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    Rewards and Risks of Alternate Building Materials

    Oct. 25, 2022
    As a growing number of contractors are turning to alternate building materials to overcome shortages caused by supply chain issues, new challenges must now be faced.

    Global supply chain issues have significantly slowed home-building over the past few years. Among the main culprits are transportation hub and factory closures. Building materials throughout the world that once flowed freely from port to port have suddenly come to a grinding halt. It’s a devastating blow to an industry which relies so heavily on the timely delivery of these vital materials.

    The lengthy delays and higher costs of goods stemming from the supply chain crisis are ultimately passed along to the home buyer. In a recent Wall Street Journal article, inflation combined with supply chain bottlenecks have led to a dramatic 19% increase of new home costs from the prior year.

    According to Zonda, a leading housing market research firm, the vast majority of home builders recently surveyed acknowledged that supply chain issues have resulted in extensive work delays. Workers must now sit on the sidelines until the necessary building materials become available. These delays, combined with the sharp rise in lumber costs have created the perfect storm for construction expenses to skyrocket.  

    Unfortunately, all types and sizes of building projects are feeling the pinch. “Supply chain issues are continuing to impact all levels of construction, not just the construction of new luxury homes or developments,” said Ken Colao, president of CNY Group, a construction and development services firm in New York. There’s simply no escaping the costly setbacks brought on by material scarcities.

    In an effort to address supply shortages, contractors are seeking alternative methods to minimize delays and move forward with their projects. Techniques currently being employed include substituting cement with other materials that have comparable properties, and reprocessing resources taken from demolition sites that would have ultimately been wasted.

    Utilizing natural materials like volcanic rock, rammed earth and adobe brick is becoming more commonplace. These alternative materials may be less traditional, but they’re also more readily available, and provide the added bonus of natural insulation. With such advantages, they have proved valuable at a time when traditional building materials are in short supply. However, these increasingly popular materials also come with pitfalls.  

    Downsides of Alternate Material Use

    As a growing number of contractors are turning to alternate building materials to overcome shortages caused by supply chain issues, new challenges must now be faced. Among these challenges are finding skilled labor familiar with using these materials and the greater expenses that come with their services. Delays can also result from home and building inspectors who lack the expertise and understanding of how these alternate materials are being used and how safe and effective they can be.

    As a growing number of contractors are turning to alternate building materials to overcome shortages caused by supply chain issues, new challenges must now be faced. Among these challenges are finding skilled labor familiar with using these materials and the greater expenses that come with their services. 

    While these downsides can add to greater costs and delays, the more ominous threat posed by alternate building materials are the potential health effects—most notably, those brought on by the growth of mold. The problem with earthen materials such as adobe brick and volcanic rock is that they’ve been identified as having a significant amount of organic properties that can contain mold, a potential huge liability concern for property builders and owners.

    Mold flourishes wherever there is moisture, poor ventilation and a welcoming temperature. And once it gets a foothold within a structure it can quickly spread, leading to serious health issues for those in its presence. To avert the growth of mold, contractors and builders must understand the connection between alternate construction materials and their vulnerability to mold in the occurrence of moisture.

    Perhaps best summed up in Aaron Cooper’s Texas A&M master’s thesis on mold susceptibility of rapidly renewable materials used in wall construction—“buildings will never be designed, built, maintained or utilized perfectly; and weather and natural disasters cannot be predicted. The one thing we have complete control over, the materials within the building should be selected wisely.” 

    With the potential to cause serious harm to one’s health and wellness, toxic mold resulting from alternative building materials frequently suggests some type of underlying construction flaw, from which litigation ensues. Make no mistake, compensation claims for sickness from mold can be complicated. Those in the medical and scientific community well versed in the effects of mold will likely be called upon for their expertise. It should be noted, however, that most grievances against those responsible are settled before any trial.

    While toxic mold has been shown to have devastating health effects, there are numerous other hazards that can develop from the use of alternative building materials. For this reason, it is imperative to better understand the efficacy and dangers of these materials prior to planning and beginning construction projects. With this knowledge, contractors and builders can minimize the risks workers and dwelling occupants are exposed to while also avoiding costly litigation down the road.

    Slawomir Platta, Esq. is a founding partner at The Platta Law Firm, PLLC. He earned his degree from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. He’s been trying labor law cases throughout the Courts of New York for almost 20 years and has been featured as a Super Lawyer consecutively since 2015.