This project looks at the preferences for structural wood products within the top 20 residential homebuilding markets in the United States. A first objective was to document the attributes demanded by homebuilders in structural floors, walls and decking applications. The project further characterizes the performance of wood, steel, and concrete on these demanded attributes. The study was completed into two subsequent steps. The first step was a quantitative survey of an average of 50 builders per market in the Top 20 markets. The second step included focus groups with homebuilders in four of these markets: Philadelphia, Chicago, Phoenix, and Denver.
Results show that wood products continue to be under pressure from the growth of concrete in wall and floor systems. While the basis for growth in the use of concrete was traditionally found in the U.S. South, this survey points out that western and northern cities of the United States may become susceptible to the growth of concrete slab floors. The intended future use of concrete in walls was also high in some Northern jurisdictions such as New-York, Minneapolis, Washington, and Philadelphia, indicating a possible spread of concrete use in walls in some markets which traditionally relied on wood. However, the discussions with builders in Chicago and Philadelphia tempered this threat, as most of participants to the focus groups were much relying on wood for their projects. Nevertheless, the survey shows that, according to homebuilders, concrete significantly outperforms wood on durability, strength/structural integrity, and acoustic performance. Two of these attributes (durability and strength/structural integrity) are among the Top 3 important attributes in both floor and wall applications. With that said, it is important to point out that wood obtains a high score on the performance scale for both these attributes, despite the difference with concrete. These attributes may guide the development of future wood based products and building systems. On code acceptance, wood also scores high on the performance scale, and is at least equal with concrete.
Wood based sheathing (OSB, Plywood and Fiberboard) detain over 85% of the market in 17 of the 20 metro areas. However, foam and kraftboard sheathing have gained some importance in selected markets. In Chicago, the market share of foam and kraftboard together even reaches 24%. When comparing the performance of wood-based sheathing with foam-based sheathing, plywood and OSB are significantly thought superior to foam for strength, structural integrity, resistance to jobsite damage, environmental friendliness, and code acceptance. Foam is said to perform better than OSB or Plywood for both acoustics and energy performance. As a result, acoustics and energy performance in sheathing applications prove to be valuable paths for product development. This was confirmed in focus groups sessions.
Most generally, builders interviewed for the discussion sessions expressed the need for new products addressing their concerns. In focus group sessions, labour issues came out as one of these concerns (except in Chicago). Especially, the current housing downturn has forced many trades out of the homebuilding sector, and most builders met fear that there will be a severe shortage of qualified labour once the housing market rebounds. Other issues that builders actively pursue include a combination of insulation and structural properties for sheathing (confirmed by the quantitative research), low maintenance and low call-back products, and ease of installation. From the discussion sessions, there is also room for new insulation products.
Composite decking has captured at least 20% market share in 12 of 20 of the metro areas. The highest market shares are found in Denver (71%), Washington (50%), Seattle (45%), and Philadelphia (40%). Clearly, composite decking now offers the greatest competition to wood in decks. This is shown by the satisfaction measures of decking materials which are greater for tropical hardwood and composite/plastic lumber than for wood, treated or not. Composite materials seemingly suit better the most demanded attributes, including durability, appearance, and longevity. The importance of low maintenance was further confirmed through the focus groups.