Construction Trends

July 2009

RSMC Declares July Mold Awareness Month by Introducing the Guiding Principles for Mold and Moisture Control
The Responsible Solutions to Mold Coalition, Chicago, has marked July as "Mold Awareness Month” by introducing a collection of 50 recommendations to control moisture and therefore mold in residential and commercial buildings. Termed the Guiding Principles for Mold and Moisture Control, it is available on the organization’s Web site, www.responsiblemoldsolutions.org, in an interactive format in which visitors can explore mold and moisture control steps by clicking on various parts of a typical house. In addition, a complete list of the Guiding Principles can be downloaded. Also, RSMC has provided its top 10 list of moisture/mold control steps, listed below, in a form that can be printed and posted on job sites.

"From its launch at the 2006 International Builders’ Show in Orlando, Fla., we have had one simple message,” said Mike Poellinger, RSMC chairman, "If you control moisture, you’ll con¬trol mold. We think this is a fitting way to mark the second anniversary of Mold Awareness Month by introducing our Guiding Principles, which represent the best thinking on ways to keep moisture out of buildings before, during and after construction. An Internet search on mold will generate more than 20 million informational sites. Our goal is to cut through the vast body of information on mold—some accurate, some not—and provide science-based easy-to-use information on mold and moisture control.”

The Guiding Principles are divided into seven sections including Construction/General; Design/Mechanical Issues; Interior Construction/Bathrooms & Kitchens; Construction/Exterior; Construction/Foundation; Maintenance; and Remediation.

Representative steps that can be taken to prevent moisture and mold intrusion include the following:

• Ensure that moisture sensitive building materials are not stored outside or exposed to weather before installation; if they are delivered to the job site wet, they should be rejected.

• Roofs should be designed to drain freely and allow water to move rapidly off roofs, through gutters and downspouts and away from the building.

• Use water-resistive barriers behind tub and shower tile installations so water permeating through tile grout drains back into the tub or shower pan—not into the wall cavity.

• Gypsum wallboard should be installed only when buildings are closed in from the weather.

• Before wallboard and other moisture sensitive interior components are installed in buildings that have been exposed to the weather, provision must be made to dry the framing and substrate. This may be as simple as providing time and ventilation to allow for drying. Depending on the climate, mechanical drying and dehumidification equipment may be required to supplement ventilation drying.

• All windows, doors, roofs and chimneys need to have flashings installed around them. These flashings, which are not expensive or time intensive to install, are critical in deflecting water away from a building.

• The ground around the building should be graded to maintain a slope of 5 percent that drains away from the building—this should be checked periodically to make sure that settling or new landscaping doesn’t reverse the grade.

• Cover all earthen crawl spaces with impermeable plastic sheets. Do not store anything on top of the plastic sheeting as this can lead to damage that will allow water vapor to enter the crawlspace from the soil below.

• Avoid excessive indoor humidity—run exhaust fans over stoves and in bathrooms for 10 minutes after use. Turn off furnace humidifiers in the spring.

• Watch for water stains or standing puddles in the basement, bathrooms or under kitchen sinks. Treat water leaks as you would a smoldering fire—eliminate the cause and dry the water immediately.

"While there is debate within the building science community over some moisture control issues,” said Anton TenWolde, supervisory research physicist, U.S. Forest Products Laboratory (retired), and RSMC member, "Rather than entering the debate, a more valuable role for RSMC is to identify and communicate generally agreed upon guidelines—vital and effective steps that architects, builders and homeowners can take now to keep moisture—and therefore mold—out of their structures. If our recommendations are followed, we think that many moisture and mold problems can be eliminated.”

There have been many innovations in building materials over the past few years including the introduction of mold-resistant products. While many of these products are excellent, they should be viewed as a secondary defense against mold and moisture control. Accord¬ing to RSMC, mold-resistant products are no substitute for good design, good building practices and ongoing maintenance. If repeatedly exposed to moisture, they will lose their integrity.

"In marking the second anniversary of RSMC’s Mold Awareness Month, we offer some very simple advice in how to deal with mold and moisture control issues,” said Frank Nunes, RSMC vice chairman and executive director, International Institute for Lath and Plaster and Lath and Plaster Institute of Northern California. "If you’re having mold and moisture issues in your home or building—find out where the water is coming from (and stop it) and find out where the water goes. Simply replacing moldy wallboard, for example, is not the answer—you need to find out the source of the water intrusion, fix it, and follow the trail of the water to find out if it’s done damage to areas out of sight.”

Builder Confidence Continues to Rise in May
Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes improved for a second consecutive month in May to the highest level since September 2008, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, released May 18. The HMI rose two points to 16 this month.

"Builders are responding to what they perceive to be some of the best home buying conditions of a lifetime,” said NAHB Chairman Joe Robson, a home builder from Tulsa, Okla. "You’re not likely to get a better deal in terms of mortgage rates than what’s available right now. Combine that with the affordable prices, multitude of home choices and $8,000 tax credit for first-time buyers that are now available, and you have a very appealing set of reasons to make a move.”

"The fact that the May HMI continued to tick up from April’s five-point increase provides confirming evidence that the improved confidence level was no fluke,” added NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. "This continued increase indicates that home builders feel we’re at or near the bottom of the market and that positive signs lie ahead for builders and potential home buyers, provided that builder access to production credit significantly improves.”

Crowe also noted that announcements by the Department of Housing and Urban Development that would enable home buyers to use the new $8,000 tax credit at the closing table are especially encouraging. "We appreciate Secretary Donovan’s efforts to make the tax credit more useful to buyers by addressing the biggest hurdle to first-time purchasers—having enough cash for a suitable down payment,” he said.

Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for more than 20 years, the NAHB/Wells Fargo HMI gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as "good,” "fair” or "poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as "high to very high,” "average” or "low to very low.” Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

Two out of three of the HMI’s component indexes rose in May. The index gauging current sales conditions rose two points to 14, while the index gauging sales expectations for the next six months rose three points to 27. The index gauging traffic of prospective buyers remained unchanged, at 13.

Regionally, the Northeast posted a three-point gain in its HMI score, to 18, while the South posted a one-point gain to 18, the West rose four points to 12, and the Midwest held even at 14.

April Construction Slips 1 Percent
The value of new construction starts fell 1 percent in April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $386.6 billion, according to McGraw-Hill Construction, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies. The loss of momentum was due to a slower pace for public works construction, which had been lifted in March by the start of several large pipeline and rail projects. At the same time, nonresidential building in April picked up the pace after the very weak activity reported during the prior two months, and residential building was helped by improvement for single-family housing.

April’s data lowered the Dodge Index to 82 (2000=100), after the March reading of 83. The level of contracting as shown by the Dodge Index witnessed a steady retreat from mid-2008 through February, to be followed by a gain in March and then April’s slight setback.

"The pattern of construction starts over the past two months suggests a transition from extended declines to more of an up-and-down pattern, which generally takes place when a bottom gets established,” stated Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. "This process of establishing a bottom is still in its early stages, and will be affected by how different construction sectors perform in coming months. The impact from the stimulus bill on public works construction is just beginning to emerge, with this sector expected to see more strength as 2009 proceeds. Single-family housing remains at a very low volume, but the worst of its correction appears to have passed. For nonresidential building, there’s been the occasional display of resilience by such institutional structure types as healthcare facilities and public buildings, but the downward trend for the commercial structure types is still very much under way.”

Nonresidential building, at $166.4 billion (annual rate), grew 9 percent in April. The manufacturing building category provided much of the upward push, surging 222 percent, due to the start of a $1 billion upgrade to a centrifuge plant (for uranium enrichment) in Ohio. Excluding this large project, the manufacturing building category in April would be down 7 percent while the increase for nonresidential building would be lowered to 1 percent. There was still support to the nonresidential total in April coming from the institutional categories. Most noteworthy was a 49 percent increase for healthcare facilities, pushed upward by four large hospital projects located in Indiana ($350 million), Illinois ($129 million), Texas ($125 million) and Louisiana ($121 million).

Murray noted, "After reaching an all-time high in 2008, the healthcare facilities category in early 2009 appeared to be in sharp retreat; April’s rebound suggests that the correction may turn out to be more moderate.”

The public building category in April advanced 19 percent, aided by the start of a $289 million military headquarters facility in North Carolina and a $259 million courthouse tower in Arizona. Amusement-related work in April edged up 3 percent, but diminished activity was reported for churches, down 1 percent; and educational buildings, down 5 percent. A more substantial 35 percent decline was reported for transportation terminals in April.

The commercial structure types generally showed weakness in April. The depressed retail industry continues to have an adverse impact on construction, with April seeing declines for stores, down 10 percent; and warehouses, down 34 percent. Office construction was also considerably weaker in April, falling 22 percent. Running counter to the downward trend for commercial building in April was the hotel category, up 8 percent, although April still came in 68 percent below the average monthly pace for this category in 2008.

Residential building in April climbed 8 percent to $105.5 billion (annual rate). The improvement was the result of a 13 percent gain for single-family housing, which posted its second increase out of the past three months. This follows an extended period of decline from the start of 2006 through the start of 2009, when decreased activity was reported in 31 out of 36 months. The single-family pattern in April showed strengthening in all five major regions: the West, up 23 percent; the Midwest, up 20 percent; the South Atlantic and Northeast, each up 9 percent; and the South Central, up 8 percent.

While the extended slide for single-family housing may now be coming to a close, the correction for multifamily housing was still present in April, as contracting dropped an additional 11 percent. By region, the April weakness for multifamily housing was located in the South Atlantic, down 27 percent; the Northeast, down 18 percent; and the South Central, down 10 percent; while some improvement was shown in the West and Midwest, up 3 percent and 12 percent, respectively.

On an unadjusted basis, total construction during the January–April period of 2009 was $117.2 billion, down 39 percent from the same period a year ago. This was the result of the following year-to-date performance by sector: nonresidential building, down 42 percent; residential building, down 50 percent; and nonbuilding construction, down 20 percent.

By geography, total construction during the first four months of 2009 showed the steepest drop in the Northeast, down 55 percent; followed by the South Atlantic, down 43 percent; the West, down 37 percent; the South Central, down 34 percent; and the Midwest, down 26 percent.

Additional perspective comes from looking at 12-month moving totals, in this case the 12 months ending April 2009 versus the 12 months ending April 2008. On this basis, total construction is down 23 percent, as the result of this pattern by sector: nonresidential building, down 16 percent; residential building, down 42 percent; and nonbuilding construction, down 4 percent. By region, the 12 months ending April 2009 showed the following behavior for total construction relative to the previous 12 months: the South Atlantic, down 34 percent; the West, down 30 percent; the Northeast, down 26 percent; the South Central, down 13 percent; and the Midwest, down 10 percent.

SIPs Gain Market Share in Construction Downturn
Despite a multi-year housing slump, structural insulated panels experienced a significant gain in market share in 2008, according to an annual survey conducted by the Structural Insulated Panel Association, Gig Harbor, Wash. SIPs are a panelized building system used for wall and roof construction in energy-efficient and green buildings. They are composed of insulating foam sandwiched between two structural facings, typically made of oriented strand board, although metal and other materials are also used.

With 53.3 million square feet of SIPs produced in 2008, SIPs now command slightly over 1 percent of the U.S. single-family housing market, doubling their market share from the height of the housing bubble in 2005. These gains came amidst an overall 8.8 percent decrease in OSB-faced SIP production, the first recorded decrease since the survey was initiated in 2003.

"With the U.S. economic recession and three straight years of falling housing starts, industry contraction is somewhat inevitable,” said Bill Wachtler, executive director of SIPA. "However, the SIP industry has experienced only a moderate decline in comparison to the overall housing market and other building products.”

Wachtler attributes much of the industry’s relative success to the growing popularity of green building. Homeowners are demanding green homes that use less energy, are constructed using fewer natural resources, and provide a healthy indoor environment. Building with SIPs helps homeowners meet these goals, as well as the requirements of green building rating systems such as the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes program and the National Green Building Standard.

In addition to the residential market, the survey estimates that more than 1,500 nonresidential buildings were constructed with SIPs in 2008. Nonresidential construction accounted for 32 percent of SIP production, compared to 40 percent for residential construction. Non-building applications such as industrial refrigeration facilities accounted for the remaining 28 percent.

Several different combinations of materials are used to construct SIPs, but the basic concept remains the same. The most popular facing materials are OSB and metal. Plywood and other materials such as fiber cement board accounted for only 7 percent of SIPs used in building applications.

According to Wachtler, SIPA analysts have refined their reporting mechanisms to more accurately account for non-building applications and nonstructural metal-faced products. Using these improved methods, industry growth for 2007 has been revised to a more modest 3 percent. This growth came despite a nearly 30 percent decrease in single-family housing starts in 2007. In 2008, total SIP production fell 11 percent to just over 53 million square feet, staying well above the pace of single-family housing starts, which dropped 40 percent.

"Like all industries we are affected by the recession and the drop in new construction,” said Wachtler. "But the strong market share gains we’ve experienced in the last two years indicate that the SIP industry is likely to see a significant increase in production as the economy recovers.”

The survey also polled SIP manufacturers regarding their geographic distribution. The top ranking regions for SIP use were the Mountain, Pacific, South Atlantic, and West North Central regions. Shipments to the South Atlantic region (Florida through Virginia) experienced a significant increase in 2008.

For more information on structural insulated panels, visit www.sips.org.

Thermafiber® Celebrates Its 75th Anniversary
Thermafiber, Inc., Wabash, Ind., proudly announces that June 6, 2009, is the company’s 75th Anniversary. Founded as American Rock Wool in 1934, Thermafiber’s main manufacturing plant in Wabash has served as the backbone for the company’s success. In 1959, American Rock Wool was purchased by United States Gypsum. In 1996, USG sold Thermafiber and since that time the company has been privately held and headquartered in Wabash.

Thermafiber manufactures mineral wool insulation products for buildings and industrial applications.

"Reaching this milestone in our company’s history is a true testament to our employees. Over the years, hundreds of individuals have worked together to make this company what it is today. We are very proud of the achievements that have taken place over the last 75 years,” says Steve Edris, Thermafiber’s president and CEO. "This is a neat opportunity for our current employees to pause and acknowledge the accomplishments of the past. More importantly it is a time to focus on continually improving our operations, our products and our services to ensure a long and bright future for Thermafiber.”

BMI Plaster Receives ICC-ES Evaluation Report
BMI Products of Milpitas, Calif. announces that its BMI 690 PLASTER, a premixed and engineered portland cement plaster, has received an ICC-ES Evaluation Report, ESR-2535, which allows for a single pass of the wall to receive a full thickness of 3/5” to 7/8” of this factory-prepared mixture.

BMI 690 Plaster complies with ASTM C926, Standard Specification for Application of Portland Cement-Based Plaster.
Two CertainTeed Products Receive GREENGUARD® Certification CertainTeed Gypsum, Valley Forge, Pa., announces its ProRoc® Moisture and Mold Resistant Gypsum Board with M2Tech™ and ProRoc® LITE Sand Setting Compounds recently achieved GREENGUARD® Indoor Air Quality Certified® and GREENGUARD Children & SchoolsSM Certification. The company is the first to offer GREENGUARD-certified finishing compound and moisture-resistant gypsum board in both the United States and Canada.

Facilitated by the GREENGUARD Environmental Institute, both certification programs require products to meet stringent standards in regards to chemical and particle emissions, which can compromise healthy indoor air quality. GREENGUARD standards are based on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s purchasing standards, the State of Washington’s Indoor Air Quality Program, Germany’s Blue Angel Program and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers.

GREENGUARD Certified products are recommended and accepted by leading sustainable building programs, including the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED® 2009 Rating System, Canada Green Building Council, National Green Building Standard™ (ICC 700-2008), Green Guide for Health Care REGREEN™ (a USGBC/ASID Partnership) and California’s Collaborative for High Performance Schools Program. A comprehensive list of GREENGUARD certified products is available at www.greenguard.org.

CertainTeed Gypsum products that have achieved GREENGUARD and GREENGUARD Children & Schools Certification include ProRoc with M2Tech, ProRoc Type X with M2Tech, and ProRoc LITE Sand 5/20/45/90/210 Setting Compounds.

People & Companies in the News
Donna Dickinson has been named vice president of development and recruitment for the North American businesses of Saint-Gobain, Valley Forge, Pa. The company employs 22,000 people in its North American businesses, which include Valley Forge-based CertainTeed Corporation, a manufacturer of roofing, siding, wallboard and insulation.

In this newly created position, Dickinson will be responsible for the company’s executive recruitment, succession planning and career development activities.

California Drywall Company, San Jose, Calif., has appointed John A. Jones as senior estimator/project manager overseeing the company’s growing Plaster and Fireproofing Division.

Jones brings nearly 15 years of estimating and project management expertise to the position. At California Drywall, Jones will be responsible for managing the growing plaster and fireproofing division including overseeing all estimates, project management and training of estimators and project managers. He was most recently senior project manager at KHS&S Contractors in Concord, Calif., where he successfully estimated, won and managed a number of projects.

Since its founding in 1946, California Drywall has been family-owned and operated for three generations. In 2008, Engineering News-Record ranked California Drywall as the third largest drywall contractor in California and 20th largest in the nation based on 2007 revenues. The company maintains offices in San Francisco and San Jose and performs projects throughout the Greater Bay Area and Central Valley.

Brady Innovations’ ProX Header was awarded the 2008 CFSEI Award for light gauge steel framing "Innovative Product Design” by demonstrating the technological advantages over traditional built up box header designs.