Innovative Partnerships And Infrastructure: Keys to The Long Term Growth of Residential Steel Framing
Western Metal In Architecture - Jan/Feb, 1998
Scott Shaddix is President of Nicholas Lane Contractors, Inc. Shaddix is on the Board of Directors for Southern California based Team Steel and is a board member of the American Iron and Steel Institute's Cost Reduction Field Study program. Nicholas Lane Contractors currently frames 40% of the approximately 900 homes per year it builds using light-gauge steel framing materials.
To quote Maurice Maeterlink: "At every crossing on the road that leads to the future, each progressive spirit is opposed by a thousand appointed to guard the past."
Nicholas Lane Contractors framed more that 300 production homes using steel in 1997. It has been a struggle.
Establishing suppliers, getting materials delivered on time. Figuring Out the right tools to use and most importantly, developing the skills and efficiencies of our tradesmen, have all been time-consuming and extremely costly. But with 300 production homes under our belt, we have proved the viability of production steel framing.
I'm the framer. While my tradesmen and I are supposed to be the biggest hurdle in developing residential steel systems, I'm passionately convinced that steel is viable.
So, why are only 4 to 6% of all residential homes framed with light-gauge steel? In 1992, members of the steel industry gathered to set a goal of acquiring a 25% share of the residential framing market by 1997. They've settled at around 6% today, but aren't stepping forward to assert their goals.
25% of the nation's residential home building market represents an approximately $1.7 billion per year industry for steel manufacturers and roll formers. What are people waiting for?
If we want something, we have to go after it. Obviously the wood industry isn't going to hand over its market share to us.
What is it going to take to advance the position of the steel industry and allow builders to seriously consider light-gauge steel as a viable alternative to wood? The answer- a vision, a commitment to success, a plan of attack.
Lacking A Steel Infrastructure
None of these factors exist with steel. I know. Every aspect of the wood framing infrastructure that is lacking for steel has cost me dearly in labor expenses. And believe me, when I call my client to tell him that his project is going to be delayed a full week because I can't get my steel materials delivered on time, you know what happens, if you're a contractor.
Establishing An Environment of Certainty
And if a developer isn't certain he can get a home built at a competitive price and on time, he looks for different building materials.
Developing certainty for production steel framing requires establishing an infrastructure. This requires an investment on the part of those who have a vested interest in steel. If the steel industry continues to depend on people like myself to make the major investments in developing the resources needed to build homes with steel, progress will come along but slowly.
Educating The Industry: 'Team Steel'
'Team Steel' was founded on the principle that new technologies were not the only answer to the growth of steel framing. The expansion of residential production steel framing will require a commitment to innovative relationships between builders, suppliers, contractors, tradesmen, tool manufacturers, architects, engineers and inspectors.
The knowledge, skills and proficiencies of everyone involved in steel framing must rise together. Every player must recognize that his investment in time, and educating himself, is necessary for the success of steel framing.
The tradesmen who work for Nicholas Lane Contractors , similarly ask me why they should invest in a $200 screw gun when they know they can use their $25 hammer at the wood construction site down the road.
When I speak to builders about working with steel, they ask me why they should change. There are a limited number of framing contractors in Southern California who can effectively build steel homes. How are they supposed to assure a competitive price on a framing bid when only one or two bids come through the door?
I even ask myself, when I look at how labor costs that come in over budget on some steel projects affected my bottom line in 1997, why not simply build with wood?
Competitiveness: The Driving Force
Nicholas Lane has invested a great deal of time, energy and cost into bringing tradesmen, suppliers, engineers and inspectors up to speed. We only go forward with steel because we believe that we have developed the efficiencies necessary to make steel framing profitable for us in 1998.
Commitment From The Entire Building industry
In 1997, the American Iron and Steel Institute initiated a Cost Reduction Field Study. A research budget was allocated to develop methods of assembly and techniques for fastening and cutting at various stages of building (i.e. framing, drywall, plastering, finish carpentry, plumbing and electrical). The goal of the AISI program is to accelerate the growth of a steel infrastructure. Working to establish a skilled and efficient labor force is an important first step, but there must also be a concerted effort to include the entire chain of suppliers, subcontractors and technicians, who are all integral components for the establishment of a solid steel framing infrastructure.
The Cost Reduction Field Study is a positive sign that the industry is moving forward. But a long-term commitment needs to be clearly defined to convince the many who are still hesitant that certainty is just around the corner. When an average tradesman spends hundreds of dollars tooling up for steel, or a material supplier allocates 20% of his lumber yard and 20% of his shelf space to steel materials and fasteners, they must feel confident that they are investing in an industry that has the uncompromising support of the entire building industry.
How To Build An Infrastructure
In the first of the series I will discuss the differences between doing takeoffs for steel and wood framing plans, and the problems associated with bidding a steel framing job accurately.
The second of the series will discuss the problems associated with cutting and fastening steel materials, the tools required, and the training to bring tradesmen up to speed. The third article in the series will discuss the steps we have had to go through in educating our suppliers, plan checkers, inspectors and engineers.
The final article of the series will present a daily log
of a successful steel framing project. I will discuss the hurdles that
Nicholas Lane had to overcome as we pushed a project forward to meet cost
and time goals.