Carpenters are in great demand, maybe even exceeding the need for concrete mixer drivers. In 2012, the Department of Labor Statistics (DLS) forecasted that job opportunities for carpenters will increase by more than 25% in each of the next five years. DLS reports that the carpenter classification is one of the fastest-growing employment segments in construction. The growth of vocational professionals suggests a strong construction market. But for concrete producers, more carpenters on jobsites is not good news. Carpenters are working on structures now built with wood that would have been concrete.
At a time when owners are calling for more resilient and safer structures, the percentage of structures that are predominately concrete are losing out to wood. In a little more than a decade, concrete’s share of the important mid-rise building market has shrunk from 30% to 20%. In this same period, the percentage of wood-constructed buildings in this same segment increased from about 23% to 40%. Key concrete trade associations have recognized this trend and are beginning to react.
Mid-rise structures comprise the most common new construction in growing commercial areas. These include hotels, dormitories, and multifamily housing. Non-commercial structures include schools, shopping malls, and office buildings.
These building types have been important to concrete producers, concrete contractors, and concrete pumpers. The structures often have a high-intensity of cement in their materials. And for most producers, these projects comprise as much as 25% of annual sales.
Wood’s gain is the result of an ambitious marketing effort. The Softwood Lumber Board (SLB) has invested more than $33 million in Woodworks, an interactive educational and support effort that provides designers, architects, and contractors information on how to build with wood, rather than concrete and steel. The SLB says at least 380 projects were converted from concrete to wood, and half were three stories or taller.
Reaching out to architects and designers is just one aspect of wood’s attack. In 2015 the American Wood Council (AWC) requested that the International Code Council establish an ad-hoc Committee on Tall Wood Buildings. The proposed committee’s purpose would be to investigate the feasibility of building with cross laminated timber and structural composite lumber for construction in tall structures. AWC reports this is common in Europe. The AWC’s goal is that an ad-hoc committee will draft a separate code document that would allow new buildings to exceed the current International Building Code height limitations.The concrete industry's reaction is an important trend. When we asked readers in our TCP Survey earlier this year whether the wood industry’s efforts to modify building codes would affect their business, only 29% said it would definitely or might have an impact.
PCA has urged officials to adopt better codes that result in structures that are more resilient to energy consumption, fire, high wind loads, and water damage. But in an environment in which building owners only plan to own the structures for a few years before selling, low initial costs rules. Community leaders focused on economic growth from new construction are hesitant to increase construction costs by about 8%.
NRMCA is committing resources to interact with the building design community to convince architects and owners to choose concrete. Its Strategy for Promoting Concrete for Low/Mid Rise Buildings is a five-year commitment to stopping market share loss. NRMCA is replicating the approach of its successful promotion in paving, the strategy will support many concrete building methods, such as tilt-up, insulating concrete forms, and conventional cast-in-place.
At the 2015 ConcreteWorks, Tien Peng, NRMCA’s promotion expert focusing on resiliency, presented information on the market loss and what it means to producers. The presentation was well-received and NRMCA hopes that the entire concrete community will rally around on this important market initiative.
Visit www.nrmca.com to learn more about Strategy for Promoting Concrete for Low/Mid Rise Buildings.