A concept for an outdoor test facility in Vancouver for building enclosure materials and components has been under study by Forintek and others since Fall 2000. Phase One - a preliminary feasibility study - was previously completed. This report describes accomplishments to date of Phase Two, a transition phase involving identification of a project custodian, further concept development, development of a business plan, preparation for fundraising and identification of potential sites.
This study aims at assessing the changes happening within the residential construction industry with respect to walls. There are three major goals of this study. The first is to assess the attributes demanded by builders in single family wall products and systems. The second is to assess product usage and substitution in single-family walls. The third aim is to assess the move to component building in residential walls.
A mail out survey was sent to single-family homebuilders in the US, one randomly drawn list of builders plus a list of the top 100 builders in the country. The survey covered builders concerns, attributes demanded in walls, and products and systems used for walls.
Results indicated that energy codes were the top concern of builders. Interestingly, very few builders were concerned with engineered wood or prefabricated systems availability, but lumber availability was considered a constraint by some firms, especially the large ones.
With respect to walls attributes it is clear that the most important attribute of a wall is straightness and square. However, the next three most important attributes are related to on-site issues; speed of assembly, easy to handle, and low on-site waste. This was especially true for large builders. Cost factored in as moderately important with installed cost finishing ahead of material cost.
With respect to walls systems it was found that over 40% of builders have tried prefabricated wood walls. This was strongest in the North. Large builders also were high users of prefabricated wood walls. Prefabricated exterior walls were more common than prefabricated interior walls. Many builders, especially those in the West, used site-built steel for interior walls. In fact, it would appear that of the prefabricated wood interior walls and site-built steel are substitutes.
Labour availability is an equal, if not greater, factor than product availability in the competition among building products and systems for residential construction today. Further, demographic forecasts show labour availability decreasing into the future. At the same time the consolidation of residential building firms is giving rise to more automation and off-site building. For these reasons, it is safe to assume that prefabricated building will only increase into the future. Therefore, it is imperative that the wood products industry defines how the competitive advantage their products have always had in the residential construction industry can be adapted and maintained in an era of prefabricated construction.
The objectives of this project are to develop two-way technology transfer instruments that achieve a connection with specifiers, designers, builders, homeowners and maintenance supervisors and to explore opportunities for collaborative field studies of durability performance where information gaps exist. The web site on durability is proving an outstanding mechanism for technology transfer with 482 unique visitors in February 2002.