A new year is a time for both fresh beginnings and taking inventory of old favorites worth holding onto. In that spirit, we at Builder took a look back at some of the most innovative uses we’ve seen for tried-and-true products over the past year, as well as some new products that meet old needs. From solving long-endured structural challenges to providing design elements that ring familiar but come with an unexpected twist, these ideas are well worth carrying into the new year and beyond.
For builders aiming to achieve the modernist look of recast concrete but also want to avoid the hefty price tag, Viroc—a composite board made from wood chips and cement—offers a great alternative. The product resists fire, humidity, and fungus, and is low-maintenance and durable. “It’s attractive, smooth, sustainable, and a fraction of the cost of cast concrete,” Janet Bloomberg, a principal at Washington, D.C. –based KUBE Architecture told Builder. KUBE has used the product for a variety of applications ranging from stair landings to flooring to outfitting entire rooms. “I once made a decision on site to use it on every surface in a dining room,” Bloomberg said.
The farm house may be one of American architecture’s most beloved forms, but the style is also known for its drawbacks. “Old wood-framed and fieldstone foundation farm houses were notoriously drafty, as they were built from available lumber by frugal, self-taught, do-it-all farmers,” says architect Mark Larson, a principal with Rehkamp Larson Architects, based in Minneapolis. Fortunately, today’s building products allow builders to eliminate many of the ills found in the classic design. When building a weekend home for a Midwestern family, Rehkamp Larson Architects adopted the farmhouse form but used SIPs for the walls and roof, which allowed them to achieve almost no thermal bridging while easily allowing for the classic punched windows.
Tin has long graced the ceilings of Victorian homes, so when Winchester, Va.– based Reader & Swartz Architects were challenged with converting a four-unit structure from the 1800s into a two-unit building, they decided to reinvent the classic material for modern design. The team incorporated galvanized steel sheets on the exterior as an infill panel wall. Inside, pressed tin-plated panels serve as a sleek kitchen backsplash.
Claire Easley is a senior editor at Builder. This article is a compilation of stories by products expert Nigel F. Maynard.