In March 2010, Galaxy Builders, one of the largest multifamily builders in Texas, barely avoided a 20 percent jump in building materials costs for The Lakes at University Park, a 162-unit senior housing project in Waco, Texas, that the firm is building for The Walton Cos. of McLean, Va.

“If we had waited until March to buy the lumber, our budget would have increased $250,000 over our original costs,” says R.C. Contreras, vice president of operations for San Antonio-based Galaxy Builders.

Indeed, the low-cost construction environment of the past 18 months may be ending now that most building materials manufacturers have sold off their excess inventory from the construction boom. Framing lumber costs, for example, have increased 30 percent since the beginning of the year, while prices for sheet lumber—think plywood—have spiked 50 percent in that same time frame, according to Contreras. Plus, the builder’s concrete supplier has warned him that concrete prices are expected to increase $3 per cubic yard this summer.

As a result of the pricing uptick, multifamily developers are looking to architecture, engineering, and general contracting firms to find ways to reduce costs. Together, these experts are substituting materials and trying new construction techniques.

With concrete and steel costs outpacing timber prices, Davis & Church, an Atlanta-based engineering firm, is using fire-retardant treated timber to construct condos and apartments above retail and office space up to six stories high.

Products such as Norwalk, Conn.-based Arch Chemicals’ FLAMEDXX fire-retardant coated oriented strand board (OSB) have a variety of multifamily uses including roof and wall sheathing, ceilings, soffits, and subfloors.


Decorative Panels: Restoration Millwork Beadboard Panels from CertainTeed install up to three times faster than standard beadboard and are ideal for finishing larger exterior areas, such as porch ceilings, soffit, wainscoting, and other outdoor amenities. The 4-foot by 8-foot panels are made from cellular polyvinyl chloride (PVC), yet engineered to look, feel, and work like top-grade lumber. The panels are offered in Natural White finish or can be custom painted. For more information, call CertainTeed at 800-233-8990 or visit

Joint Effort: James Hardie Commercial is the first firm to offer a U.S.-manufactured fiber cement panel created specifically for panelized design with “expressed” joints. The Hardie Reveal Panel provides a consistent panelized look that offers protection from fire, weather, impact, and insects. Reveal panels and trims create an exterior surface without all of the hassle associated with stucco or exterior insulation and finish systems. For more information, call James Hardie Commercial at 888-542-7343 or visit

Flame Thrower: FLAMEDXX fire-retardant coated oriented strand board (OSB) matches code-mandated performance of fire-retardant pressure-treated wood in commercial, institutional, and multifamily construction. It can be used for roof and wall sheathing, ceilings, soffits, subfloors, single-layer flooring, garages, and backers for electrical panels. When fire strikes, the intumescent coating foams and chars, providing insulation for underlying material and reducing the spread of flames. For more information, call Arch Chemicals at 678-627-2000 or visit

Credit: Don Sciba

Moisture Blocker: Temple-Inland GreenGlass tile backer is a tile substrate that delivers moisture and mold protection, along with at least 90 percent recycled content. Designed for a variety of applications including walls, ceilings, shower and tub enclosures, countertops, and residential or light-commercial floors, GreenGlass features a built-in moisture-blocking acrylic coating that resists water penetration through its surface, plus a water-resistant gypsum core. For more information, call Temple-Inland at 800-231-6060 or visit

Roof Protector: Developed by Propex, Opus Roof Blanket is a new category of steep-slope roofing underlayment that can be used in place of felt paper and plastic sheeting underlayment. It is appropriate under all types of steep-slope roofing materials including asphalt, cedar shake, and metal roofing. The underlayment lays flat with little effort, covers larger sections than other underlayment, and features a tan background that makes it easy for installers to mark up. For more information, call Propex at 877-315-6669 or visit

Sharp Screw: Simpson Strong-Tie has launched a new series of structural wood screws for fastening multi-ply truss and engineered wood assemblies. The new Strong-Drive SDW screws install from one side, firmly cinching plies together while eliminating the need to flip heavy girders. The thread design allows installers to fasten two-, three-, and four-ply trusses or 1 3/4” engineered lumber from one side. For more information, call Simpson Strong-Tie at 800-999-5099 or visit