Dispelling the Myths about the Costs of Masonry Construction

How often have you heard the phrase – you get what you pay for?  Probably a lot.  However, our culture has taught us to buy the cheapest product available.  And while finding a bargain is a good way to make our earnings go further, it also puts price over performance.

The same is true for building construction.  Building owners and developers have been having a race to the bottom when it comes to quality construction.  They make sure that their buildings “meet code”, but there isn’t a lot of extra performance beyond that.  Since owners and developers often call the shots as to whether masonry construction gets chosen or not, we need to get them to think more than first cost.  IMI is out in front of architects and engineers telling them how to design masonry more efficiently.  Last fall’s IMI Structural Masonry Day at the BAC Local 9PA training center is an example of our industry helping designers get it right (and we get to show off the best hands in the business).  But our competitors, and sometimes our clients, are continuing to spread the word that masonry is expensive.

IMI fights these misperceptions about masonry’s cost.  There are many articles promoting wood construction that say masonry is 20 to 30 percent more expensive than wood construction.  That is not true.  However, we see so many multi-family buildings going to wood frame construction instead of masonry, the developers must be believing the misinformation.   We have apartment associations in other states making the same claims.  While masonry will have first costs that are a little more than wood construction masonry also provides more protection – from fire, sound and anything catastrophic.  In 2017 IMI helped publish a cost study of a multi-family building that is 4 stories with 6 different structural systems – wood frame, steel stud and steel frame, block and plank, precast concrete and ICF and concrete.  As you can see in the following table masonry was just 3% more than a wood frame building!  Of course, we would have loved to see masonry cheaper than wood frame, but we have to be realistic which makes it more believable to others in the construction industry.  But the big myth that this helps dispel is that masonry construction is NOT 20 to 30% more expensive than wood frame.  And if the cost of masonry is within the typical contingency of a project, which building would an architect, engineer, general contractor rather be associated with?

So if you attend your local school board meeting or town council meeting, press for something more than just a cheap building.  Demand that they consider performance and long term costs which masonry wins every time.  If the conversation is steered towards first cost, then the local community loses.  If you want to read more about the report go to www.buildingstudies.org and click on the report for Initial Cost of Construction for Multi-Residential Structures.