The construction material supply chain was badly disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and early 2021. With vaccines available and workers returning to previously locked down businesses, expectations were high that those slowdowns of material were past us. The latest reports indicate they aren’t.
It was 1972 when John Denver sang, “It’s a Colorado rocky mountain high…” and had many people wondering what “high” meant in those lyrics. For those who live in Colorado, where mountains are as common as flies at a picnic, there was never a doubt: Standing at the summit of any peak is how to get high in Colorado. And the most famous mountain there is probably Pike’s Peak.
At 14,115 feet, Pike’s Peak is only the 32nd tallest mountain in the state but perhaps best known because of the hill climb races held there since 1916. Originally held as a promotion for the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, near the base of the Peak, the annual event brings drivers and spectators from all over the world. And at the top they’ll find the Summit Visitor Center.
The early days of the COVID-19 pandemic presented us with a new world, suddenly populated with closed businesses, office workers doing their jobs from home, schools closed, and the Internet depended upon. Hospitals became overwhelmed as patients were admitted with new symptoms; protective clothing, masks and surgical gloves were in demand and in short supply. Toilet paper became a trading commodity for no apparent reason; disinfectant wipes were rationed in stores as shelves were emptied.
As we struggled to understand this new infection, one thing was clear: the coronavirus was deadly and could be anywhere. Building managers employed a variety of methods to disinfect their buildings, offices, heating and air conditioning systems, anywhere the novel coronavirus could hide or strike from. Many of those steps on the learning curve have been categorized and will be applied to new and existing buildings far into the future.
Affordability returns as a condition of the housing market as prices of existing homes “goes through the roof.” New construction of residential properties is hampered by supply chain cost increases, especially on lumber, although pricing has inched slightly better. However, the result is the United States is still experiencing a severe shortage of housing stock.
According to the Portland Cement Assn., in its simplest form, concrete is a mixture of paste and aggregates or rocks. The aggregate is typically made of sand and gravel while the paste is composed of Portland cement and water. The paste coats the surface of the fine (sand) and coarse (gravel) aggregates. Through a chemical reaction called hydration, the paste hardens and gains strength to form the rock-like mass known as concrete.
Within this process lies the key to a remarkable trait of concrete: it is plastic and malleable when newly mixed, strong and durable when hardened. The properties of concrete are what makes it such a durable and popular building material. They explain why one material can build skyscrapers, bridges, sidewalks, superhighways, houses, and dams.
Concrete is everywhere. Roads? Naturally. Seawalls? No problem. Runways? Another natural. Buildings? Of course. In fact, concrete is probably the most used structural building material in use today. Even residential use has increased over the decades, in some climates surpassing wood. Concrete has, indeed, been the world’s most common building material for at least half a century. It accounts for most construction materials and, unfortunately, demolition waste.
Off-site construction, often called prefab or modular construction, is not new nor extensive, but the benefits are becoming more accepted in the industry. With this evolving method, based on prefabricated components, the planning, design, manufacturing, and fitting-out stages are all carried out in a factory, with only the assembly of the modules and the finishing touches carried out on-site.
In Europe, the technology has been growing, especially in commercial construction, and alliances for this approach are also growing. Hoffmann Green Cement Technologies, a European pioneer in clinker-free low-carbon cement, partnered with the Cougnaud Group in its first construction project undertaken off-site. The Cougnaud Group is a leading player in off-site construction in France and the partnership’s first project is the construction of the extension to the IFACOM training center, a vocational school specializing in work-study business courses.
Cattle produce beef, sheep produce lamb, pigs produce pork, but farm animals of all types produce one thing in common: manure. Ask any farmer and they will exclaim the pervasiveness of manure wherever their animals congregate. All that…manure must have some value, right?
Brightmark, a waste solutions provider, has broken ground on the Caballero Dairy Farms, a farm in Eloy, Ariz. with 8,800 animals, for a RNG (Renewable Natural Gas) project that includes the construction of new anaerobic digesters. Anaerobic digestion systems can prevent significant quantities of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from being released into the atmosphere. Research shows that when all climate benefits are considered, RNG from dairy manure can reduce greenhouse gas emissions 400% when it is used to replace traditional vehicle fuels through this net carbon-negative process.
In Congress, the two major parties are negotiating an infrastructure bill that could, if passed at the level proposed by the Democrats, significantly improve the physical infrastructure of the country. The plan will center on proposals to repair the nation’s physical infrastructure, such as its bridges, railways, ports, water systems, and more, as well as revive domestic manufacturing; invest in research and development; expand clean energy investments and create a nationwide infrastructure for electric vehicles. This part of the plan also will include major investments in child care and educational facilities, and major investments in caretakers for the elderly and disabled amid the nation’s major aging crisis.
Hotels are seeing more traffic as travel restrictions are being eased in a reaction to the COVID-19 vaccination efforts. The American Hotel and Lodging Assn. estimated that COVID-19’s impact on the travel industry in 2020 was about nine times of that from 9/11. In anticipation of a better year, hotel construction is resuming in many areas.
The U.S. led the world in new hotel and room openings during the first quarter of 2021, according to data from STR, a hospitality research firm. Its AM:PM platform showed the country’s construction activity continues to decline in comparison with pre-pandemic levels, however, as over the three-month period, the U.S. opened 220 properties accounting for 26,057 rooms. In addition, the number of rooms currently in construction in the U.S. is down almost 34,000 from the country’s all-time construction peak (220,207 rooms in April 2020). In April, 237,703 hotel rooms are in the planning stage and 186,269 rooms are under construction.