When CNN anchor and reporter Bill Weir recently investigated lumber’s high price and scarcity, he heard all about beetle infestation, tariff wars, closing sawmills, and all the other reasons you’re familiar with.
He also witnessed a large interactive sticker poll tracking surging lumber prices at the National Association of Home Builders’ booth at the International Builders’ Show in February.
Weir’s nearly five-minute CNN report, “This fireproof material could replace lumber in your next home,” revealed supply-side issues seldom seen by the public. The CNN investigation may not make sky-high lumber prices or monthslong delivery waits any easier to stomach, but it at least helps tell a difficult story.
Like most good storytellers, Weir ends his report on a high note: American ingenuity once again rides to the rescue.
Few know that rosy ending better than John Riddle. “The message that should come across is there’s a better way to build,” says John Riddle, the custom home builder featured in the report. “I’m not necessarily talking about the quickest, easiest, or the least expensive way to build, though you can argue it’s that, too. I’m talking about a better way to build.”
Riddle is co-owner and vice president of Florida-based custom home builder Turning Leaf Custom Homes. In a typical year, the luxury home builder starts four homes a year. This year they’re on pace to deliver 12. “Our crews are maxed out,” he says.
The building method Riddle advocates is insulated concrete form (ICF). ICF creates the exterior envelope by setting cast-in-place concrete walls using steel-reinforced foam blocks, stacked Lego-like. An ICF envelope is exceptionally resilient to wind, moisture, and fire and offers occupants a higher level of indoor air quality. “Family safety and better indoor air are top of mind with our owners,” reports Riddle, noting pandemic concerns and the growing frequency of extreme weather events.
ICF construction is a proven and highly evolved building method, a fact that helps explains why Riddle spends very little time these days explaining its merits to owners. Customers typically have an advanced understanding of ICF and actively seek out Turning Leaf Custom Homes.
Viewers of the CNN report will notice the unfinished interior of a Turning Leaf home relies on wood, as well as engineered trusses. “Lumber goes into our homes. I know all about the six to eight months’ lead time required for engineered trusses,” explains the custom home builder.
That continued reliance, and the pricing uncertainty that comes with it, reinforces Riddle’s belief in ICF as a construction solution more home builders should consider. “We need to reduce our reliance on wood. ICF represents a trusted, proven alternative that’s right for the times,” he says.
What does Riddle say to builders looking to explore options? “Invest in knowledge. Go to YouTube. Consult ICF manufacturers. Most have great training programs. Try a project. Focus solely on quality, not ICF installation speed, which many tout.
“Be willing to think just a little bit differently. Vast opportunities await you. I guarantee it.”
Learn more about a better way to build homes with more resilience and improved indoor air quality.