Dealers striving to help their customers improve building processes have found another value-added service to offer: pre-routing utility holes in engineered wood I-joists. Pre-routing is a growing trend in areas of the country like the South, parts of the Las Vegas and Great Lakes areas, and pockets of Texas, and some proponents predict it will spread to new areas of the country as builders continue to look for ways to reduce materials damage and repairs. At the same time, however, other industry experts say the service does not necessarily save the builder money nor prevent installation issues and won't appeal to the vast majority of builders.
Utility subs are usually responsible for cutting holes in I-joists to route their electrical and plumbing lines and HVAC ducting. But while this is a common practice and every manufacturer provides engineering guidelines, several problems may arise. There are specific allowances for where the holes can be cut, what size can be cut where, and how close the holes can be to each other and to the end of the joist, and it's up to each utility sub to apply the manufacturer's engineering specs/equations to the specific installation situation.
“The biggest problem is that the trades don't follow instructions that are given to them, which are somewhat general,” says Roger Gibbs, president of SpaceJoist TE LLC, manufacturer of the open-web, trimmable-end SpaceJoist TE.
Manufacturers say that holes are frequently cut in the wrong location, too close together, or too large, all of which can undermine the stability and strength of the joist. They also point to careless cutting and imprecise cutting tools. Most mistakes can be repaired, but if a joist's flange is damaged, the entire structural member may have to be replaced, delaying the job.
The Hole Package These potential problems are why some lumberyards and structural component suppliers have been offering utility hole pre-routing as part of their framing packages. By predetermining the size and placement of the utility lines and drilling the holes accordingly, the dealer can provide a quality control service to the builder.
“There is a demand on the part of the builder, especially the larger builder, to provide holes for ductwork and plumbing. It makes it easier for the builder to negotiate with his HVAC and plumbing contractors and provides a better price from that subcontractor,” says Doc Berger, Eastern regional sales manager for LP, manufacturer of LPI Joists.
“I believe the builder understands the value of expediting their projects to close,” points out Fred Snyder, director of national accounts for Universal Forest Products, manufacturer of plated and open-web floor trusses and I-joists. “Getting the trades through the process quickly is one way of doing this.”
Ten years ago, building materials supplier Cofer/Adams Building Supply Center in Lawrenceville, Ga., added pre-cut HVAC holes as an option to its framing packages at no charge to secure the business of a large tract builder, says Marty Durham, manager of the dealer's engineered wood products division. Durham says that about 90 percent of his customers now take advantage of the service.
For some dealers, the equipment investment may not be much. Dealers already using framing software and manufacturing equipment like trimming machines to process building components may only need to add a routing station to their production line, which can be as simple as a worker using a template and a handheld power saw or as high-tech as a fully automated machine that trims and routs in one pass.
Hope Lumber in Atlanta has been offering utility hole pre-routing for nearly a year. Because Atlanta in particular is a hotbed of pre-routing activity, “We knew we had to offer this when we started [the business],”says engineered wood products manager Mike Bailey. “... I don't want my sales folks not getting a sale by not offering this service, so we offer it.”