“If it was made out of concrete and cinder block we wouldn’t have this problem,” said Thomas Jacobson chief of the Edgewater , N.J. volunteer fire department as he watched a blaze destroy a multi-story apartment complex. “It’s lightweight wood construction with sprinklers and this is the problem you face with this kind of construction.” A video of this newscast is part of the evidence the National Ready-Mixed Concrete Association is using to try to convince state and local governments around the country that wood-frame construction, even with sprinklers, is unsafe for multifamily housing.
The concrete business is now fighting back against the move across the U.S. to accept wood construction for low- and mid-rise construction, a market that has traditionally been strong for concrete and masonry. The wood industry has spent millions of dollars to convince building owners and code administrators that wood is safe (and cheaper) and their success is evident in that concrete’s share of that market has dropped form 30% to 20% while wood’s share has increased from 23% to 40%. During an interview at the World of Concrete, Christi Collins, executive director of the American Concrete Pumping Association, says that during 2015 “at least 380 projects were converted from concrete to wood.” That’s an astounding change!
Efforts to reverse this trend have been mounted by CAMRA (Concrete- and Masonry-Related Associations) led by NRMCA and the Portland Cement Association. NRMCA is raising $20 million for this effort and has extended their Design Assistance Program (DAP) to offer free help to designers who might prefer concrete to wood but have little experience with concrete buildings. PCA has taken a different approach and is starting by surveying the industry and will then attempt to come up with a coordinated plan.
“If you want to make buildings safer, and more durable, choose concrete,” says John Loyer, senior director of state and local government affairs, NRMCA. You’ll be hearing a lot more about this over the coming months but in the meantime, we all need to keep reminding everyone of the inherent safety of concrete buildings.