How Do Architects Choose Building Materials?

Building products companies have to sell to multiple audiences: architects, owners, and contractors. Each audience has their own motivations for selecting products. In order to sell building materials to architects, you have to know how architects choose building materials.

Understanding the architect’s role in the building process

The role of an architect in a project usually centers around (1) creating the design solutions for the owner’s goal, and (2) looking out for the owner throughout the design and construction process. This may include selecting the right contractor, overseeing the construction process, and ensuring that the project budget isn’t exceeded.

An architect can be left in a difficult position when the right design solution will cost the owner more than the budget. When a building material rep or manufacturer is able to offer products that help the architect achieve the design without busting the budget, that’s a slam dunk.

What architects look for in building materials

Is the material appropriate for the intended use?

Architects consider this question beyond the broad use (we need flooring, is this flooring) and delve into the more granular concerns of the individual project. Maybe the flooring for this project needs to be sound-dampening, stain-resistant, or available in certain colors. The more information that you can provide the architects about your product’s features and functions, the easier it will be for both of you to determine your material is a good fit for the project.

Is this material durable and safe?

If an architect specifies a material that malfunctions, doesn’t last as long as it’s supposed to, or creates a safety hazard, the consequences can range from damaged relationships with owners and contractors to insurance claims and lawsuits. No architect wants to gamble with their reputation or their financial well-being by choosing the wrong material. It’s not enough to simply say, “this is safe,” or “this is durable.” Presenting the architect with data about durability, safety studies, certifications, or similar information to back up your claims will help the architect feel comfortable in including your material as part of their project.

Does this product have a proven track record?

Along those same lines, has this material been used successfully in similar project types? Offering examples of previous installations that have common traits with the current project can go a long way to easing an architect’s mind and helping the architect sell the material to the project owner.

Does this material match the project aesthetic?

Even if your product meets the functional requirements, it will be a non-starter if it doesn’t also meet the aesthetic requirements. If your product comes in different finishes, colors, textures, or designs, make sure this information is provided to the architect.

What is involved in maintaining the product?

Part of making the best choices for the owner includes assessing the long-term and short-term maintenance. Materials that require little to no preventative maintenance and are easy to clean will be attractive to architects. If your product will require expensive maintenance or specialty cleaning protocols, be prepared to explain why the product’s other features still make it the right choice.

Does your product meet specific certification requirements?

Projects can have certain additional standards that they have to meet. These can include ADA, LEED, Made in America, or hazardous weather and climate ratings like Miami-Dade. If your materials meet these standards, make sure that is conspicuously conveyed on your materials. These standards can often be used as a first-cut review, so if an architect can’t immediately find that information, your product will likely be removed from consideration.

How much will it cost to include the material in the project?

At the end of the day, much of the decision will come down to cost. Part of the architect’s role is the guardian of the project purse. Even if they are sold on the merits of the product, the architect won’t specify a product or material unless they can make it work with the existing budget – or make a compelling case to the owner for an increase. Just because your product is expensive doesn’t mean it can’t be specified. Showing the architect how the long-term ROI justifies the investment is vital to getting a more expensive item specified.

The easiest way to win the cost battle is to make sure architects are aware of your product and all it has to offer before a project comes to bid. Lunch and learns, social media, email campaigns, and targeted landing pages are all good ways to educate architects about the materials you offer. When it comes time to design a project, they are more likely to include your product in the design and include it in the project cost than if they learn about you after they’ve set the budget.

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Brian Jones