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Church Expansion Budgets And The Economy
By: Jana Puckett

Even in the best of times, it just doesn't make good sense to spend more money on construction than necessary. With tithing down due to economic pressures on families, congregants are becoming increasingly mindful of how and when to proceed with expansion, retrofit, and new construction projects.  

Yet, there is good news on the horizon. Recent indicators show that we are slowly rising from the bottom of the economic crisis with better news from the banking industry. Now, as we begin to pull out of the financial crisis, how do we reexamine our visions for expansion? Very carefully, through diligence and product education.

Product Research
Comprehensive product research is vital to selecting the right construction materials and thereby maximizing your next religious building project budget. This is increasingly important when it comes to choosing an exterior cladding option, as it needs to serve as both an aesthetically pleasing and durable addition to the building envelope. To that end, as product research demonstrates, pre-engineered metal construction and fiber cement siding options function as a unique choice for religious structures.

Budget Friendly Design
Beyond aesthetics and durability, the most essential factor to a construction project is generally cost. However, it's important to note the difference between the actual product cost and the cost of installation, known as "the installed cost." Many exterior cladding products boast a seemingly low price point, but when the cost to install the material is factored in, true installed costs can be shockingly high.

For example, brick can actually be a less expensive product option over brick textured fiber cement panels. Yet, when costs for labor and length of construction time are factored in, the installed brick costs rapidly escalate, exceeding the installed cost of fiber cement.

Pre-engineered buildings typically cut construction time (and that means labor) in more than half, as buildings can go up in a matter of days. Yet many are still turned off by the aesthetically unappealing look of corrugated metal siding. However, there is a product that has been pre-engineered for installation that additionally provides an upscale appearance worthy of any house of worship fiber cement panels.

Visually speaking, new technology ensures that today's fiber cement panels are no longer the cheap, plastic-looking panels of decades ago. Rather, updates to the manufacturing process now yield a high-quality product that is virtually indistinguishable from true brick.

Several manufacturers, including fiber cement manufacturer Nichiha USA, offer a full range of brick and stone textured panels. Because the 18" x 6' fiber cement panels can be installed 9 square feet at a time and require no special labor, tools, or equipment, they reduce the "installed cost" by approximately 30 percent over traditional brick (depending on local conditions). 

For those interested in achieving the unique look of stone, fiber cement stone textured panels can contribute to even further reduced costs, saving as much as 70 percent when compared with the cost of real stone, depending on the type of stone, local availability, and labor.

Besides lending unique visual appeal and long-lasting durability to a structure, fiber cement is also resistant to mold, rot, and insects, and it requires minimal maintenance.

Ease of Installation
By selecting fiber cement, religious facilities additionally benefit from an expedited construction process due to the ease of installation associated with fiber cement panels.

For example, the Family Life Center at Lakeview Baptist Church, a Southern Baptist church in Hartsville, South Carolina, recently added fiber cement stone textured paneling in gray to its exterior. Because the fiber cement panels were installed using a clip system that required no special tools or labor, the installation process was significantly shortened.

"For religious facilities, length of construction is an important consideration, since a lengthy process can put added stress on the entire congregation" said Darrin Haugan, vice president of Nichiha USA. "Exterior building products like fiber cement shorten the construction process considerably, yet don't sacrifice quality or appearance."
"From design through construction, our customers not only rely on us to build their facilities but to accomplish construction in a timely fashion and on budget," said Watson Coffee, owner of Steel and Metal Systems, Inc., in Blackshear, Georgia. "Fiber cement exterior panels function as a product that not only meets these challenges but, in addition, gives us more control over the construction timeline."

Reduced Environmental Impact
In addition to budget, visual appeal, durability, and ease of installation, it is important to consider your religious construction project over the long term, in relation to the impact it will have on the environment. Selecting products that are environmentally sustainable and offer lasting low-maintenance qualities are at the top of the list for most organizations. 

Fiber cement products stand up to this test. Most of the steel used in metal construction is fabricated from recycled scrap metal. In addition, fiber cement is generally comprised of post and pre-consumer waste, such as recycled newspaper and fly ash (a by-product of energy produced by coal). Pre-engineered construction takes this a step further by functioning as a low-maintenance, rot-resistant cladding option. 

"The fact that we deliver a quality product at less cost plus contribute to the 'greenness' of a facility is a win-win situation for everyone, the community included," said Coffee.

Depending on the manufacturer, fiber cement panels can also contribute to a variety of United States Green Building Council (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credit categories, an important consideration for religious structures pursuing LEED certification.

"LEED certification has emerged as the primary directive for nearly every structure, including religious facilities," said Haugan.  "Whereas two to three years ago, our involvement with LEED projects stood at approximately 10 percent, today nearly every non-residential project adheres to a LEED directive. It's singularly the most visible change of direction for the construction industry in over 50 years one that continues to extend to religious construction and expansion."

Choosing a Fiber Cement Manufacturer
When selecting a fiber cement manufacturer, be sure to look for one that is experienced in providing budget-friendly, aesthetically appealing, and environmentally responsible exterior cladding solutions for religious facility exteriors.

Additionally, manufacturers that are USGBC members can promote fiber cement options that will meet the most current LEED requirements. A manufacturer that is available to provide consultations on a project-by-project basis can also maximize the integration of fiber cement with other products, which can be a requirement for certain LEED credits. Above all, look for a responsible building manufacturer that can provide specific product and manufacturing solutions that will best meet the needs of the entire congregation.

Jana Puckett is a freelance writer and marketing communications consultant with more than 15 years of experience in the building products industry. Nichiha, an international leader in fiber cement technology for more than 30 years, markets distinct patterns of fiber cement siding products in the United States, www.nichiha.com.

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Religious Product News