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Creating Opportunities for Alternative Building Materials

Labor and supply chain issues have shaped the custom home industry in recent years. These issues have prompted builders to be resourceful by making new choices when considering home features, products, and materials to use in their projects.

One feature that has greatly increased is larger outdoor living spaces in areas with temperate year-round climates like much of the Southwest. In other cases, trends have reversed such as smaller home sizes. Many builders are being resourceful by adopting new products and materials, or going back to old standbys, when high prices and lack of availability have slowed their building process down. In 2022 we’re seeing real evidence that builders are making changes in product choices in building materials categories which is greatly helping to mitigate pricing and availability challenges.

Sheathing Materials

During the first year of the pandemic, builders generally continued using plywood and OSB despite the higher cost. The switch from plywood and OSB to other sheathing panels gained momentum in 2021, where insulating fiber board sheathing varieties — think Celotex and Thermo-ply types — and foam board gained ground. Further, builders who were previously using double layers of wall sheathing – OSB + foam board – to satisfy structural and thermal requirements, began to eliminate the wood structural panel and use foam board only, incorporating alternative bracing methods to meet building codes.

Framing Materials

For framing materials, the market shifted in 2021 to use more regionally-produced materials, particularly with lumber. Historically, Spruce-Pine-Fir (SPF) lumber from the Northeast and Canada has been the most popular wall stud material in new U.S. homes, even in the South where Southern Yellow Pine (SYP) is grown and plentiful. However, since the pandemic, SYP has become the most popular wall stud species reported by home builders, and Douglas Fir and Western woods have gained share as well. In 2021, SYP grew from 26% to 34% nationally – that would have been unimaginable a few years ago. In lumber floor joists, SYP also gained in 2021 over the previous year – from 37% to 45% of lumber installed in the structural flooring of new homes.

Ongoing supply chain issues have created delays in the supply of building components such as roof trusses and wall panels. In 2021, some builders responded to the extended delivery schedules by reverting back to stick framing. This led to roof truss and wall panel shares of the new home market bucking their growth trend and falling back to levels not seen in a decade.

Quick- / Easy-to-Install Alternatives

As the shortage of skilled construction workers worsened during the pandemic, building materials that promised installation in fewer steps, or installation by lower-skilled workers, rapidly gained popularity. For example, in 2021, tile and solid hardwood floors lost market share while luxury vinyl plank and tile and engineered wood flooring continued their rise. Tiled shower and bath surrounds also took a tumble, while manufactured units and solid stone and polymer panel surrounds gained popularity.

Other Material Substitutions in 2021

We’ve heard anecdotal reports from builders that the short supply issues were most acute with builder-grade products, and substitutions tended to be for higher-grade products. This, in turn, added to the increasing cost of building homes. The 2021 BPS data bears these reports out in a few product categories. For example, hollow-core interior door shortages resulted in a shift to buying more solid core doors. Builders substituted acrylic bathing fixtures for gel-coated fiberglass fixtures. And raised-panel sectional steel garage doors lost some share to side-hinged, flat panel wood doors.

One notable exception to the general 2021 trend of upward substitutions was seen in front entry door systems. Fiberglass front entry door systems saw a substantial drop in market share – from 54% to 44% year over year – with steel door systems primarily taking up most of the slack and a modest uptick in share for wood doors.


Contains information from: Preview of Findings from 2022 Builder Practices Survey

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