Home buyers typically care about items they can see and touch, such as flooring, countertops, and lights, but they are less concerned with things behind the walls. Likewise, buyers are unlikely to concern themselves with what type of floor joists, studs, and rafters you use, but that’s no reason to skimp and not choose superior structural components.
Fortunately, with the new breed of structural products on the market, builders have access to systems that not only hold up well but also offer added benefits: They can make construction quicker and easier and improve productivity.
Take, for example, the new XJ 85 wood I-joist from Atlanta-based Georgia-Pacific. Unlike typical wood joists, which must be cut on site, the product comes prefabricated with strategically placed openings. Georgia-Pacific says the I-joist “offers builders and contractors a lower installed cost due to fewer callbacks, and the precut holes allow for quicker installation and reduced waste on the jobsite.”
“The progression of the XJ was natural because builders were already cutting holes in joists for ducts,” says Jeff Key, marketing and communications manager for Georgia-Pacific. But Key says there is always a fear that joists could lose structural integrity if they are cut improperly. The XJ eliminates this risk, he says.
Boise, Idaho–based Boise Cascade also offers builders a way to build better and easier through it’s Versa-Lam laminated veneer lumber products. The products don’t shrink, twist, or split like dimensional lumber; and because they are stronger, homes can often be built using less material.
“Versa-Lam is designed to help reduce labor costs and cycle time,” says Denny Huston, the company’s sales and marketing manager. “The quality and precision of this product helps builders build more precise structures, which can save subcontractors many hours down the road.”
Nashville, Tenn.–based LP Corp. is getting in on the act with its SolidStart laminated strand lumber (LSL) line. Made from long, thin wood strands that are oriented parallel to the product’s length, LSL is more consistent than dimensional structural products so it is gaining in popularity.
“There is growing demand for LSL because of its superior durability, strength, and consistency compared to dimensional lumber,” says Brian Luoma, vice president and general manager of LP’s engineered-wood products business. “This results in greater design flexibility and less waste.”
In the coming years, builders will likely start using more prefabricated and panelized structural components as a way to help reduce their construction cycle and waste generation. Some manufacturers already offer some level of prefab services.
A few years ago, Federal Way, Wash.–based Weyerhaeuser totally reorganized its business model by bringing all of its structural systems under the iLevel by Weyerhaeuser name to offer builders prefabricated services. One aspect of the system is the NextPhase Site Solutions. “It’s a system designed to save builders time and money and reduce waste,” says Luke Fouch, a project manager with the company.
Consisting of a range of products, software, and services, NextPhase allows builders to have structural members delivered to the site precut and ready to install. “Framing members come to the jobsite cut to the nearest 1/16 of an inch, so it saves time and requires less or no cutting,” Fouch says.
Whit Smith, president of Whit Smith Construction in Omaha, Neb., is a fan of the system. As an experiment, the company, which builds custom and high-end townhomes, framed one townhouse model the conventional way and then framed the same model with NextPhase panelized components. The panelized house took less than half the time to frame, Smith says. Plus, it resulted in much less material waste.
“I was just flabbergasted,” Smith says. “Building different versions of the same model so close together with such a large difference in construction time made a pretty dramatic impression on me.”
“Weyerhaeuser created the iLevel business as a way to work more closely with our customers to simplify home construction,” says Brian Greber, vice president of marketing and technology for iLevel. Greber continues, “In the tightening housing market, better construction and operating practices are going to be critical for builder and dealer profitability.”
Unfortunately, the housing market has slowed and builders no longer feel rushed to deliver houses in shorter cycles, and they may hesitate to buy into products that promise faster construction time. Manufacturers are aware of the irony, but they say the housing downturn will end someday and builders who are educated about the benefits of cost-cutting structural products will have the edge and be uniquely positioned to reap the rewards.
Holes in One: There is no need to do any cutting on the jobsite when you have the new XJ 85 wood I-joist. The prefabricated product features precut openings placed so that builders can run plumbing pipes, HVAC, and electrical systems. Because the systems results in fewer callbacks, quicker installation, and reduced waste on the jobsite, the system offers users a lower installed cost. Georgia-Pacific Wood Products. 800-284-5347. www.gp.com.
Start Off: SolidStart laminated strand lumber is a structural product made from long, thin wood strands that are oriented parallel to the product’s length, so it outperforms dimensional lumber. Made from Sustainable Forestry Initiative–certified wood from small diameter trees, the product can be used for headers and beams, wall studs, roof beams and rafters, and stair stringers. It also offers design flexibility for tall-wall and large-room spans. LP Building Products. 888-820-0325. www.lpcorp.com.
So Long: Extra-long Versa-Stud laminated veneer framing lumber is designed for tall walls and applications where a builder needs strong, straight framing materials. Offering at least 2.1 times more bending strength and 20 percent more stiffness than 2x6 studs, it is not subject to checks, cracks, or twists, which can occur with dimensional lumber, and it is easy to install. It’s available in lengths up to 60 feet. Boise Cascade. 208-384-6161. www.bc.com.
phase one: NextPhase Site Solutions offer a range of products, proprietary software, and services that allow builders to frame their houses in less time and generate less waste. The pre-assembled components reduce structural frame construction time and the need for skilled labor on the jobsite. Pre-built components also reduce jobsite waste and the risk of material theft. iLevel by Weyerhaeuser. 800-525-5440. www.ilevel.com.
Solid state: The manufacturer has begun producing its RFPI joist with a 2 1/2-inch-wide-by-1 1/2-inch-thick solid sawn flange for better stability and more nailing coverage. Available in four depths and lengths of up to 60 feet, the joists are compatible with standard hangers and connectors. They can be paired with the company’s other products for residential and multifamily construction. Roseburg Forest Products Co. 800-569-7143. www.rfpco.com.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Boise City, ID.