'We have an advantage': Demand grows for alternative building materials

Jeff Frame, owner of Frame Architecture, sits at the front desk of his firm’s office in Reno on Monday, July 19, 2021.

Jeff Frame, owner of Frame Architecture, sits at the front desk of his firm’s office in Reno on Monday, July 19, 2021. Photo by Kaleb Roedel.

Construction companies, manufacturers and other businesses that submit bids to win jobs have seen the process turn unpredictable as rising material costs expose them to potential losses and massive project delays.

Companies that use non-traditional materials, however, may have a leg up on the competition.

Take Haus of Reed, a custom furniture and interiors shop based in Sparks that specializes in hospitality, commercial and residential projects for clients in Nevada and beyond.

Owned by Tim and Randi Reed, the company fabricates interior elements, such as a kitchen countertop or bathroom sink, using alternative materials like glass fiber reinforced concrete (GFRC) that Tim Reed makes in their shop.

Similar to chopped fiberglass, though much weaker, GFRC is used combining a mixture of fine sand, cement, polymer, water and alkali-resistant glass fibers.

Reed said companies that install countertops made from materials like stone, quartz and marble, for example, are at the mercy of skyrocketing material prices and supply chain snags between the U.S. and suppliers overseas.

“We have an advantage because we can make the material,” Reed said of GFRC. “Nothing comes from overseas, so we don’t have to deal with the question mark of when they can actually unload everything. There are things we buy ahead of time, but most of it is pretty much here locally. So that’s been a benefit of one of those materials we work with.”

Added Randi Reed: “We have the ability to create the same product from scratch without a huge cost difference.”

What’s more, she said it also allows the company to have more control of schedules and project timelines, something many companies relying on traditional materials shipped across the ocean can’t do.

A look at kitchen countertop made of glass fiber reinforced concrete that was fabricated by Haus of Reed, a custom furniture and interiors shop based in Sparks. Courtesy Photo


“That’s always critical,” she continued. “Especially now, it’s even more critical. Because the quicker you get your product to market, the quicker you’re making a profit. When you’re building, that’s what these developers or builders are looking at when they’re taking these projects through their design process going, ‘can we even do this?’

“The faster you can up your schedule, the better off you are.”

To that end, the Reeds feel the pandemic-related impacts to material costs and supply chains could drive more builders and developers into using alternative materials like GFRC.

“I think it’s going to force people to,” Randi Reed said. “They’re sometimes not as expensive as people think they are. I think you’re going to have builders be a little more educated and a little more open-minded to different materials or methodologies.”


Jeff Frame, owner of Frame Architecture in Reno, is seeing more and more innovations in both commercial and residential construction to save on material costs.

One trend involves companies fabricating precast concrete insulated wall panels, which can be designed to be load-bearing to support floor and roof components. These energy-efficient wall panels, Frame said, cuts the number of trades needed for that part of a project from four down to one.

“From a sustainability standpoint, I think there’s a strong case there because of the use of concrete and reducing the use of some lumber, some drywall, and whatever other finishes,” Frame said. “Also, there’s a time savings, which is, of course, dollar savings.”

For the exterior of buildings, Frame said his firm is also seeing more demand for non-traditional finish materials like cement fiber siding — made of cement, sand, water and cellulose fibers — as an alternative to synthetic stucco.

“People want to use materials that they feel are more sustainable,” he said. “What’s the origin of the material? How does it get here? And how is it installed? And what does it do for the building envelope?

“And I think of lot of people are looking at it more of, ‘What can we do to do something different?’”

To that end, Frame said that one non-traditional material that presents a lot of opportunities is hemp. Notably, the federal government recently approved the Nevada Department of Agriculture’s plan to regulate the Silver State’s hemp industry.

“There are a lot of building materials that can be made out of hemp,” said Frame, citing insulation and vapor barriers as examples. “Even wood sheathing, we could replace and put a certain percentage of hemp fiber in there. And it’s stronger and lighter.

“And it’s easy to grow and uses less water than other plant-based materials. People just have a tough time getting out of their norms.”


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