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Concrete Above-Grade Wall Systems: What are Homebuilders Thinking?

A summary of the PCA market research’s The 2003 Homebuilder Report

The Portland Cement Association (PCA) Market Research surveyed homebuilders across the United States in 2003 to assess the awareness and use of concrete above-grade wall systems and competing systems, as well as to measure the attitudes and perceptions of homebuilders toward these systems. In addition, homebuilders’ perceptions of homeowners were measured. Homebuilders were asked what is important to homeowners, how much more homeowners would be willing to spend for benefits such as energy efficiency and noise reduction, and how much they thought homeowners would be willing to spend for a concrete home. The survey focused on ICF construction, but most of the conclusions can be applied to all forms of concrete homes.

The research was conducted to measure the effectiveness of promotions by tracking market share, promotional successes, and the attitudes and perceptions of decision-makers. The survey was a follow-up to a survey of homebuilders completed in 1997 and two follow-up surveys completed in 1999 and 2001. Powerful comparisons are made among the three surveys of homebuilders and with four surveys of homeowners conducted between 1995 and 2002.

The two above-grade wall construction discussed in the report were wood framing and steel studs. Wood framing construction is the tradition form, and is the main competitor for concrete homebuilding, but steel studs and structural insulated panels (SIPs) are also serious contenders for market share. Steel studs are a system similar to traditional wood framing using light-gauge formed steel. SIPs are a system that has a structural composite wall panel consisting of rigid insulation sandwiched between two sheets of plywood, oriented strandboard (OSB), or waferboard sheathing.

Concrete homebuilding includes a variety of traditional and innovative systems. The most heavily promoted of these are traditional concrete block, insulating concrete forms (ICFs), and poured concrete/removable forms (PC/RF). ICFs are a system in which two parallel sheets of polystyrene are filled with concrete and left in place, acting as the insulation for the wall. Other concrete systems including autoclaved aerated concrete (AAC) and precast concrete are also included in the analysis. AAC is a system of lightweight concrete blocks made with extremely fine aggregate and an expanding agent.

The survey was completed by 1,111 single-family detached homebuilders in the following states: Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Nebraska, Ohio, Oregon, and Texas. The average homebuilder who completed the survey has been building homes for 22 years, has built 17 homes in the past year, sells homes priced between $200.00 and $350.00 and builds homes with 1,800 to 3,000 square-feet. The result showed a drop in concrete products’ share, from 10.3% in 2001 to 8.5% in 2003. Most of the concrete products’ share consists of concrete block which fell from 6.8% to 5.1%. ICFs’ share dropped slightly from 2.4% in 2001 to 2.0% in 2003.

The results also found that awareness of concrete homebuilding remained unchanged. Awareness of the systems appears to have leveled off in 2003 after experiencing dramatic increases between 1997 and 1999. In 2003, 96% of builders were aware of concrete block and 83% of builders were award of ICFs. Awareness of most of the systems did not vary significantly between 2001 and 2003.

Homebuilders’ perception about the construction systems showed that poured concrete/removable forms (PC/RF) were rated the highest for durability, insect resistance, indoor air quality, disaster resistance, and environmental safety, while ICFs were rated the highest for energy efficiency and noise reduction.

Wood was the only system that builders were very likely to use all three years the survey was given. Concrete block was rated at the neutral level, while the other systems were rated at the unlikely to use or very unlikely to use levels. Builders were more likely to use all of the systems in 2003 than in 2001.

The results found that the five most important characteristics were low initial cost, design flexibility, energy efficiency, durability, and construction time. In 2003, 39% of the builders were likely to build a concrete home with a comparable cost to wood, which remained steady with the 2001 rate of 40%. Unfortunately, the percent of builders who thought their homebuyers would be likely to build a concrete home if it cost 2% to 5% more than a wood home fell from 27% in 2001 to 18%. However, 90% of the builders thought homebuyers would be willing to spend at least 1% more for an ICF home and 16% thought homebuyers would be willing to spend at least 5% more.

Over 75% of homebuilders thought homebuyers would spend more for energy efficiency (98%). indoor air quality (98%), noise reduction (87%), disaster resistance (96%), and environmental safety (84%).

Future surveys include an update of the homeowner survey in 2004 and an update of the homebuilder survey in 2005.

The contents of this article consist of excerpts from The PCA’s The 2003 Homebuilder Report.

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