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Easy Bein' Green

Beyond safety issues such as masonry's resistance to mold, fire and windstorms, National Concrete Masonry Association's (NCMA) 2005 promotional campaign

TOM KUENNEN

Beyond safety issues such as masonry's resistance to mold, fire and windstorms, National Concrete Masonry Association's (NCMA) 2005 promotional campaign emphasized environmental sustainability. With apologies to Kermit the Frog, NCMA is showing how masonry makes it easy bein' green.

Environmental design has been a high priority for us, affirms 2006 NCMA Chairman Jim Weber, consultant to and former president of West Bend, Wis.-based Bend Industries. Weber takes the reins of NCMA during its annual meeting this month, held in conjunction with the 2006 MCPX show in Anaheim, Calif.

Our markets are hungry for ÎgreenÌ technology, Weber tells Concrete Products. We have a subcommittee focused on sustainable construction, advocating changes in the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program and other similar protocols to ensure the sustainable characteristics of concrete masonry are fully recognized and credited.

Sustainable Concrete Masonry: Assuring a Healthy Future One Block at a Time, an NCMA brochure released in early 2005, demonstrates how concrete masonry units, architectural concrete block, concrete Îbrick,Ì segmental retaining walls, concrete grid pavers, and articulated concrete block all contribute to environmentally sustainable construction. Accordingly, the publication describes concrete masonry as a natural building material with unparalleled environmental qualities, emphasizing that concrete masonry producers are eager to demonstrate how these qualities can contribute to practical designs, enduring structures and environmental responsibility. For the benefit of present and future generations, the brochure contends, green building practices mitigate environmental impacts while improving occupant well-being and offering reasonable economic returns on investment. A significant component in sustainable construction, concrete masonry provides energy and cost savings over the life of a structure, the literature states, as well as improved indoor air quality and day-lit spaces, improved health, comfort and productivity for occupants. It underscores how concrete masonry is uniquely qualified to meet green building specs.

PENETRATING RESIDENTIAL MARKETS

While sustainability is relevant to both commercial and residential construction, residential markets remain a primary target for NCMA, according to its incoming chairman. We're working to increase our penetration of the residential market, Weber reports. Hurricanes hitting the Gulf Coast last year demonstrated that houses built with codes in effect since 1992, following hurricanes Andrew and Hugo, performed very well. Among those homes, concrete masonry proved highly durable in windstorms.

Concrete and concrete masonry homes merited post-hurricane coverage on CNN, for example, including an interview with a homeowner whose house constructed of concrete products withstood the hurricane, Weber observes. As hurricanes lead to code changes in states that were hit hardest, everyone will benefit, he adds. There is no doubt that the homeowner thereby will obtain a much better product.

Because the residential market is such a high NCMA priority, a new subcommittee within the Marketing Committee has been formed to focus on big homebuilders in North America, just as commercial national accounts now receive information and technical support from the association. The new subcommittee primarily will conduct promotional activities and provide technical services that offer homebuilders a greater understanding of the wide variety of concrete masonry units and how they can be used to beautify homes as well as make them stronger and safer. Built for Life conveys the heart of NCMA's message.

To all builders, we need to communicate how to incorporate concrete masonry into any project as well as innovative design ideas using concrete masonry, plus new techniques for concrete masonry construction that save time and money, and how to build 'greener' with concrete masonry products, Weber asserts. The advantages are many, he enthuses. We fight termites, mold, provide safer housing against storms and fires, and provide exterior and interior decorative options not available with other building materials. Those are some of the messages NCMA will be getting out in the field this year.

And, if a contractor or homeowner chooses not to build with masonry, NCMA suggests constructing a safe room of concrete block within the wood house. Weber adds, Think of mobile homes: Any time there is a tornado or hurricane, they just don't stand up. Clearly, mobile home parks could protect their residents from windstorms by building safe community shelters in the parks. We've got to get that message out to them and to their residents.

Wood use, then, appears to be an ÎingrainedÌ habit. It's just that the people who build houses have done so with wood for several generations, Weber explains. Switching to a different material would require a radical change in their method of doing business. They would need different tradesmen and different suppliers.

Determined not to neglect commercial and transportation markets while targeting the residential sector, NCMA continues efforts to promote segmental retaining walls. Transportation officials have issues with freeze-thaw cycles in the colder states, Weber says. We're working to substantiate that our product is as durable as any currently in use. When the product was first manufactured, freeze-thaw performance issues cropped up in Minnesota. But, the tests are now much more stringent, and NCMA is providing guidance for our members to ensure durability.

TRAINING TRADESMEN

Also crucial to the industry is suitable training for the next generation of masons. To that end, NCMA is partnering with the Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA). The contractors are the training arm of the masonry industry, Weber notes. With MCAA, we're in the process of forming a joint workforce development committee to boost training activities. Also, we continue to encourage the government to help to provide support to training these craftsmen.

Weber tells Concrete Products, We have to make sure masons are available to put the product in place. That effort has to go hand in hand with the rest of the work. In fact, following the storms of 2005, there is now tremendous demand for masons and concrete masonry products in the Gulf states. They're shipping material in from other areas to compensate for short local supply.

NCMA collaboration, however, is not limited to the Mason Contractors. We will continue our cooperation with other concrete industry associations, Weber affirms. Despite the fact that our products sometimes compete with one another, we have a lot in common: problems with government regulations, for example, and shared goals in the codes arena. We are working much more closely with the Portland Cement Association (PCA) and seeking support of our marketing programs from cement producers.

A particular concern of the association is potential silicosis regulations emanating from Washington. More stringent regulations on airborne silica are being considered, Weber reports. We are closely monitoring what might be forthcoming.

MEDIA OUTREACH

Expanding NCMA's outreach is an assortment of prepared or canned newspaper articles and radio spots intended for use by newspapers and stations nationwide. Such prepared material is readily picked up by medium-to-small market publications lacking larger staffs to prepare locally generated copy. While big-market papers and stations may not use the information directly, they are known to derive story ideas from the articles, contacting the association for follow-up. In either case, NCMA's messages are communicated to target audiences.

Prepared by the NewsUSA organization, copy is available for downloading at NCMA's web site (http://www.ncma.org/online/articles.html). Included are masonry fire-, storm- and mold-resistance titles, such as:

  • Americans More Concerned Now About Structure Fires
  • Concrete Retaining Walls Help Cut Cost
  • Don't Feed the Mold
  • Don't Keep the Home Fires Burning
  • Firewalls Missing in Devastating Wildfires
  • Four Tips for Constructing Segmental Retaining Walls
  • How to Prevent and Control Mold in Your Home
  • Lenient Building Codes May Contribute to Fires
  • New Fire Safety Code Provides Less Protection-Coming Soon!
  • Ohio Tornado Demonstrates Need for Safer Buildings
  • Retaining Walls Add Visual Appeal to Landscaping
  • Three Tips for Preventing Mold in Schools
  • Wildfires Cause Concern in Communities.

It's all part of the marketing and technical support we provide our members, Weber says. We will continue to provide what our members need to make a quality product, including the right literature, so they can work with architects and engineers in promoting concrete masonry, as well as our publications and magazines, which educate the specifiers. We also participate in a number of trade shows reaching specifiers and architects.

As 2006 chairman, Weber ponders the long-term challenge for NCMA of consolidation. We want to represent the majority of people in the concrete masonry manufacturing business, Weber emphasizes. With all of the consolidation going on, it has become a struggle. We want to make sure the association can thrive in an era of fewer owners. And, we want to make sure we can operate in a legislatively friendly arena.

On the long-term prospects for standard gray block Û promotion of value-added concrete masonry products notwithstanding Û Weber is bullish. It has a big future, he maintains, while admitting his slight prejudice in that regard. It provides a structural wall and external fa¡ade at the same time; it's soundproof, fireproof and has all the attributes you'd want in a building material.