Innovation in Home Building 2008 Page 1Innovation in Home Building Economists regard technological advances as one of the driving forces in increasing productivity, improving competitiveness, improving product quality, and reducing costs. The home building industry, however, has a relatively poor track record for the adoption of new technology. That is not to say that that home building has not changed through the years. There have been literally hundreds of innovations in the processes or materials that do not materially change the appearance of the finished home. Gypsum wall board (drywall), non-metallic-sheathed cable, engineered wood trusses, plywood and oriented strand board (OSB), plastic drain-waste-vent (DWV) pipe, circuit breakers, ground-fault interrupt circuits, hollow-core doors, and many more products are some of the innovations that have penetrated the market successfully. But why hasn’t the U.S. home building industry adopted some of the building system technology that has been used for many years in other parts of the world? What characterizes technology that gets adopted by the industry? Who adopts the new ideas? Not Always Successful Not all innovative ideas are successful. Three high-profile examples of unsuccessful innovations are: •Fire retardant treated plywood (aka: FRT Plywood) •Exterior Insulation and Finish Systems (EIFS) •Hardboard siding FRT Plywoodwas had been in use for some time when it was suggested as a less expensive means of preventing fires in attached homes from crossing the party wall. The major model codes accepted as sufficient protection the installation a 4-foot wide strip of FRT plywood roof sheathing on both sides of the parapet. Such a design would certainly keep the flames from jumping from unit to unit. Unfortunately, in Florida and other southern states, the roof temperatures reached are much higher than in the northern states and the fire retarding chemicals begin to react, particularly in the presence of moisture. The reaction deteriorates FRT plywood by causing it to loose structural strength, become brittle, and ultimately fail. Discovering the deterioration is frequently accomplished by falling through the roof during a routine inspection.
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