An interesting fact of New York City’s architectural history concerns the building of City Hall (at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge in lower Manhattan). Built in the early years of the 19th century—as a cost savings measure—the north-facing facade was clad in a less expensive red limestone rather than the white limestone on the south, east and west facades. At the time, it was common wisdom that the city had expanded as far north as it ever would so the logic was, “Why waste money on the one side of the building that the public would rarely, if ever, see?”

At that point in time, most of New York was south of the new City Hall. Needless to say, this logic was flawed and the city did indeed expand well north of City Hall in the years that followed its construction and completion. When it came time for the city government and its planners to devise a scheme for the northward expansion of the city, it was not by chance that a grid pattern of numerically sequential avenues and streets was decided upon.

Though monotonous, a grid of intersecting avenues (north-south) and streets (east-west) created well-defined blocks and allowed for easy navigation of the city by its masses. This was especially important and helpful to new immigrants arriving in the city daily by the thousands in the late 19th and early 20th century. Though they may have been unfamiliar with the English language, they could, for the most part, easily understand the numerical sequencing of the streets. In fact, the adaptation of a grid plan for the development of the city north of City Hall in the 19th century contributed significantly to the exponential growth and modern status of Manhattan Island as the world’s greatest metropolis.

Logic applied

The same advantages inherent in a grid pattern for city streets have now been successfully adapted for use in the construction industry. Martco, Limited Partnership of Alexandria, La., (a major manufacturer of wood products) has developed and begun marketing the Grid. It is a pre-measured, pre-marked OSB and softwood plywood panel products. Known generically as Unit Measurement Markings, the measurement markings are, in effect, ruler markings around the 4- and 8-feet perimeter of the panels at 1/8-inch intervals. The Grid pattern is a series of 1-inch squares within the interior of the entire panel surface with well-defined 1/2- and 1/4-inch markings designed to allow cuts within a 1/8-inch tolerance. The Grid OSB and plywood panels are available in a full range of thicknesses and grades and serve as both structural and non-structural sheathing and subflooring.

Best yet, the Grid is available Forest Stewardship Council certified and can be purchased with an optional foil radiant barrier on one side. This allows for greater energy efficiency by lowering cooling costs. The radiant barrier reflects solar heat away from the structure thus lowering interior temperatures by up to 30 degrees F. We’ll take a more in-depth look at radiant barrier technology in a future column.

The Grid eliminates the need for the use of a tape measure and snapping chalk lines since the nailing and cutting lines are already pre-defined and determined on the surface of the panel. One can even make angle cuts without the use of a chalk line. This serves to reduce cutting time and increases nailing accuracy, providing for a much more efficient and less wasteful installation of roof and wall sheathing, subfloors and lap and full panel siding. Less waste means fewer panels required, which translates into conservation of forest products—a good thing for the environment. The National Association of Home Builders research center conducted “time and motion” studies of the Grid. These studies revealed substantial savings in time, labor and materials. Homebuilders are realizing 20 to 30 percent savings in labor costs when The Grid is used in lieu of standard OSB/plywood installations.

An actual field study of The Grid’s efficiency concerned an installed roof that required only 85 Grid 4-feet-by-8-feet panels to fully sheath. Using non-Grid panels, 107 panels were required to sheath the same roof. This represents a net savings of 22 panels or 21 percent overall. (Less material to install means significant labor savings.) As a professional construction cost estimator for many years, I can say unhesitatingly that this represents significant savings and has much appeal from an estimating perspective. Actual savings will vary depending on the specific roof project. However, with the trend toward the more aesthetically pleasing and complex roof designs, the system allows for: labor savings, time savings and material savings above and beyond what any other panel can currently offer the end-user.

The view from above

The system is particularly effective for roof sheathing applications. The nailing and cutting lines allow for easier layout for vents, skylights, hips, gables and miscellaneous roof openings. Better alignment with joists, studs, rafters and trusses allows for more precise nailing. The net effect is less callbacks, better inspection results and an increase in the installer’s reputation for quality work. Martco’s Grid has received four U.S. patents and seven international patents. Through the company, sublicensing rights for the system is available to other OSB or plywood manufacturers. The Grid has received many ‘Top Product’ awards from industry organizations in recognition of its many benefits.

In the game of baseball, they say, “A walk is as good as a hit.” The Grid has reduced the burden on forest products—perhaps the earth’s most valuable renewable resource—by simply increasing installation efficiency. This fact alone has earned it a place on the diamond. From there, it’s poised to finish at home plate as its novelty and reputation for cost-savings, quality installations and environmental benefits grows with ever increasing and widespread use.