a non-formaldehyde adhesive are formed into a board through compression and heat. They are notably less expensive to produce, provide better heat and sound insulation, and most importantly, are more water-resistant than wood-based OSB. Wheat is an abundant crop globally, making OSSB an easy replacement for existing OSB in construction. However, agriculture and economic experts might argue that the best benefit of OSSB is the much-needed support towards our local farmers.
Like lumber, concrete has also hastily climbed in cost. There’s always cob construction, otherwise known as mudbricks, for the builder who wants to revisit a time before advanced technology brought efficiency into our lives. But if playing in the mud doesn’t fit your business model, consider DETON’s alternative concrete. Made in part from traditional concrete, recycled glass, and vegetable fibers, DETON’s concrete formula is lighter and yields a higher tensile strength than conventional concrete. DETON not only saves you on concrete, but the closed-pore surface of its structure also provides permanent moisture protection. Additional sealants are not needed. It’s also mold and fireproof. Curiously, it’s also bulletproof, giving it applications beyond residential construction. Best of all, DETON concrete is completely reusable; that alone says all it needs to about DETON’s concretes overall sustainability.
With continued advancement in the field, contractors can regain control over their material supply. Modern sustainable innovation will continue to trend upwards in the construction industry. Beyond continuing construction during the immediate lumber shortage, builders can reduce their dependence on a heavily fluctuating resource by swapping lumber for alternative materials. We don’t need another documentary or political summit to rehash the same arguments for sustainability. We know more efficient housing builds must become the norm to support the population growth while mitigating the rising costs of rent and mortgages and without further significant impact to our environment. It’s not just about the price for the home-buyers: rising material costs are threatening small business contracting companies. Even large-scale builders struggle to maintain their monopoly over the narrowing housing market. As a result, our demand for new construction cannot be met, and neither can our need for immediate housing.
Graph sourced from CNBC . Depicts steep increase in lumber prices; the author notes "Lumber — the wood used to frame a house as well as in cabinets, doors and flooring — saw its prices surging more than 80% this year and up 340% from a year ago. The soaring prices were triggered by a combination of reduced supply amid pandemic shutdowns and surging demand for new homes.” Read the full article here.
Facing a lose-lose situation, it’s no wonder we are turning to alternatives. Even the most unusual innovations may become commonplace in homes throughout the United States in the years to come. A leader in biodegradable material solutions is composite fiber. Composite fiber has been used to make furniture and other home goods on a small scale. However, some companies see its benefits in a larger production.
BarkTex acquired the fiberboard formula from University researchers who had first named it “BananaPlac” after the banana tree fibers used in the original design. Fiberboards have a myriad of uses due it’s strange bendable property— a little heat and fiberboards bend how you want them. Fiberboards have therefore become increasingly popular in modern architecture. Organic waste like wood shavings, corn cob spindles, and other cellulose fibers are combined to create the material. VegPlac repurposes compostable material destined for landfills into versatile and aesthetically beautiful materials.
Neputherm derives its name from the Neptune balls used to make its products. Simply put, Neputherm is superior insulation made from seaweed balls that form and dry off the coast of southern Italy. Its benefits are near-boundless: naturally flame retardant, reduces heat loss, rot-resistant, non-hazardous, biodegradable, and even protects against environmental radiation. Compared to traditional insulation, they drastically lower in cost: mother nature overseas in-large the production process, and their lightweight lowers overall transportation costs. Haute Innovation extolled Neputherm’s virtues, “The insulation material from the sea is usually installed by specialist companies, but you can also process it yourself. The professional stuffing of the wool as roof, interior or facade insulation as well as applying it to the top floor ceiling is child’s play”.
FOAM is a unique alternative to traditional production methods of ceramic materials. While its process is currently patent pending and protected, FOAM states that its ceramic is processed without chemical additives and does not require industrial or technical effort to make. With ceramic production being one of the more energy-intensive and polluting products of the construction material industry, FOAM’s promise of simpler ceramic means lower-cost tiles, bathtubs, fireplaces, and roof tiles.
Industry professionals can take advantage of these innovations to sidestep the construction depression. The use of sustainable materials sets up your business for long-term production, which can no longer be promised by the lumber industry.
At General Equipment and Supply (GES), we support new ideas in sustainable construction. We encourage our customers to not only approach sustainability in their construction materials but apply that concept to their tools and equipment. GES has embraced our sustainable initiative to provide reconditioned, refurbished, and remanufactured tools and equipment to contractors at more than 50% off original manufacturer prices. Our expert production team repairs and restores equipment to operational quality, keeping premium tools out of landfills and into the hands of businesses and professionals across the United States and Canada. Let our tools be a benefit to the environment and your wallet.