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Don’t be afraid to try out new or alternative building materials, products, and technologies, says a building magazine blogger.


Doing something new or different is always a little frightening, at least initially. Builders are sensible cautious when it comes to anything that alters the spec list, requires a new supplier or installer, or might lead to warranty work.

Like a house, a builder’s business is built on a strong foundation that doesn’t change too much… any movement in this foundation can lead to problems in the whole structure of the business. However, like a house, this foundation and structure must evolve and adapt to the times, to meet the needs of the social, economic, and environmental realities of the current age… and, we propose, to anticipate unfolding trends and create opportunities for your customers and your business.

Let’s examine this concept through the challenges and opportunities presented by incorporating alternative building materials, products, and technologies into your construction process. On one hand, the unknowns of a new product or material can be dismaying, and many builders conservatively choose to decrease the possible risks by simply sticking with what they are currently using. But the other side of being conservative is complacency. No one grows their business or sales by standing still, except maybe in the boomiest of boom times.

On the other hand, there is innovation and change. Scary and risky, yes, but naturally ripe with opportunity. Can you fail? Yes, that is a possibility. But those who have the view to see beyond the horizon and have the conviction and confidence to bring real innovation to the homebuilding industry will own tomorrow’s world.

Would it take the edge off if I told you that you didn’t have to innovate everything at once?

A measured approach to using an alternative construction product, material or system certainly doesn’t eliminate risk – something as seemingly simple and harmless as a new-fangled deck screw can cause problems. But done right, even in small doses, a better inducement can solve real problems, give better performance, improve homeowner satisfaction, and maybe even lower your costs.

A new idea to many pros, building information modeling can help save time and money in the construction process.

As you look for (or, more likely, are approached with) alternative construction materials or methods, run them through this filter first:

Does it solve a problem we’re actually experiencing, either on site or after occupancy?

Do I understand it? Does my site super carpenter, warranty service manager and sales manager understand it?

Does the material allow for better performance as well as lend itself to easier design or installation?

Is it readily available from a well-known source?

Are there local people trained (ideally certified) to install it and/or is training given?

Does the economics make sense for the home builder and ultimately the homeowner… in relation to influencing their buying decision?

Solar is another technology that many home builders are just starting to embrace.

You probably can’t answer all of these questions completely immediately, but they are worth asking up front. Something that survives this initial challenge is sure to increase your confidence and allow you to take on a more intense evaluation. And if it doesn’t make the grade, you can get it out of your head and move on.

If an alternative makes the first cut, look for ways to practical test it before you integrate it into your regular practices and systems. Maybe a model home or an in-house mock-up; there is a builder in Pensacola that uses his own home to try out new material, from low-flow toilets to vacuum-glass windows, even structural products. His crews install it and his family lives with it.

To that point, ask around. Get the names of other builders outside your market but close to your profile who have made the switch or are in the process. You know they won’t pull any punches.

Final conclusion: Spend some time to evaluate an alternative material or method in a real-world context. Don’t look at it in isolation; take a systematic approach. Does it replace something within the system or strengthen it? Does it slow the system down, reduce flow (water, air, work), or require new tools? Or does it coherently and simply make the system work better than before?

And you don’t have to go it alone, either in learning curve or cost. Get the manufacturer and local supplier (or whoever is persuading you to use it) to share the expense, or even front it for you. If it’s that good, they should put some skin in the game… and also want to learn from it.

The ultimate goal is to get your crews and managers familiar and proficient, allow time to save and decrease actual costs, and – not to be neglected – clarify your sales story. I mean, if you’re going to go to the effort to innovate, you’d better be able to sell it to a homebuyer and reap the value.

And the innovation isn’t so scary after all.


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