3 Reasons to be Optimistic about the Housing Market in 2015

As we usher in the 2015 National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) International Builders’ Show (IBS) we can be optimistic that the housing market will continue to pick-up based on some emerging trends.

CertainTeed was honored recently to present a manufacturer’s perspective to the Federal Reserve on the state of the construction industry and what changes need to take place to improve existing home sales and pave the way for new construction.

2014 did not turn out to be as robust a recovery as we hoped.  I think we can all agree that, even though it was the best year in housing starts in recent memory, it fell short of expectations.  Tight mortgage credit significantly crimped first-time home buyers.  According to the National Association of Realtors  first-time home buyers accounted for 33 percent of the nation’s housing market in 2014 – the smallest share since 1987 and down from 38 percent in 2013. The lack of first-timers makes it difficult for trade-up buyers to sell their homes creating a domino effect hurting new home sales and single-family construction.

So why do I feel that we will see resurgence in the housing market in 2015?

  1. JOBS – Payroll employment rose by 252,000 in December, and the unemployment rate declined to 5.6 percent. Job gains occurred in professional and business services, construction, food services and drinking places, health care, and manufacturing. Jobs and income growth usually boost consumer confidence and positive feelings about home ownership.
  1. MILLENNIALS - With more than three million 19 to 34 year olds living with their parents until they are gainfully employed and able to begin looking for that starter home, the uptick in job creation is good news. Once employed they will make plans for marriage, first home and family.
  1. LENDING - Mortgage finance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac recently signaled a willingness to lend by lowering their minimum down payment requirement from 5 to 3 percent.

Industry experts suggest a more steady growth year of 16 percent, driven more by growth in single-family starts which is expected to grow 21 percent.

Let’s hope they are right.

If you are attending IBS, stop by and visit our booth at Central Hall C2127.

 

 

 

A Case for Spray Polyurethane Foams Contributing to Points in the LEED System

certasprayccappsmall409x237We are seeing an increase in the use of spray foam insulation in both commercial and residential construction both by itself and in combination with other insulations because it adds a new dimension to improving the energy efficiency of buildings especially when applying for LEED certification.

The proper use of spray foam will change your performance when you do energy modeling of your building with ASHRAE 90.1. It contributes in many ways in addition to good thermal resistance. It also has the potential for reducing whole building air leakage when installed where buildings leak air. The effect will show up in the energy modeling results.

There has been recent good news with regard to the spray polyurethane foams and LEED. The Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance has completed Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for both open and closed cell spray foams among its members. This is aggregated data across the members of the Alliance giving you the documentation for use with LEED v4. These EPDs are available from the members who participate.

I strongly urge all of you who haven’t yet to build a library of transparency documents for the products you like to use. There is no single source repository of this documentation across manufacturers and service providers so you’ll have to do much of the seeking yourself. Once you have created your own library, make sure someone gets the task of maintaining it to ensure all the documents you are curating are up to date and accurate.

Homes for Our Troops, A Cause to Celebrate

During this busy time of year let’s pause and focus on that for which we are grateful. I am grateful for the blessings that come with working for a company with compassion.  As a manufacturer of building materials, CertainTeed donates to several charitable organizations at the regional and corporate level. This year, CertainTeed proudly made a multi-year commitment to Homes for Our Troops.HFOTlogo_RGB_url2014-291x300

Homes for Our Troops is a national non-profit organization dedicated to building specially adapted homes for severely injured Veterans across the nation. The organization is committed to helping American heroes rebuild their lives. Our involvement is through product donation; however, there are many ways individuals can help, too.

This holiday season 10 Veterans are receiving their own specially adapted home. When you stop to think about what this means for these individuals and their families, it is humbling. The homes are provided mortgage-free to these soldiers who have returned home with life-altering injuries. Surely this is something for which we can all be thankful.

Homes for Our Troops raises money and provides building materials and professional labor to coordinate the construction of state-of-the-art homes so Veterans can live more independently. The specially adapted homes help empower these Veterans so they each can focus on their recovery and returning to their life’s work. Read more about these heroes and their post-war journeys at www.hfotusa.org.

So yes, this holiday I give thanks to Homes for Our Troops, American soldiers, and working for a company that allows me to be a small part of this generous and necessary effort.

 

Free Continuing Education Webinar: Acoustical Ceilings for the Eye, the Ear and the Mind

CTC_TCH_case study_409x240Unwanted noise in interior spaces can profoundly impact the way people work, learn and heal in the built environment. Well-designed interior spaces are key to combating this serious problem. Choosing the right ceiling panel material for a project makes a huge difference in managing the acoustical response of a room.

Studies also show that natural light that is more evenly distributed in a room can increase productivity. Ceilings manufactured with light reflectance properties can have a positive impact on the comfort of a room and decrease electrical costs.

To learn more, join our Building Knowledge Academy of Continuing Education (ACE) this Tuesday, December 16, from 1 – 2 p.m. ET, for a free educational webinar on acoustical ceilings. The course provides an overview of the principles of sound attenuation and light reflectance and can count toward CEU credits.

Robert Marshall, Manager for Marketing Technical Services for CertainTeed Ceilings, who has extensive experience with acoustical ceilings as a private contractor and now in the manufacturing sector, will lead the webinar. During this engaging discussion, you will learn:

  • The main properties of acoustical ceilings, their function and performance, and how they are tied to positive outcomes in healthcare facilities, schools and places of business.
  • How to calculate the Noise Reduction Coefficient (NRC) when determining the acoustical performance of a product and compare acoustical materials as they relate to sound absorption and frequency.
  • The Luminous Reflectance Factor of acoustical materials as it relates to sustainable work environments.

Click here to register.

The CertainTeed Building Knowledge ACE program offers the industry’s most extensive and engaging collection of CEU courses available. Its breadth of educational courses provides architects, specifiers and others in the building industry with knowledge and skills needed to specify products smarter.

We hope you will join us for this informative session.

Hoteliers Take Heed: LEED is Good for Business

BlogA recent study published by the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration provides empirical evidence that LEED-certified hotels make more money per room than non-certified competitors.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system has guided the building industry’s turn toward sustainable design since 2000. From its inception, the question has never been is LEED good for the environment. That’s a given. The question has always been is LEED good for business. Certainly the hotel industry has already embraced sustainable design to varying degrees, but evidence supporting its business practicality will surely spur on future green efforts.

What Cornell researchers did for this study was compare the performance of 93 LEED-certified hotels to that of 514 comparable non-certified competitors and found that those certified had higher average daily rates and revenue per available room, at least for two years following the certification.

This is interesting news for the hotel industry. Until now there has been little data linking LEED certification to business performance. The Cornell University study’s findings mesh with McGraw-Hill’s 2013 Green Retail and Hospitality report, which looked at annual operating costs, asset value, and ROI. This data, coupled with USGBC’s new LEED scorecard specific to the hotel industry, could bring forth lasting change toward sustainably designed hotels.

As the manufacturer of a complete portfolio of gypsum board, insulation and finishing products, we share the responsibility to help hotels meet LEED credits. That’s why we offer building materials that allow hotels to effectively address important environmental issues like indoor air quality, thermal performance and acoustics.

It’s our perspective that the Cornell study will serve as a catalyst for hoteliers to support the construction of sustainably built hotels. The proof is in the Cornell report, the guidance is in the LEED scorecard, and the products are on the market. Seems like now is a good time for hotels to go green.

Builder Beware: Code Changes Require Cover Up of Exposed Beams

download (1)Recently at an event where I was giving a continuing education presentation, I sat in on a presentation given by a manufacturer of wood framing materials. We usually talk in terms of dimensional framing (2×4 or 2×12) lumber as opposed to manufactured wood framing materials.

Today it is common practice to use manufactured wood products such as TJI’s (Truss Joist I-Beams–) These have become very common and popular because they are straight and flat while a 2 x 12 is a natural piece of wood that can warp and twist and then needs to be straightened out at the jobsite. Manufactured wood has gained in popularity because of these properties and others.

However, in fires, manufactured wood burns differently than traditional dimensional framing products. This can be a problem because very often, at the homeowner’s request, builders will leave the basement unfinished for the homeowner to complete at a later time. What is happening is that in these scenarios, if there is a fire in the basement, firemen can fall through the unprotected floors because the exposed manufactured wood joists and beams may be burning faster than traditional framing materials.

For that reason, a code change, Section 501.3 of the 2012 International Residential Code (IRC), has been developed mandating that all manufactured wood floor framing be covered by a 30 minute radiant barrier. That means that all those basements with unfinished ceilings will need to be finished.

I strongly recommend that builders and contractors contact your building code officials to make sure you know what you are required to do to cover the exposed beams for safety. Installing and finishing a gypsum ceiling may be one of the most affordable and practical ways of providing our emergency responders with the protection they deserve.

 

Shedding Light on Fair, Affordable Housing

HFH 806 houseDay in and day out we’re consumed with the products aspect of building and remodeling homes at CertainTeed. As a building materials manufacturer, we are committed to helping create high-performing, energy-efficient comfortable homes for families.

 We take pride in the fact that we contribute to healthy, thriving communities — especially through our partnerships with YouthBuild, Habitat for Humanity and Homes for Our Troops.

 However, despite the number of available homes in our communities, the stark reality is that not everyone has access to quality, affordable housing. According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there are more than four million violations of fair housing laws each year. This means that discrimination based on race, disability, familial status, national origin or religion is a reality for many individuals that are attempting to rent an apartment or buy a home as well as securing a mortgage and home insurance.

 In terms of affordable housing, Habitat for Humanity reports that in the United States 48.5 million people are living in poverty, without stable, decent housing.

 There are only 30 affordable and available housing units available for every 100 low-income households. This is a very complex issue that organizations such as Make It Right — which is rethinking the design and construction of affordable housing — are tackling.

 There are dozens of organizations dedicated to fair, affordable housing issues and we encourage you to get involved. To learn more, check out this list of 101 resources that are helping to build better communities.

 

 

Wall Assemblies for Maximum Efficiency: How Many Layers is Too Many?

SimplexOPTIMABuilding professionals spend a lot of time dealing with production construction which has dialed in efficiencies and productivity to provide the maximum assembly for the cost per square foot.  The reality is in standard construction you build things in five or six layers. This is the standard in terms of building a wall system more efficiently and we have gotten it down to a science.  Generally a six layer home will give you a solid, energy efficient, comfortable home.

Occasionally, I work with builders on projects that remind me of possibilities beyond what is the status quo.  I recently had an opportunity to work with a builder who was building a custom home whose wall systems had 13 layers.  This wall had so much redundancy and robustness built into it that I just had to ask for a chance to visit the project and see this masterpiece being built.

This was the homeowner’s instruction: They wanted a thick wall, they wanted a silent wall, they wanted a highly efficient wall for them to own.  That’s one of the key’s to this discussion- the owner is focused on what comes afterwards- not what happened before. To achieve this goal the builder is employing a combination of traditional masonry materials and cutting edge products and systems.   

In a similar fashion, a project that CertainTeed has been involved with at the Navy Yard in Philadelphia with Penn State achieves a similar goal but in a lighter and perhaps less massive assembly – to create a highly efficient wall system that can provide comfort, improve indoor air quality, better acoustics but, and here’s the rub- to still be affordable by more typical consumers.  This was done by using a 2 x 8 construction – providing a deeper wall cavity – A Blown-in-Blanket Insulation System, Weather Resistant Barrier, a Smart Vapor Retarder and Air Barrier System, a Wallboard Solution, Rigid Insulation on exterior and Insulated Vinyl Siding. This created an R30.5 exterior wall.

In both homes, products were used to address acoustics, indoor air quality and moisture control.  Do you need 13 layers?  Probably not but the pressure is certainly going to be on what layers remain to do more than they have in the past.

Thoughts?

 

Green Leasing: A Collaborative Approach to Energy Efficiency

Brandywine Realty property outside Philadelphia

Brandywine Realty property outside Philadelphia

You’ve probably seen this stat before —buildings account for 40 percent of total U.S. energy consumption in the U.S.  We all know that reducing energy consumption is imperative for the future sustainability of our country, but when it comes to putting words into actions, we sometimes get stuck.

 Case in point: the potential for gridlock in traditional lease agreements— where the benefits of reduced energy usage or building upgrades do not “flow” to the person who pays for the transaction. For example, if a tenant is not responsible for monthly utility bills, then there is no financial incentive to reduce energy use.

 The good news? Companies such as Brandywine Realty Trust are bringing a fresh perspective to energy efficiency through green leases, which help align the financial and energy incentives of building owners and tenants.

 Specifically, property owners can charge tenants for measures that result in operational savings, such as energy-efficient lighting or chiller retrofits, as long as the savings are greater than the cost of the measure. The tenant benefits from reduced monthly utility costs and the building owner is able to increase the value of the building. Most importantly, the lease agreement instills a spirit of collaboration and mutually beneficial financial incentives to reduce energy consumption.

 Best of all, green releases are generating formidable results. Brandywine Realty Trust and its tenants have reduced energy costs by roughly 46 percent in a 93,000 square foot, 1980s era, building in suburban Philadelphia. And, the building’s energy cost per square footage is approximately 38 percent lower than the area average. With such a great return on investment, it truly begs the question — why aren’t more real estate companies getting on board with green leases?

A Tip for New Home Buyers – Consider What is Behind the Walls

Hybrid insulation installDuring the 2013 International Builders’ Show I had the chance to speak with a regional manager for a national builder about the challenge of helping consumers understand the features, benefits and return on investment (ROI) on the hidden features in a home. 

When a potential homeowners speaks to a builder they are usually more focused on considering upgrades that are visible to the eye than considering what’s underneath the walls of the home. What they don’t consider is how upgrading the R-value in their walls will save them money on heating and cooling over the life of the home or if they plan on selling the home in the future, how this improved performance may help them compete against homes that will be built between now and then.

The challenge that is faced by a builder as well as a solution provider is to create ways to have that very conversation with the consumer in a clear and relatively quick manner. The reality is that a builder only has so much time with a prospective buyer of a new construction and they do have a great deal of ground to cover.  It is usually easier to focus on what is visible than what is not.

During our chat, we discussed creating scenarios of building a house three different ways to maximize the efficiency of the home and how to show that to a prospective buyer.  You could have partially finished walls in the garage of a model home which show building and insulating a wall to code vs. improved materials and techniques.  You could then show various types of wallboard – yes there are varieties of wallboard that address noise reduction, mold and moisture control and volatile organic compound removal.  This could be a chance for people to actually see and understand what is usually hidden behind the finishes they have been focused on.

Truth is, potential homeowners seem more interested in talking about the aesthetics of countertop materials than increasing the efficiency of their wall systems. Why are we so comfortable being ignorant about one the most important investments of our life? I would bet that more people have researched the features and benefits of their next car in terms of gas mileage, horsepower, etc.  than researching the type of insulation and wallboard to use in their home for optimum comfort and health.

Does anybody have any ideas of how we can engage homeowners in the conversation about the energy efficiency options in homes that will lower their operating costs over the life of a home? If you are a realtor, what do you do?