Archive for October, 2009

By Building Experts Team

1013 45 banner build weeklyintel3 Weekly Intel: Top Links of the Week

Architect will freeze an abandoned house in Detroit to draw attention to foreclosures

The new Florida Marlins stadium at 100 days

Hotel construction will continue to decline in 2010

Stimulus spending creates 640,000 jobs – 5 questions and 5 answers

Remodeling boosts local economies

New computer tool helps make existing buildings greener

Sales of new homes unexpectedly fell in September

More on the stimulus jobs:

How bad is it in Detroit? 80,000 houses are potentially abandoned…

detroitmapvacancies Weekly Intel: Top Links of the Week


By Building Experts Team

1013 45 banner build industryinsider Industry Insider: The Future of Remodeling

We were unable to make the Remodeling Show this year, so we called one of our favorite remodelers and recognized leader of the green building movement to shed some light on the future of the remodeling industry.

michael small Industry Insider: The Future of Remodeling Michael Anschel (@MichaelAnschel) is the owner and principal of Otogawa-Anschel Design Build, an award-winning design and build firm in Minnesota.  Among other professional affiliations, Michael is vice-chair of the board of directors of Minnesota GreenStar and CEO of Verified Green, Inc., which consults with builders, remodelers, architects, and state and city officials on green building.

I believe the remodeling industry is going through a significant change right now, and I feel it is a change for the better.  There is a convergence of forces which could produce the perfect storm for change.

For decades the industry has been a mixed bag of artisans, philosophers, and scoundrels, few of whom intentionally set out to become remodelers.  They set their own schedules, made their own rules, and there was a less than 50/50 chance that the work would be performed properly (if at all).  Over the last decade we have seen a massive wave of professionalism sweep over the industry as remodelers began to take ownership of their industry and companies sought to differentiate themselves from their less savory counterparts.  Education and professional designations offered by industry associations became all the rage, and soon remodelers were on committees, serving on boards, and working to raise the bar for everyone.  The huge boom in the remodeling market didn’t hurt things either, encouraging a whole new breed and generation of remodeler to come on the scene.  The number of remodelers who hold an MBA or spent significant time in corporate America is larger than ever, and their approach to business is, well, business like.  Marketing, metrics, accountability, process… these are all the hot topics at tradeshows like The Remodeling Show, taking place this week in Indianapolis.

Rules and regulations may not be words loved by many, but it has its place in our society, and is increasingly being applied to the work done on existing homes.  The requirement for licensing of contractors, continuing education, and energy-specific education requirements is moving to more states.  New laws regarding the discovery and mitigation of lead and radon are in place.  Tax credits are tied to performance and testing requirements are opening the doors for cities and states to build new minimum requirements for construction and development.  Perhaps most importantly, both the federal and local units of government are finally looking at our existing housing stock as part of the solution/problem.

Global consciousness on environment
There has been enormous progress made in the last few years in acknowledging and taking steps to address our place in the natural world and the changes that are coming.  The interest in green building has been steadily growing over the years and I am increasingly encouraged by the number of remodelers of all ages and regions who come to my lectures and express not only great excitement, but an increased understanding of what it really means to think and act with sustainability in mind.  The number of products that have entered the mainstream has dramatically improved in just the past year.  These new introductions have improved the ease and cost for remodelers to build green, which increases the number of remodelers who are more comfortable talking green with homeowners in a positive, rather than dismissive, tone.

spengler 024 Industry Insider: The Future of Remodeling

The Perfect Storm
The convergence of professionalism and businesses run on systems, political will, and broad consumer interest.  Increased understanding in green accross the board suggests that we are truly on the verge of an explosion of green building that will change the way we remodel forever.  The relationship between the built environment (structure) and the natural environment (us) has a real opportunity to improve.  Those remodelers who embrace it and take the time to learn how to work with it, rather than against it, will be well ahead of their counterparts in the years to come.  The future of remodeling has never looked brighter (or greener)!

For more from Michael, read his Remodeling Magazine blog.

Life Cycle Assessments 101

By greeniq

The new face of long-term building performance

pct top 02 Life Cycle Assessments 101

Courtesy of Pioneer

Last week we introduced the USGBC’s new Building Performance Initiative, a method of pinpointing performance gaps within building systems year over year. With this initiative in place, green building certification must not simply be achieved, but measured and maintained over time. Life Cycle Assessments are a key technique for assessing a product’s performance within a building system over the long term, ensuring the continued development of the highest performing buildings.

Not sure where to begin? Let the experts at BuildIntel walk you through the ins and outs of LCA’s so you can continue to make better sustainable decisions in your building practices.

What is a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)?

According to the EPA, LCA’s are a technique to assess the environmental aspects and potential impacts associated with a product, process, or service by:

· Compiling an inventory to relevant energy and material inputs and environmental releases

· Evaluating the potential environmental impacts associated with identified inputs and releases

· Interpreting the results to help make a more informed decision about he human health and environmental impacts of products, processes, and activities

Life Cycle Assessments look at products from “cradle-to-grave”, meaning all stages of a product’s life are taken into consideration. It begins with the raw materials needed to produce the product, the manufacturing of the product, including packaging and transportation, use of the product and disposal of the product after it’s used.

Conducting an LCA

The LCA process is broken down into four main phases:

· Goals and Scoping – Defines the product and determines which processes will be included, which environmental concerns will be addressed and what economic or social good is provided by the product.

· Inventory Analysis – Identifies and measures all environmental inputs and outputs from all parts of a product’s life

· Impact Assessment – Assesses the potential human and ecological effects of energy, water and material usage and the environmental releases identified in the inventory analysis

· Interpretation – An analysis of impact data, which determines whether the goals and scope can be met

The Following software programs can be used to complete lifestyle assessments

· SimaPro7

· GaBi Software

What can conducting a LCA do for you?

As the demand for green in the building marketplace increases, LCAs are a strategic tool for promoting the positive environmental impact that a product may have. From a marketing standpoint, completing a Life Cycle Assessment enables building product manufacturers to bolster their marketing claims with quantifiable results, which then improves your product’s image and credibility. Also, LCAs may lead to finding better ways to design or manufacture a product that will reduce it’s impact to the environment.

Whole systems thinking is becoming a bigger and bigger trend, and architects are demanding products that will perform in that system over time. Similarly, thinking about a building performance over the long term is now a requirement to maintain LEED certification. Be sure to check out these other helpful LCA resources to ensure that your long-term building performance is truly sustainable.

· Integrating LCA Tools in LEED: First Steps

· Life-Cycle Assessment (EPA)

· Conducting a Life-Cycle Assessment

By Christine Costa

Over the past two months we have seen major news sources like the New York Times, question the performance of LEED certified green buildings over the long term. Articles like this have spurred USGBC to announce new initiatives, like its Building Performance Initiative that will develop a comprehensive data collection and analysis methodology to identify performance gaps year over year. Buildings that do not meet the LEED standards year over year will be at risk of de-certification.

What does this mean for building product manufacturers?

  • LEED Product Handbooks are out, and full Life Cycle Assessments are in

  • Before an architect specs your product s/he needs to understand how a product will affect a building system’s performance long term
  • Architects are tightly scrutinizing every green claim made by building product manufacturers so honesty, above all, is most important

When leading architects at Gensler and HOK were asked how marketing green products changed during a breakout session at West Coast Green last month, they answered, “everyone is claiming they contribute to the most LEED points and this is a problem.”

Key takeaways:

  • Thinking about a building performance over the long term is now a requirement to maintain LEED certification
  • LCA’s allow architects to understand how the product will perform within a building system over time
  • The trend is toward whole system thinking as opposed to fragmented thinking
  • Long-term building performance is a cornerstone of a sustainable building

By Building Experts Team

It was an encouraging day at the National Housing Center today, where The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) hosted their semi-annual Construction Forecast Conference.  Although most of the economists who spoke believe the recovery will be slow, modest and sometimes agonizing, there was at least an optimistic tone.

Projections ranged from conservative to aggressive.  Housing starts are anticipated to reach normal levels by the end of 2011.  David Crowe, NAHB chief economist, forecasts 950,000 units by the end of 2011, with growth beginning early next year.  Several key improvements in the economy have led to greater expectations for next year.  Jobs are stabilizing, and will continue to, core inflation is very low, home prices have stabilized, for now, and the GDP is growing.  In fact, Joel Prakken, chairman of Macroeconomic Adviser, believes GDP growth will be above trend in the second half of 2009 (3.5%) and robust in 2010 and 2011, receiving a big lift from housing.

nahb housing starts Housing Market Recovery: The Long and Winding Road

National Association of Home Builders

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moddy’s, who correctly predicted a rebound for the middle of this year, believes that homebuilding has hit bottom and will be back to “trend” at the end of 2012.  His reasons for optimism? Affordability, low mortgage rates and ample mortgage credit.  Zandi still believes that we’re on “proverbial life support,” and he predicts that prices will decline 5-10% through next Spring/Summer.  Although his outlook is encouraging, there are still many risks at play.

What are the impediments to growth?  This was pretty consistent among all of the economists:

  • Access to capital – conditions are worse than last quarter. Knowing this, less than 20% of builders are seeking acquisition and development loans. The credit markets remain troubled.
  • House prices – home prices have stabilized, and even increased in some regions, however, the foreclosure crisis will continue to put pressure on prices.
  • Appraisals – according to a recent NAHB member survey, 56% of appraisals are below the cost of production and 74% have lost sales because of low appraisals.
  • Foreclosures – we currently have more owner occupied vacant units for sale than we need (approximately 2 million).  9.24% of all home mortgages are past due. Too many homeowners are still underwater (16 million), and mortgage modification programs have been unsuccessful.

The good news is, it appears policymakers will remain committed to supporting the housing market.  When asked if he believes that the home buyer tax credit will be extended, Crowe indicated that there is a “greater than even chance.”  The Senators who were in attendance for the Senate Banking Committee hearing yesterday were generally in favor.

Although the car isn’t moving too quickly, it does appear that the we’re turning the corner.

A Recovery Word Cloud

By Building Experts Team
Have a look at the most frequently used words from today’s NAHB Semi-Annual Construction Forecast Conference.  Albeit this was manually generated, one word clearly stood out from the others…
picture 6 A Recovery Word Cloud

A recap of today’s Forecast Conference will be up shortly.

Confidence in Recovery Waning

By Building Experts Team

Having a hard time following all the predictions, measures, indexes, projections, estimates and indicators?  You’re not alone.

After a few months of relative prosperity and increasing confidence, there seems to be a revised outlook on the future health of the housing market.  NAHB announced today that builder confidence for newly built, single-family homes slipped in October, according to the latest National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI).  On top of that, in a potential sign of things to come, foreclosure filings hit a record high in the third quarter.

picture 11 Confidence in Recovery Waning

National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI)

On the other hand, remodelers we’re encouraged, at least momentarily, to find out that their industry is turning the corner, showing signs of stabilization.  The Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA), released last Thursday, suggests that annual spending levels should start to rise at the beginning of next year, as a result of a strengthening economy.  Increased levels of spending will cause the year over year declines to shrink to 8.9 percent by the second quarter of 2010.  However, as the director of the Remodeling Future Programs at the Joint Center for Housing Studies, Kermit Baker, pointed out, “several factors still impede remodeling growth,” the most important being the recovery of the housing market.

picture 2 Confidence in Recovery Waning

Leading Indicator of Remodeling Activity (LIRA)

Does the fate of the housing industry really rest in the hands of the home buyer tax credit extension?  What’s going to happen if the proposal doesn’t pass?  Guess we’ll find out soon.  We’re bound to hear different perspectives Wednesday, during the NAHB’s Semi-Annual Construction Forecast Conference.  Follow us on Twitter for updates.  We’ll also be posting a complete recap of the highlights when the conference is over.

By Building Experts Team

1013 45 banner build weeklyintel2 Weekly Intel: Top Tweeps of the Week

We’re switching things up this week.  Throwing you a curveball in honor of the Major League Baseball playoffs.  We’d like to highlight some of our favorite tweeps from the week.  These Twitter users consistently provide us with the most recent news and insight from the leading voices in the built environment.

owlimcowl bigger Weekly Intel: Top Tweeps of the Week@inhabitat

newlogo socialmediathumbnail bigger Weekly Intel: Top Tweeps of the Week@homebuilders

0801 organic3 bigger Weekly Intel: Top Tweeps of the Week@michaelanschel

bobphoto bigger Weekly Intel: Top Tweeps of the Week@JamesRHagerty

th gravatar 48x48 bigger Weekly Intel: Top Tweeps of the Week@TreeHugger

Find us on Twitter – @BuildIntel and @GreenIntel

By Building Experts Team

Some say the housing market is looking up, even healthy in many cities across the country.  But a housing crisis still exists for nearly two billion people worldwide who reside in slum housing and the 100 million+ who are homeless.

While fleeting programs and incentives like tax credits are helping many – including your bottom line – Habitat for Humanity continues to be a mainstay, providing more than 1.5 million people with affordable housing to date.

picture 106 (Sweat) Equity of a Habitat for Humanity Partnership

To learn more about why and how building product manufacturers should get involved with the non-profit organization, we spoke with Mike Mitchell, CEO of Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake, and an IMRE client.  Mike has been a part of the organization for almost seven years now.  He came to Baltimore to learn how public policy affects communities and, in turn, wanted to work in a place that could create those transformations.

Here’s what Mike had to say:

1.    What do you define as the key benefits of Habitat for Humanity?

There are two ways that Habitat for Humanity contributes.  First, in the community we take vacant land and property and transform it into new homes, creating more suitable neighborhoods.  These home are available for direct purchase with no-interest mortgage.

Second, we support the building industry by creating a demand for products and building materials that are used in a house during and after construction, like HVAC equipment, wood, flooring and more.

The work we do creates a demand for housing in those neighborhoods that the private sector wouldn’t touch, and it creates a demand for new construction and renovation for more housing.

2.    How often do building product manufacturers (BPMs) reach out to learn about partnership opportunities?

To be honest, it’s a limited extent.  The challenge is we don’t know who many of them are, so it would be great to invite them to see what we’re doing and become a part of our mission.

3.    What types of questions do potential partners and volunteers ask?

They want to know they’re getting real engagement and real volunteer time; feel like they’re actually making a difference.  They ask about a certain level of visibility in order to leverage the value of Habitat for Humanity.

Whereas most non-profits are transactional (a builder would write a check, the organization delivers a service with that), Habitat for Humanity is transformational; meaning people not only give money but also volunteer themselves and engage.  That creates a long-term transformation.

4.    Is there a typical role of the BPM and, if so, what is that role?

The ideal scenario is the donation of material and labor, but it can be one or the other; they can give however they want to.  We just ask that they honor that commitment.  If it’s a contractor, we want them to treat the job just like they would any of their clients’ jobs.  Honor is a very key element to the success of Habitat for Humanity.

5.    What is required of your corporate partners?

First and foremost, we ask that you keep your word.  Commitment is most desired.  We also ask that partners and volunteers think about how they could influence changes in policy in the region, like how the number of vacants not available could become available; furthermore, get them thinking about how they could tell their 10 friends about Habitat for Humanity and its good works.  When one person contributes there’s this exponential effect that creates a legacy component.

6.    Is there a process involved with qualifying partners and volunteers?  If so, what does it entail?

We like to develop a relationship with a potential partner and listen to what they’re interested in and then we craft a role.  There’s no entry fee involved, however, the organization ultimately depends on the donations from the public and from companies.  A home costs about $125,000 to build, so it’s a part of the mission to financially support or otherwise we couldn’t host on site and fulfill our missions.

7.    Why would you encourage BPMs and businesses to get involved?

On the soft side, it creates loyalty among the companies because they want to be a part of something bigger than themselves.  It helps their employees build more relationships that are interpersonal and helps strengthen the bond to the company.  When you’re involved, there’s a substance of difference that is tangible and present.  When you leave at the end of the day or when you’re done serving on a committee, you have done something that endures.

As a non-profit we honor donations and just like a business, we are rigorous as to where we apply that money and those resources.  There’s a perception that non-profits don’t utilize resources well but we do so.  We do so much that we have built 262 homes and housed more than 800 people (over 400 being children) in homes in the Chesapeake region.

There’s an opportunity for building product manufacturers to get involved in committees, like the construction committee for example.  Members of this committee make decisions that help us determine the small and large items to include the home building.  For example, how do we help make a home more energy efficient?  There are many ways to get involved and apply your expertise!

To learn more about Habitat for Humanity and to get involved, visit

To find out about opportunities in the Chesapeake region, visit or call 410-366-1250.

By Building Experts Team

For those of you who have intentionally disabled commenting on your blog or news site, too bad, you no longer have a choice.  Google has made it possible for anyone who has their Toolbar to contribute commentary to the side of any webpage with Google Sidewiki.

Sidewiki will allow visitors to add expert insight, new perspectives, tips, and even more information that can be helpful to the conversation.  But just like any social media channel that encourages conversations, there’s the possibility of negative feedback and uncomplimentary advice.  And just like every social media tool, a good policy and strategic plan will help you respond appropriately to user comments, good and bad.

Don’t worry about an immediate flurry of activity.  We don’t know the total number of users, but we can confidently tell you that the Google Toolbar is not universally used.  There are a few things to do to prepare for a mass adoption of Sidewiki:

  • Install Google Toolbar so you can see what is being said on your Web site
  • Claim your Web site – entries from owners appear above all other entries in the Sidewiki (all other entries in the sidebar are published by relevance with a unique algorithm)
  • Create a plan on how to incorporate Sidewiki into your existing Word of Mouth strategy
  • Invite people to participate by calling out your use of it – it’s a great tool for crowdsourcing
  • Regularly scan for activity

While some people are understandably dismayed and a bit frustrated by the “secret society,” we welcome it as another opportunity to engage with customers and interested visitors in a way that is meaningful for both of us, further extending that interaction with your brand.

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