Published on August 1st, 2013 | by UC&D Magazine0
Contractors, Manufacturers in Masonry Industry Optimistic about Utah’s Economy
Brent Overson Executive Director, Utah Masonry Council
Alan Johnson President, IMS Masonry
Jeff Elder General Sales Manager, Interstate Brick
Gerald Travis Sales, Amcor and Oldcastle Company
Gary Buxton President, Buxton Masonry
Utah Construction & Design hosted a Masonry roundtable at the Utah Masonry Council office in Salt Lake City. Representatives from the contracting and manufacturing/sales industry were on hand to discuss key topics affecting the masonry industry as a whole and also how their respective companies are faring in 2013, along with their outlook for the future.
UC&D: What are your major concerns with the masonry industry right now?
Travis: Cheap alternatives are one of the biggest concerns. Inferior products can be tough to bid against. I would say the industry as a whole is improving and that business is on the upswing. There are a lot of (exterior/curtain wall) systems that can’t do what masonry can do, whether it’s stucco, tilt up or manufactured stones.
“The purpose of Utah Masonry Council is to promote masonry and help architects and engineers understand new methods, products, and techniques. Wages have gone down and the market is extremely competitive, but we’ve all adapted to the economy.”
Elder: I’m very concerned about materials that claim to be durable. Manufactured stone is falling off buildings and there are certain materials that don’t work as well as masonry. Moisture gets behind a system and it stays there, and then you’re dealing with cracking, mold growth and other issues. You see some systems where faces have spawled, especially in high elevation areas. There are concerns about insulation requirements – more isn’t always better.
Overson: There is considerable concern amongst masons regarding insulation requirements. The new code goes into effect (in August) and will have some impact on our members and other masons. Some architects and building officials are asking buildings to be designed without masonry.
Johnson: One of the problems we’re seeing is lack of education among architects and engineers in regards to masonry. There seems to be a lack of training in masonry. BIM has left the masonry industry behind. As an industry we have problems to solve. I’m a big fan of taking care of people and through the down economy we’ve seen wages drop, and people are dropping out due to age. We have some labor issues to address. We’re fighting to put ethics back into business and to level the playing field.
Buxton: We are very optimistic the economy is improving. One issue is vapor or moisture barrier in the industry. I think we have some wonderful architects and engineers that are proactive with masonry…I’d like designers to take constructive criticism the right way, especially if they don’t know enough about the product. The purpose of Utah Masonry Council is to promote masonry and help architects and engineers understand new methods, products, and techniques. Wages have gone down and the market is extremely competitive, but we’ve all adapted to the economy. The outlook for our industry looks great. I’m excited about the future of masonry, and I believe the wage scale will come back.
Johnson: We’re trying to work with cities on codes and have had some success in promoting (pro-masonry) codes. It’s up to us to educate people on the value of masonry vs. stucco and the return on investment. In terms of maintenance, brick takes care of itself 99% of the time. Most buildings in Utah use masonry, so as an industry we’ve been fortunate in that regard. The LDS Church is one of the biggest users of masonry and that’s huge for us.
UC&D: What is the status of BIM in the masonry industry?
Elder: We don’t communicate well amongst ourselves. The architect, the engineer, the manufacturer and the mason need to communicate better regarding our materials. Russ Gentry of Georgia Tech has been working on (the BIM) issue. One of the big challenges with BIM and masonry is we have millions of individual units. One wall could have a thousand units and if you want to add three colors and an accent with three courses, and then a parapet with different shapes, you now have a geometric model with millions of pieces of information, representing bondings, vertical joints, inbed plates…the model is huge in terms of materials.
Johnson: There is going to be a huge education process with contractors also, so they can understand what this kind of a model can do for them. Technology will drive the contractors that will survive. A big part of what we can do is educating as many people as we can.
Elder: A lot of guys are working out of a wheelbarrow and shovel, and they’re going to have to be educated at some point. It’s going to be better for our industry because quality control and other aspects will increase. BIM on the masonry side is not integrated yet. The time frame is by 2014 to have all material information submitted to people who are helping with that process.
UC&D: What are some new innovations with materials?
Travis: We focus on the continuing education installation requirements. We are introducing a new system for veneer that has an R value of 13.5 added to it. Coming up with new looks has been a challenge. There is a lot of effort in our industry to produce a product that looks like stone. >>
Elder: We developed a 10-inch structural brick that allows us to get taller, thinner walls. City Creek used a special unit we developed – a quartet – it has a slot in it. The LDS Church wanted the look of modular brick. We developed a structural brick in 4-, 6-, 8- and 10-inch thick increments that were 2 igh laid in quarter bonds. You think you’re looking at modular brick, but it’s really 16-inch long brick from 4 in. to 10 in. thick. It was designed as more of a curtain wall system. The concept was to take structural brick and attach it to the building.
UC&D: How are things looking for the masonry industry locally, and even regionally?
Johnson: We’ve taken on some other products other than masonry. I’m also diversifying by going after work in other areas. The market can be very competitive here so we’re doing what we have to do to keep our guys busy.
Buxton: We’re glad to still be working. We’re not working out of state too much. I’ve found that work in Idaho and Wyoming is very competitive. We’ve done enough out-of-state work to realize that you have to have the manpower to do that work, otherwise morale can go down quick. During the recession we had to figure out how to make it happen and adjust to the market. It was not business as usual. We had to change a lot of things within our company to survive, especially in this area where it’s so competitive. We’ve zeroed in on complicated masonry jobs and it’s eliminated a lot of the big box builders. We have adjusted our thinking and adapted to this market, which will be a huge advantage to us once the market takes off again. We have become more efficient, which we needed to do.
UC&D: What concerns do you have about the labor market?
Travis: There are a lot of kids who don’t have the aptitude to work in a cubicle behind a computer who would do very well in the masonry industry. But they’re being pushed by counselors, their parents to learn other skills. They are square pegs in round holes. What’s sad is these kids are not being identified at the high school level based on their aptitude. Masons can make a very good living. High schools are not emphasizing trades enough.
Johnson: Masonry is going to be one of the best paying trades because there is a shortage of skilled craftsmen. We’re just barely getting by right now.
Buxton: The ATC is struggling with their program to get good kids. We’re working with ATC by supplying our people who are partially prepared to be trained and certified as apprentices. The Hispanic workforce is critical to our industry. We have got to address (immigration) and get (the government) to back off and let these people work.
Johnson: Firms who use e-verify are the ones who are at an unfair advantage because there are some firms who will hire (illegal immigrants) and pay them substandard wages. We go to great lengths to do things the right way across the board.