Big Builder Bets on Solar
Restoration Show Spotlights Window
Affordability Inches Up; Indianapolis
In March, one of the nation's largest home builders
announced plans to outfit 1,254 new homes in the Sacramento,
Calif., area with photovoltaic power. The agreement between
Lennar Homes and the Sacramento Municipal Utility District
(SMUD) represents the largest solar-home development project
ever attempted in the United States. Construction is scheduled
to start immediately and continue through 2010.
Earlier this year, Lennar revealed that it was building 650
solar-equipped homes in nearby Roseville, Calif.
The photovoltaics for both projects will be supplied by San
Jose, Calif.-based SunPower Corp. The systems cost about
$20,000 each, but thanks to state tax credits and rebates from
local utilities, they'll add only about $10,000 to $12,000 to
each home's sales price. Buyers will also be eligible for a
one-time federal tax credit of $2,000.
Energy bills for the solar-powered homes in Sacramento —
which averages 320 days of sunshine per year — could be
as much as 60 percent lower than those for comparable
conventionally powered homes, says SMUD. In addition to the
solar collectors, the new homes will incorporate such
conservation features as attic radiant barriers, extra
insulation, efficient hvac appliances, and compact fluorescent
During hot summer days, SMUD predicts, the completed Sacramento
project's peak need for electricity could be almost two
megawatts less than that of a conventional development.
The project is also expected to generate far less greenhouse
gas than a conventional development, an environmental benefit
that SMUD says is comparable to planting 980 acres of trees or
taking 620 cars off the road.
Like most big builders, Lennar is awash in red ink and unsold
inventories these days; it's even taken the unprecedented step
of asking subcontractors for givebacks (In the News, 3/07).
Nevertheless, the solar venture appears to be a success. Less
than three months after breaking ground for the Roseville
development, the company reported that 31 homes had already
been sold — a sales pace unmatched by any of its other
projects. — Tom O'Brien
• After stonewalling for eight years, the Department of
Labor has promised to issue a ruling in November requiring
employers to provide workers with safety equipment free of
charge. This action comes in response to a lawsuit filed by two
unions against the federal government in January (In the News,
3/07). OSHA, a division of the Labor Department, has been
promising since 1999 to clarify an existing statute that
requires businesses to "provide" safety equipment without
explicitly stating that they must also pay for it.
• Irwin Industrial Tools is sponsoring a contest to find
the "Ultimate Tradesman." As part of its sponsorship of the
Nascar Nextel Cup series, the toolmaker is inviting
professional tradespeople and DIYers in host cities to visit a
participating retailer during race week and compete in a timed
"measure, mark, and drill" contest (using Irwin tools, of
course). The 30 fastest contestants in each local market will
go on to compete against each other in regional events; the
grand-prize winner will receive a customized Ford F-150 pickup,
plus the chance to win $1.26 million. Details are posted at
• NAHB and the International Code Council are joining
forces to develop the nation's first residential green building
code. The announcement was made during a joint news conference
at the International Builders' Show in February. The two groups
hope to complete the new standards within two years.
• Nobody can accuse the CEO of the nation's largest home
builder of putting a rosy spin on his company's near-term
prospects. "I don't want to be too sophisticated here, but '07
is going to suck, all 12 months of the calendar year," said
Donald J. Tomnitz of D.R. Horton. He made those remarks in
March, while speaking at an investor conference in New York.
Tomnitz noted that production was down 35 percent from peak
output and predicted that further cuts were likely. He blamed
excess inventory for the company's troubles.•
• In Rhode Island, a Superior Court judge has refused a
motion for a new trial from three paint manufacturers who were
found guilty last year of creating a public nuisance by
distributing lead-based paint in the state. Judge Michael
Silverstein plans to appoint a "special master" whose job will
be to determine how to clean up the state's estimated 250,000
lead-contaminated houses, and how much to charge the paint
companies for the work. Those companies, Sherwin-Williams,
Millennium Holdings, and NL Industries, plan to appeal the
decision to the Rhode Island Supreme Court.
Spotlights Window Repair
Anyone who has worked on old buildings has learned (probably
the hard way) that the materials and techniques needed to do
the job properly are entirely different from those used for new
construction or remodeling. If you're considering restoring
— or even adding onto — a structure that predates
drywall and plywood, there's no faster way to get up to speed
than to attend the Traditional Building Exhibition and
At one of the conference's demonstrations, contractor Marc
Bagala shows how easily paint and glazing compound peel off a
window sash that's spent a few minutes inside his invention,
the Steam Stripper.
On the expo floor of the most recent show, held in Boston in
March, 200 vendors displayed a cornucopia of restoration
materials unlikely to show up at Home Depot: period lighting
fixtures, reproduction hardware, and historic tile, doors,
millwork, and cabinetry. Some companies offered esoteric
products like ornamental metalwork, stone sculptures, and
copper roof spires; two exhibited wavy replacement glass for
The unspoken theme of this year's event seemed to be window
repair. Clearly, owners of old buildings have finally gotten
the message that their properties are more valuable with the
original sash in place. During virtually every moment of the
four-day show, someone somewhere was speaking about the hows
and whys of saving old windows.
Restoration consultant John Leeke offered an eight-hour
hands-on master class on his repair methods. Painting
contractor Duffy Hoffman talked about paint removal, epoxy
repairs, and the correct way to repaint. Window-repair
specialist Jade Mortimer discussed weather-stripping and
demonstrated some of the tools of the trade — most
impressively, a specialized stapler (originally designed for
picture framers) that makes setting glazing points a breeze.
Restoration contractor Marc Bagala demonstrated the Steam
Stripper, a stainless steel box containing a steam generator
that he designed to quickly and safely soften old paint and
The conference reconvenes in New Orleans in October. For more
Affordability Inches Up; Indianapolis
In the last quarter of 2006, the housing bust combined with
falling mortgage rates to bring a bit of good news to
prospective home buyers in much of the country: The supply of
affordable homes increased nationwide by more than one percent.
Not surprisingly, affordability was highest in the Midwest and
lowest in California.
The findings are based on the latest NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing
Opportunity Index, which was released in February.
"Today's reading indicates that 41.6 percent of new and
existing homes sold during the fourth quarter of 2006 were
affordable to families earning the national median income of
$59,600," said NAHB president Brian Catalde in a press release.
"This is slightly better than the 40.4 percent of homes that
were affordable to median-income earners in the third
For the sixth quarter in a row, Indianapolis was the country's
most affordable major housing market; 89 percent of the area's
homes were affordable to buyers earning the local median
household income ($65,100). At $113,000, the median price of
homes sold in Indianapolis was $9,000 less than it had been the
Rounding out the top five most affordable metropolitan areas
were Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit; Toledo, Ohio; and Buffalo,
The nation's least affordable major housing market was Los
Angeles, which has held the dubious distinction of being ranked
last in this category for nine consecutive quarters. The median
price of homes sold there — $525,000 — was almost
five times that of homes sold in Indianapolis.
Adding to the discrepancy, Los Angeles' median income —
$56,200 — was even lower than that of Indianapolis.
Altogether, less than 2 percent of the Los Angeles region's
housing stock was affordable to the median-income home buyer in
the last quarter of 2006.
The L.A. basin is by no means the only place in the golden
state where houses are expensive: More than half of the index's
52 least affordable metropolitan areas were in California.
has recalled about 44,000
cordless reciprocating saws because the trigger switch could
short-circuit, posing a fire hazard. The recall involves DeWalt
DC305 models with date codes 200619-49 through 200640-49. These
tools were sold from May 2006 through November 2006. For more
information or to arrange for a free repair, contact DeWalt at
866/751-9562 or go to www.dewalt.com.
of Quebec has
recalled about 75,000 heat-recovery ventilators after receiving
reports that four units overheated and started fires. Affected
models were sold from January 1991 through December 2001 under
the Venmar brand and other names (Carrier, Heil, and Rheem,
among others). For these units, Venmar will provide a free
safety device that shuts off the ventilator when the motor
overheats. To find out whether a particular model is affected
by the recall, contact Venmar at 866/441-4645 or go to