Even if you could find it on a map, Mead, Neb., (pop. 564) is probably the last place you'd think of as a poster town for factory-built framing components. But it's where Randy Johansen, a former stick-framer, now operates a state-of-the-art, 41,000-square-foot wall panel plant and has a 32,000-square-foot truss facility about to come on line. “We started building them at the lumberyard for one customer and it evolved into this,” says Johansen, president of Advanced Framing & Components.
He's not alone, of course. The last time the Wood Truss Council of America (WTCA) surveyed its membership, in 2002, there were nearly 1,700 truss and/or panel manufacturers operating nationwide, most of them single operations—an industry that sells in excess of $9 billion worth of components for residential and commercial construction projects. In addition, two-thirds of the pro dealers listed on the 2004 PROSALES 100 now have manufacturing capabilities, with roof truss, wall panel, and floor truss lines growing the fastest of any category.
Even in Texas, perhaps the country's last large-scale bastion of predominantly stick-framed single-family houses, high-volume home builders are following their commercial and multifamily counterparts in demanding roof trusses, while most of their peers in states such as Florida simply won't use anything else. And it's not just a tract-builder phenomenon: There are no big names like KB Home or Centex operating in Mead's service areas of Lincoln, Omaha, and Freemont, Neb., for instance, yet the market supports four component suppliers, a trend initiated by Johansen. “There's broad-based demand [for components],” says Kirk Grundahl, P.E., executive director of the WTCA in Madison, Wis. “The demand is not by the type of builder, but among builders who are breaking with traditional practices driven by their desire to develop land as quickly as possible.”
If you want to know why components have quickly evolved from novelties to necessities among builders, and thus offer dealers a key survival tool against threats to their value in the supply chain, consider these key reasons:
Reason #1: Builders Don't Build
That shift has put the burden on others, namely framing contractors and increasingly lumber dealers, to provide as much of the actual house as possible, and quickly. “Our systems can produce a house in 11 days, but sometimes that's not fast enough,” says Carey, whose customers have asked Davidson Industries to go from blueprints to a house on site in as few as seven days.
Component suppliers, especially those offering installation, not only assume much of the burden of building, but also relieve their builder customers of other issues that can hinder their ability to turn raw land into valuable real estate. “We take care of all his problems,” says Johansen, including engineering the blueprints, conducting materials takeoffs, and managing returns. “Once we have them hooked [on components and turnkey framing], they don't go back to sticks.”
Reason #2: Components Cost Less Tired of trying to market theories and anecdotal data about the cost savings afforded by component framing, the WTCA teamed with NAHB's Building Systems Council a few years ago to construct two identical, 2,600-square-foot single-family homes, one with sticks and the other with trusses and wall panels.
The component-built house went up in about one-third the time as the other unit, reducing labor costs by $4,560, while also trimming $325 in waste-disposal charges. Despite a 10 percent materials premium, the bottom line was a $3,356 savings, an 18 percent difference, for the largest-ticket item in a builder's construction budget (see “Proof Positive,” left).