Greater Expectations: What’s Trending in the Building Industry

“Code is a four-letter word for the worst building you can build without going to jail.”

Building science engineer Dr. John Straube called it like it is at the latest DELTA® Academy Seminar Series in Washington, DC. His message was loud and clear: merely meeting code does not and should not cut it in an industry that has such a significant environmental and human impact. Not to mention the products and skills available to do so much better.

Greater expectations are driving new ways of thinking and doing. The following trends are set to challenge and shape the building industry in 2019 and beyond:

  1. Demand for Greater Durability and Performance
  2. Focus on Health and Safety
  3. Simplifying the Complex
  4. Tune into Technology
  5. Green Building and an overall Sustainable Approach

1. Demand for Greater Durability and Performance

It might go without saying that people want the best buildings they can afford – buildings that will stand strong, protect occupants and provide comfort. However, one area that continues to gain attention in the building industry is a demand for greater structural reliability.

Will your design and materials stand the test of time or the wrath of Mother Nature? Structures today are being pushed to the limit, having to withstand devastating natural and manmade disasters. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) reported $306 billion in disaster damage for 2017 in the United States alone. Though the 2018 numbers have yet to be tallied, it can be assumed that they will not fare much better than the previous year. The National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) recorded one drought, six severe storms, one tropical cyclone, one wildfire, and two winter storm events, resulting in losses upwards of $1 billion each – all within the first nine months.

Buildings built to last, especially government, residential, and institutional buildings, require a different mindset and better materials. In fact, studies show that added costs for better resiliency and durability are well worth the investment. A Florida-based case study on hurricane hot spots and the use of impact-protection provisions shows a cost-benefit of $6 in reduced damage for every $1 in increased cost.

2. Focus on Health & Safety – Pre-, During, and Post-build

Occupants and building owners not only expect more from the overall performance of their buildings; they also expect that the materials used are safe and will keep them safe in the long run. For this reason, there is greater attention being paid to detrimental moisture issues that wreak havoc on a building’s performance and longevity, and can also cause health concerns when rot and harmful mold occur. For this reason, more advanced moisture protection systems are being put into place to ensure proper defense and long-term safety for occupants.

As an industry, however, we can’t push building strength and safety without also stressing the need to improve safety for those who do the work.

When we look to global stats, construction continues to show a gap in health and safety. The International Labour Organization reports, “Worldwide, there are around 340 million occupational accidents annually, with the construction industry demonstrating a disproportionately high rate of recorded accidents.”

Fortunately, in North America, building companies are working on it more with every passing year. One of the (many) ways the industry is addressing workplace health and safety is through more innovative safety equipment. SolePower, for example, makes smart boots that are embedded with electronics, including GPS, motion sensors, Wi-Fi, and lighting. The goal is to improve situational awareness and visibility for high-risk workers. Other technologies include lighter-weight fabrics for staying cool in heat waves, and virtual reality for training exercises.

With the disproportionate number of accidents taking place in the building industry, the idea of incorporating strong workplace health and safety standards is no longer a “nice to have” item, but rather a “must have” going forward for companies in the industry.

3. Simplifying the Complex

According to Dr. Straube, the number-one challenge facing the design and construction community is complexity. There are simply more variables to consider. Think assemblies, layers, materials, consultant management, and regulatory requirements. Each one of these categories could require dozens of decisions. Although choice is valued, too much of a good thing can be counterproductive. Trivial, time-draining decisions distract from the fundamentals, causing greater hardship for companies already playing catch-up on projects in constant queue. The pressure is on to make quick and effective decisions, but that means architects and project managers must know their stuff inside and out before they make specifications. For workers, it means needing to understand the correct application or installation method for every material. Unfortunately, the right person for the job is becoming more difficult to discover. The USG Corporation and U.S. Chamber of Commerce Q4 2017 report shows 91% of contractors are having a moderate to difficult time finding skilled workers, and that young people are reluctant to enter a highly technical and dangerous field.

What we’re hoping to see more of is manufacturers making building materials easier, safer, and faster to install—while maintaining quality. At Dörken, for example, we made our self-adhesive water-, air-, and weather-tight barrier DELTA®-VENT SA  simple to install by removing the need for fasteners and penetrations. For DELTA® MS, a dimpled membrane for dry basements, we made sure application times were shorter and methods were easier and safer for the worker than spray solutions.

DELTA®-VENT SA is the only self-adhering air and water resistive barrier with the security of a self-adhesive edge lap.

One trend that also speaks to the increasing trend of ease and efficiency is offsite construction. It’s quick, easy, cost effective, light on labor, and avoids the common weather delay. This particular type of construction allows for simultaneous site prep and module assembly at the factory. Reports show that modular construction can reduce build time by 30-50%.

In addition to better products and methods, better support is also a must. It’s why we launched DELTA® Academy. Our seminars, workshops, and panel presentations based on scientific evidence and global expertise, not sales pitches, ensure consultants, builders, and designers are fully equipped to do their next job, as well as navigate a changing industry.

4. Tune into Technology

New, improved, and smart technologies continue to take simplification to the next level.

For builders, project management software is quickly becoming a tech staple in most toolkits. It keeps everyone on track for solution development, scheduling, and time management.

Similarly, Building Information Modeling (BIM) technology is also paving the way for improved efficiency and process enhancement. Essentially, BIM is helping teams deliver better buildings at an overall lower cost, and quicker than traditional design or build methods. The “see it to believe it” 3D technology helps builders, architects, contractors, and installers streamline important decisions as they are able to see how everything will work together from the planning phase to execution. Dörken, for instance, is the first air- and moisture-barrier manufacturer to provide wall assembly files for AutoDesk Revit, the industry-leading BIM technology. This offering helps streamline the process for architects—saving them time and reducing complications, all while helping them achieve the most effective building protection.

In addition to advanced software solutions, the use of drones is being seen more and more on construction sites around the globe. Monitoring building functions closer is now a reality with drones—aerial photography and video can be leveraged to collect information about building functions, which can then be used for survey data and to increase onsite safety where necessary.

Owners are also looking to technological advancements for more economic and efficient building maintenance and management. Cutting-edge Building Automation Systems (BAS) go beyond basic centralization and automation of fundamental functions such as heating, cooling, and lighting. They can balance energy use through equipment cycling, collect data for analysis, and respond to updates sent from smartphones. The Transparency Market Research Report shows that the commercial side, with a focus on hospitals, data centers, and office buildings, is forecasted to grow from $78 billion in 2016 to $108 billion by 2024. According to Buildings, the average cost of a BAS ranges from $5,000 to $50,000. The rate of return, however, is high and Ready One estimates that owners can save $0.20 to $0.40 on every square foot.

Another technology primed for greater things is 3D printing. Digital files are transformed into three-dimensional functional shapes using less time and material than traditional manufacturing. “Ink” comes in the form of many different materials such as ABS plastic, glass-filled polyamide, nylon, steel, wax, sand, and concrete. This technology encourages creative freedom, especially for home and commercial design. Although still in its infancy, 3D printing has the potential to help reduce global homelessness. Housing non-profit New Story and tech startup Icon are leading the charge in this space. Their mobile printer, the Vulcan, is set to travel to El Salvador in the new year, where it will churn out 3D-printed homes, one every 24 hours, for under $4,000 each.

5. Green Building and an Overall Sustainable Approach

Put simply, we know that a growing population means an increased need for buildings. For the environmentally responsible and progressive among us, it means being mindful of the “why,” “how,” and “what.”

Within this context, LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) has become the most widely used green-building rating system in the world—with the aim to provide a framework to create healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings. LEED certified projects incorporate products that deliver industry-leading performance.

LEED-certified structures, and green or sustainable building practices overall, are becoming increasingly important, particularly seeing as the construction industry is responsible for 20% of global emissions.  It is encouraging to see that the industry as a whole is heeding the warning of climate change. The WGBC’s 2018 SmartMarket report shows over 60% of respondents expect to build green, jumping from 27% in 2018 to 47% in 2021.

The 2018 Fine Homebuilding house in California is a great example of a project that is modeling the way for energy efficiency. It is a net-zero-energy, high-performance house constructed to meet the goals of the California 2020 initiative and comply with the most progressive energy codes in the country. Every aspect of this house has been strategically engineered, from the design of the foundation to resist seismic activity to the implementation of exterior materials to resist wildfires, the use of superior interior and exterior materials for insulation, and the size and slope of the lot, which plays a key role when it comes to water drainage. Dörken has provided Fine Homebuilding with a range of air and moisture barriers that will help contribute to the house’s net-zero-energy initiative.

What does this all mean for the future of the industry?

As we move into the new year, let’s hold ourselves and others in our industry to higher standards, so we can continue to achieve the best in building design and construction – not just meet code – and help the industry live up to its potential.