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December 7, 2005 7:26 AM CST

A Victory for Masonry


For mason contractors around the country, it's a harsh reality that masonry often loses out to other building materials when decision-makers focus on short-term costs alone. But masonry's higher initial cost is justified by its versatility, durability, ease of maintenance and good looks. Masonry simply stands the test of time better than other building materials. Those who know best recognize: In a battle of brawn, brick, block and stone win every time.

Take Rob Greer's recent experience that is a true "victory for masonry." A past Mason Contractors Association of America regional vice president, Greer has provided estimating services for L.F. Jennings (LFJ), a masonry business turned general contractor in Falls Church, Va., since 1992.

When a Chantilly, Va., business owner contacted LFJ to build a 60,000-square-foot, single-story research and development flex building, suitable for office work, light manufacturing and warehousing, LFJ offered three budget options.

Greer explains that option one was a tilt wall priced at $35 per square foot. Meanwhile, option two was a split-face CMU wall system, priced just "slightly more than the tilt wall." Option three was a complete masonry system ? a load-bearing, insulated block wall with a two-inch cavity and brick veneer ? at approximately $40 per square foot.

As the general contractor on the job, Greer says, the process from this point was for LFJ to offer the facts to the owner. The ultimate decision was his.

"At first," Greer admits, "[the owner] was leaning toward tilt wall because of the lower initial cost, but he decided he would rather have brick and block construction because of the inherent quality."

By choosing the brick and CMU combination, Greer explains, the owner "knows there will be zero maintenance to the face brick. This owner also believes that it is easier to lease a brick building. He can justify the higher initial cost because his long-term return will be higher."

Additionally, because it is made of a complete masonry wall system, the building can easily accommodate new clients "without compromising the integrity of the exterior skin," Greer says.

"The owner was wise to choose face brick," he continues. "The brick will not lose its natural beauty over time, nor will [the owner] have paint peeling from the skin as he would with tilt wall. Life cycle costs are very important to this owner."

Although the owner chose the brick option, Greer says that, in LFJ's 53 years in the business, "Tilt wall has taken more business from the masonry industry than we have from them. The idea that tilt wall is faster than block is not always true. It's hard to prove to some developers. The developers of today want their buildings open as quickly as possible with the lowest initial cost. This is understandable, especially if the building will be sold soon after completion as real estate prices keep rising."

When it comes to construction, Greer continues, "Life cycle costs need to be taken into consideration when anyone is thinking of building a house, office building or warehouse. Brick and block have value because of their beauty and longevity. An owner should always consider this when selecting their materials."

"When an owner decides not to use a cheaper wall system because he sees the long-term life cycle value over today's cost," says Greer, "that is a victory for masonry."

About the Author

Brooke Schmidt is an Assistant Editor at Lionheart Publishing.


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