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USF student designing a lumber alternative to help lower construction costs

Posted at 5:26 AM, Aug 12, 2022
and last updated 2022-08-12 05:26:34-04

TAMPA, Fla. — It's no secret that there's a growing need for affordable housing.

Habitat for Humanity of Pinellas and West Pasco counties says they've already built 70 affordable homes in the last year.

And they're currently working on 30 more.

"I've never seen the need as high or it's never felt as high as it is right now," said the organization's president Mike Sutton.

But skyrocketing lumber costs are making construction more expensive.

"Pre-pandemic till now, we're seeing about a 45 percent increase in the cost of our home," said Sutton.

To help offset those costs, they're building more multi-family homes and using different materials.

"We're starting to look at things like stick frame homes. Again the integrity of them will be just as significant as a concrete house, but there may be a cost saving there," said Sutton.

It's a dilemma that USF doctoral student John Cotter has spent the last four years studying.

"So the idea is finding new ways to make building materials using different manufacturing methods," Cotter said.

His latest product is a mix of concrete and recycled plastic material that he hopes will be used as a replacement for lumber.

And after dozens of showings and testings, he said people seem to like his product for fencing and flooring.

"This is a suggestion that we got from a lot of people. That this would be good for decking," he said.

Cotter says his next steps are to get it approved at a state level and set the pricing at a rate that's affordable.