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Building News Coast to Coast

HEADLINES AT A GLANCE


 Eagles Notes: Ex-Bird Returns to the Flock at Fortuitous Time

 Open Plans, Unpretentious Design Characterize New, Small Houses

 Massachusetts Housing Sales Hit New Highs in 2004

 Active-Adult Builders Target Urban Locales

 Homes Get Smarter in SW Florida

 All Hail the Eco-Throne

 Grant Will Help ASU With Solar House Plan

 

 Harwood International’s New Division Unveils $100M Condo Project

 Sales Go to the Swift

 Letters Claim Arson Devices as Eco-Terror

 The Ups and Downs of Home Laundry Chutes

 Basements Take a Step Up

 You Have Less Privacy — And More of It Too

 Study Pinpoints Water Intrusion Causes

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Eagles Notes: Ex-Bird Returns to the Flock at Fortuitous Time

With tight end Chad Lewis sidelined by a foot injury from playing in the Feb. 6 Super Bowl game against the New England Patriots in Jacksonville, Fla., Jeff Thomason will be using some vacation leave from his construction project manager job for Toll Brothers at its Chesterfield development in Burlington County, Pa., to take his place. Thomason had pretty much given up on his football career, which ended in 2002 after 10 years, the final three with the Eagles, when he got a call from the team last week. “It’s incredible, actually,” he said, “I’m slowly kind of absorbing the whole thing minute by minute. I’m probably the luckiest man in the world.” Although financial details of the signing were not released, the 35-year-old father of three says he believes he is entitled to the Super Bowl bonus that players receive, and in the three hours it takes to play the game he will probably earn more than he makes in a week in the home building industry. (www.philly.com)
Philadelphia Inquirer (1/26/05); Shannon Ryan


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Open Plans, Unpretentious Design Characterize New, Small Houses

An 1,800-square-foot house lodged on a 20-foot-wide lot in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury neighborhood is an example of the new small-home designs featured in the January/February issue of Dwell magazine. The home’s upper level consists of an airy living room and kitchen-dining area unencumbered by interior walls. Street level consists of spacious bedroom and bath, with an additional bedroom and bath tucked under a rear deck on the down-sloping lot and accessed via the garden. A 1,500-square-foot home in Carmel evokes La Corbusier’s Citrohan (1920), “a veritable box which could be used as a house.” It has sleeping areas on the first floor and a second-floor living area with a lake view and kitchen and dining areas that have access through glass doors to a deck over an attached garage. The home is featured in “25 Houses Under 1500 Square Feet” by James Grayson Trulove. Another featured home in Dwell is a simple one-story, gable-roofed house with vertical siding that looks like it might have been a chicken coop or outbuilding before. The 640-square-foot design is just 10 feet wide with glass doors overlooking rolling vineyards and Mount St. Helena. (www.sfgate.com)
San Francisco Chronicle (1/26/05); Jerome Gagnon


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Massachusetts Housing Sales Hit New Highs in 2004

With mortgage rates near record lows, 2004 was the best year ever for home sales in Massachusetts, but by the end of the year single-family sales were down 1.5% on a year-over-year basis, while condominium sales were up by 23.4%. December was the 20th consecutive month that condo sales in the state were up year-over-year. The median price of a single-family home in the state was $342,500 in December, up 10.5% from a year earlier but down 1% from the prior month. December’s median price for a Massachusetts condo was $265,000, up 15.2% from a year earlier, down from a record $273,900 in August. (www.boston.com)
Boston Globe (1/27/05); Chris Reidy


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Active-Adult Builders Target Urban Locales

Developers along the New Jersey Turnpike close to Manhattan say they are targeting their active-adult communities less toward retirees and more toward empty-nesters who may or may not continue working. The communities are being placed within metro areas, where there are plenty of amenities friendly to baby boomers. According to a Del Webb survey of baby boomers last year, 30% who were considering purchasing a home in an age-qualified active-adult community said they preferred a community in an urban location. Until 2001, Del Webb focused on Sunbelt areas like Arizona, Nevada and Florida. Since 2002, however, the developer has doubled the number of communities it opened in four-season regions and half of the company’s next 100 projects will be within metro areas like Chicago, New York and Detroit. (www.realestatejournal.com)
Wall Street Journal (1/27/05); Jennifer Lisle


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Homes Get Smarter in SW Florida

The $3.3 million Bellagio model being built by local Arthur Rutenberg franchise Lyons Housing Corp. at Miromar Lakes will feature some of the latest technologies that enable home owners to dim the lights, close the blinds and start a DVD movie from their couch and then fire up the tub. The home will also include control screens that allow residents to access security cameras, the heating and cooling system, the pool and closed-circuit television in almost every room. The backbone of the wiring system is “home run” wiring that prevents the signal denigration that can occur in the traditional wiring that loops through every room. All of the audio/visual wiring runs from a central control box to each room individually. (www.news-press.com)
News-Press of Southwest Florida (1/26/05); Tim Engstrom


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All Hail the Eco-Throne

New dual-flush toilets introduced by Caroma, an Australian company, in the late 1990s use even less water than the low-flush toilets mandated by federal law in 1992, and have been found by the Environmental Protection Agency to be more efficient than the old standard. The two-button toilets dispense, at the user’s discretion, either 0.8 gallon or 1.6 gallons and will save average flushers more than 3,000 gallons a year. Most of the new models replace the rubber flapper, which is prone to degrading, with a silicon gasket and calibrated plunger. Bowls and trapways have been redesigned to work better, but there’s still debate over whether the “wash-down” flush, which relies on gravity and a wide trapway, or the “siphonic,” which uses suction and a narrow passage, works best. The Sterling Rockton model combines both. (www.popsci.com)
Popular Science (1/26/05); Alan J. Heavens


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Grant Will Help ASU With Solar House Plan

A construction technology professor at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., is planning to use a $100,000 grant from the state’s energy office to incorporate solar-powered heating and cooling into the construction of low-income homes in Western North Carolina. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, low-income households spend 14% of their income on energy costs, compared with 3.5% for other households, and studies have found that an initial investment in solar and alternative-energy technology can lower those costs. A study published by the federal Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program found that a state weatherization project in Florida that installed solar water heaters in 801 homes reduced water-heating consumption and costs by more than half. In 1994, Wisconsin started a program to install passive solar warm-air collectors in low-income homes. (www.journalnow.com)
Winston-Salem Journal (1/12/05); Jim Sparks


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Harwood International’s New Division Unveils $100M Condo Project

April 15 is the ground-breaking day for Azure, a 31-story, $100-million high rise being built by Harwood International in Dallas. The 202 units, which are scheduled to be delivered in the spring of 2007, range from 881 to more than 5,000 square feet and are priced from $400,000 to $4 million. The Azure will be close to upscale entertainment and restaurant venues along with built-in, resort-style amenities — including an Olympic-size swimming pool with private cabanas — comparable to a five-star hotel. Cabinetry will come from Germany, stones will be imported from France and the skin will be floor-to-ceiling glass for unobstructed views from the tallest building in uptown Dallas; at 375 feet tall, it will be nearly 140 feet higher than its neighbors. “We are exploring other markets,” said Harwood CEO Gabriel Barbier-Mueller, “but at this time we’re focused on the Azure, which will become the showroom.” (www.globest.com)
GlobeSt.com (1/25/05); Connie Gore


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Sales Go to the Swift

Buying up rental complexes, refurbishing them and sprucing them up, filing condo documents and offering units first to tenants and then selling them to the general public is currently providing converters in South Florida’s runaway real estate market with gross profits of 60%-80%, according to Jack McCabe, president of McCabe Research and Consulting in Deerfield Beach. A typical condo conversion can be finished in six to nine months, compared to three or four years for a new development. There were 57 major multifamily condo conversions involving 13,726 units in the area last year, with price increases of 24%-32% that are not sustainable forever, according to McCabe. He expects to see an 8%-14% price rise in condos this year, with severe downward pricing pressure in the fourth quarter as supply exceeds demand for both new construction and conversion. “Speculators have done well over the last three years,” McCabe said. “Putting up relatively small deposits to control $300,000 to $500,000 units, then flipping them a year or two later for five or more times their deposits has yielded impressive gains. The big question everyone asks is: ‘When will the day of reckoning come?’” McCabe is not predicting a crash. (www.bizjournals.com)
South Florida Business Journal (1/24/05); Ed Duggan


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Letters Claim Arson Devices as Eco-Terror

Newspapers in the Sacramento area in California received letters from the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) claiming responsibility for two attempted arsons at construction sites in recent weeks. “Though our fires failed, the actions (were) not completely unsuccessful,” the letters said, adding that more incidents will be forthcoming. “We are setting a new precedent, where there will be at least one or more actions every few weeks,” the letters said. The FBI says that it is looking at at least eight devices in the incidents that were capable of causing substantial property damage and injuring construction workers. Eco-terrorism is considered one of the most serious crimes the FBI investigates, and experts say the attacks have caused as much as $100 million in damages over the last eight years. (www.sacbee.com)
Sacramento Bee (1/20/05); Sam Stanton and Art Campos


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The Ups and Downs of Home Laundry Chutes

In two focus groups assembled in San Antonio to determine what laundry-room features were important to home owners, NAHB researcher Gopal Ahluwalia says he was surprised by someone asking about building a laundry chute. While Ahluwalia says he is familiar with enthusiasm for laundry shoots from people who used them to eavesdrop on basement conversations or make mischief with them as children, he reports that there is no data on their numbers. There is also little, if any, research on their history, according to Martin Hackl, a building restoration contractor and consultant in Oak Park, Ill., who has seen them in homes built as long ago as 1914 and suspects they go back to the 19th century. (www.seattletimes.com)
Seattle Times (1/23/2005); Dru Sefton, Newhouse News Service


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Basements Take a Step Up

Cheaper than an addition or moving to a bigger house, home owners are realizing that finishing or updating a basement is a low-cost way to increase living space, according to remodelers. “A basement renovation is about half the cost of an addition,” said Mark Richardson, president of Case Design/Remodeling Inc. in Bethesda, Md. The amount of space involved can be considerable, because basements usually run the entire length and width of a house. Gopal Ahluwalia, NAHB’s director of research, said that fewer than 10% of new-home buyers purchase a finished basement directly from the builder. Instead, they hire another contractor to finish them, typically within two years of buying. People often feel financially stretched when they buy a new house, he said, and the basement is a purchase that can be delayed a bit. Among the issues for those finishing or renovating a basement is to ensure that it will stay dry and to create as much light as possible. (www.washingtonpost.com)
Washington Post (1/22/05); Daniela Deane


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You Have Less Privacy — And More of It Too

Americans are engaged in a massive drive to increase their physical privacy, and the trend now begins at the earliest stages, when young children are given their own bedrooms. In 1950, according to statistics compiled by NAHB, only 1% of homes were built with four or more bedrooms, compared to four houses in 10 today; and only 1% had at least 2-1/2 baths, compared to 60% now. In other words, a typical American 10-year-old has more personal privacy than Louis XIV, who had to have someone empty his chamber pot; today’s child has his own private bathroom with a lock on the door. Other examples of how Americans are actually increasing their private space at a time when it seems that there are more and more opportunities to monitor everyday activities include putting patients into private hospital rooms rather than open wards, phone companies promoting wireless packages enabling each family member to have a private line and single-occupant college dormitory rooms with private baths. Of course, even though students can sleep in a private room, their every waking action can be monitored by college-issued smart cards and security cameras across campus. (www.statesman.com)
Austin American-Statesman (1/23/05); Marilyn Geewax


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Study Pinpoints Water Intrusion Causes

An investigation into the causes of water intrusion into homes in Florida during 2004’s unusually severe hurricane season found that the water management capacities of exterior wall assemblies were overwhelmed; the study also identified practices that can improve their performance. The study was conducted by Dr. Joseph Lstiburek, a principal of Building Science Corp. in Westford, Mass. Among his recommendations, he proposes that builders add a “seat” to the base of masonry wall assemblies, providing a small channel where penetrating water can be temporarily stored during wind-driven rain; improve the performance of water-resistant barriers (used in second-floor assemblies between stucco coatings and interior walls) by ensuring a “bond break” to provide adequate room for penetrating moisture to drain; and work with building code officials to change the approved method of joining first- and second-floor wall assemblies. The complete report can be found at the association’s Web site (www.fhba.com) under “Features.” (www.fhba.com)
Florida Home Builders Association Action News (1/17/05); Dan Gilmore


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