The composites industry has proven itself more than capable over the last several decades. Companies like Rock West Composites have demonstrated the viability of composites as replacements for more traditional materials like wood, steel, and aluminum. Our big task now is convincing other industries to embrace more composites.
One industry that comes to mind is construction. In particular, residential construction offers a lot of room for composite materials. For example, consider the foundation. A home with a typical basement starts with foundation walls constructed with either poured concrete or cinder block.
Composites World editor-in chief Jeff Sloan wrote on this same topic in early September 2020. He began his post by describing the construction of a new home on the lot next to his. Sloan observed how long it took construction workers to install foundation walls. It wasn’t good.
Too Long a Process
This particular house utilized poured concrete walls rather than cinder blocks. According to Sloan, it took two weeks for the team to erect the forms for the concrete. Then the concrete was poured and allowed to cure. Finally, the team needed two more weeks to remove the forms and pour the floor. All in all, it took a month.
This writer used to be in the construction business as well. Back in my day however, foundations were usually built with cinder blocks. Talk about slow. Where it takes a week to erect poured concrete foundation walls, cinder block construction can take even longer.
Sloan observed, and we agree, that composite foundation walls are much more efficient and cost-effective. And as long as we are going that route, the exterior walls throughout can also be made with composite materials. Here’s the thing: resistance to composites is not a matter of building standards. Composites meet or exceed building codes. There is something else in play here.
Off-Site Construction Methods
Another thing to consider is the fact that composite components can be constructed off-site. Those composite foundation walls are built in factories by teams of workers who can fabricate wall sections surprisingly fast. Moreover, the sections can be custom-built to accommodate different sized walls.
Once constructed, the walls are shipped to the site for installation. Now, here’s the real kicker: an entire home of composite foundation walls can be installed and waterproofed in a matter of hours. Builders can save 2 to 3 weeks by choosing composite walls over poured concrete or cinder block construction.
Resistance to Change
So, if building codes and time are not the issue, what is holding back composites in residential construction? In all likelihood, it is nothing more than resistance to change. We human beings have a tendency to get comfortable with what we know. So comfortable, in fact, that it becomes too uncomfortable to start over with something new.
Imagine a builder who has been in the business for decades. He knows everything there is to know about poured concrete and lumber. He has the building process down to a science. Embracing composite materials would require him to go back to the drawing board. He would have to learn all over again. From his perspective, it is better to stick with what he has always done unless, and until, the market demands something different.
And that is the final lesson here. Residential builders would make the transition to composite materials if the market demand were there. So ultimately, it is up to the buying public. If we start telling builders we want composites instead of concrete and wood, they will give us what we want. We just have to make our voices heard.