I was talking to a building material supplier from New York city on a warm night earlier this summer, and I found myself saying the same sort of things I often do. The big garage door was open in my shop, I was relaxing as I cleaned the place up, then the phone rang. The guy on the other end of the line had imported a new kind of wall and floor panel product from Europe. It’s been used there for years, it’s based on reinforced foam, and it’s meant to be coated with shotcrete on the outside and screeded concrete on the inside. You get all the solidity of traditional masonry buildings, but with energy efficiency that goes way beyond code. The system looks great on the videos I’ve seen, but there’s a problem.
Of all the industries in the world, the residential and light construction business is probably the slowest to accept change. That’s understandable, since the stakes are so high if a new method of building goes bad. The wall panel guy was calling me after a day at his booth at a Las Vegas building show, and he was discovering how reluctant builders are to try new things. That’s when I kicked into my usual talk about how slow the building business is to adopt innovation. It’s a problem, but there’s also an opportunity.
More and more home and property owners are interested in building technologies that can save them energy, reduce maintenance chores, and stand up better during destructive weather events. The internet is giving these people a taste of the new things out there, so a growing number want more. The reluctance they run into talking with typical builders translates into an advantage for contractors who do a little homework and find superior technologies they can trust. The fact is, innovation can mean more than just risk. There’s reward, too.
Some contractors are content with the way things have always been done, and that’s fine. There will always be a place for builders who adopt change last. Just realize that there’s also a growing market for contractors who not only build, but also guide and educate clients towards great new ways of doing things. Become expert at creating game-changing energy efficiency, disaster-resistant construction methods, and the kind of day-to-day quality people can feel, then watch as the best type of clients won’t even take a look at the other guys.