Embrace New Materials

As researchers and developers of new materials for construction applications, when we saw the headline of your recent editorial "Housing has a Relentless Quest for No Maintenance," (ENR 2/2 p. 48) we were expecting to see an opinion on how far development of new and improved materials for construction has come. Instead, we saw a rather surprising complaint–that new materials are too durable and that those who spend their time fixing bad, old materials will be out of work.

Isn’t it time that the construction industry embraced "sustainable engineering" and new materials and better trained its work force to work in a changing world? New materials are the engines that drive technology and improve our quality of life. The construction industry needs to be out in front of these trends by developing training courses for workers, publishing design guides and specifications and promoting the development of hybrid materials that exploit the best in all materials (including wood–whose power, one can assume from your editorial, has been "usurped.")

We hope that your editorial will spark a serious discussion about where the construction industry, and in particular, the housing industry, will invest its resources in the future. Will it invest in the development of new materials or in political pandering to special interests in an already fragmented industry?

Return on Investment

In the Viewpoint column "Don’t Farm Out Commissioning," Thomas Gormley makes a pitch for better cooperation between owners, designers and contractors in order to build quality buildings (ENR 11/17/03 p. 55). Once we have such quality buildings, the Viewpoint explains, we won’t need independent or third-party commissioning. The column describes a company project where in-house engineers diagnosed and fixed a malfunctioning boiler, thereby avoiding the extra cost of commissioning. The stated avoided cost of $1 to $2 per sq ft is about double what we get. Maybe we should open an office in Nashville.

Having been an engineer on the owner’s side of the fence for about half of my 30 years in facilities work, my experience has shown that commissioning returns about three times its cost in avoided in-house staff repairs in the first five years of a new building’s life. Like Mr. Gormley’s staff, my staff certainly spent its share of hours fixing problems left over from the conventional construction process. But what I want to know is this: How does Mr. Gormley get his staff to work for free?

RONALD WILKINSON
Dome-Tech Commissioning Services
Edison, N.J.