The history of modern wall construction goes something like this: in 1880 concrete masonry units were invented. In 1915 modern wood framing became standard practice. In 1925 metal framing gained acceptance and in 1966 insulated concrete forms were introduced.
In the 50 years since, wall construction hasn’t changed much, but the demands placed on walls have.
Building codes and green-building programs require buildings be energy efficient, fire resistant, windstorm resistant, waterproof and more. In order to meet those requirements, architects tend to slap layer upon layer of added materials onto walls. The result is an inefficient hodgepodge.
So companies like Bautex Systems LLC, in San Marcos, Texas, are beginning to manufacture what are known as integrated wall systems. These systems don’t require extra layers. They can be installed quickly by one trade. They exceed building code requirements. And they may be a way to meet progressive environmental and human health and safety requirements for LEED, Living Building Challenge and WELL Building certification.
The missed opportunity of well-designed walls
The problem with adding layers of, for instance, fireproofing and waterproofing materials to walls in order to meet building codes is the walls become “Frankenwalls.” They’re hard to design and detail, and installation usually requires multiple trades. All of that adds cost and time, yet consumers demand tighter budgets and faster turnarounds than ever before.
Bautex walls, in contrast, are streamlined and can be installed by one trade. The walls are made with easy to insatall lightweight blocks made from a proprietary composite material that combines the benefits of cement and foam. The block wall is then reinforced with steel and poured structural concrete and sprayed with an air and moisture barrier.
Because the composite Bautex Blocks are made with 85 percent foam insulation, they don’t require an additional layer of insulation. And because the insulation is encapsulated in the cement block, it doesn’t require an additional layer of fire-proofing.
The Bautex System is FEMA-rated hurricane and tornado safe, noise reducing, mold and mildew resistant and made with 28 percent recycled materials, too.
Old building habits die hard
It has taken time, education, and experience for these integrated wall systems to catch on.
“People don’t ask for walls when they go to their architect or contractor, but half of what they’re asking their building to do is impacted by the selection for the wall,” says Paul Brown, Bautex president and a director of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Texas chapter.
Even as architects and contractors learn about these new, integrated wall systems, there’s an adoption curve for all new technology. The building materials industry tends to change slowly, and even self-proclaimed “forward-thinking” companies are often faster-followers as opposed to pioneers.
Yet the corner has undeniably been turned in Texas and other fast growing areas where developers demand structures that are premade and assembled onsite in little to no time. For instance, increasingly-popular unitized glass systems are assembled and glazed in fabrication shops, delivered to the field and “snapped” into place. It’s only a matter of time before the industry demands that kind of speed and simplicity from insulated concrete walls, the kind of convenience Bautex provides.
“I think owners are getting a lot more involved,” he says. “They’re educating themselves more. They’re getting on the internet, and they realize there are better ways to do it than the ways we’ve been doing it.”