Florida Hurricane Damage Spurs Interest
in Storm-Protection Products
Arizona Cracks Down on Unlicensed
Safety Inspections Turn Ugly in Pacific
Homeowners Associations Struggle To Cope
With Developers' Legacy
Private Firms Allowed To Conduct Houston
Smart Wall Could Reduce Construction
Structural damage was limited, but
wind-driven rain and debris took their toll
The consequences of last fall's severe hurricane season have
been well-documented — extensive home damage, a massive
rebuilding project, and a shortage of labor and materials that
has impeded the rebuilding process. But at least one industry
is reaping the benefits of the bad weather: Weatherproofing
companies report a huge surge of interest in damage-protection
products for the home.
According to a recent story in the Tampa (Fla.)
Tribune, weatherproofing manufacturers are launching a wide
array of new products, including windows and garage doors
designed to resist the impact of wind-driven debris during
severe storms, metal roofs, and flood vents and safe rooms. In
some places, the insurance industry is helping to drive the
market, with companies such as State Farm Insurance offering
discounts for storm-protection products in as many as 21
states. (In a bizarre twist, we could find no insurance company
writing policies in Florida that currently offers such
Asphalt shingle roofs fared poorly in
the storms that blew across Florida last fall (above). By
contrast, metal roofs performed well, keeping drenching rains
out of the structures underneath, as this beachfront home
illustrates (left). As a result, roofers in Florida are
reporting increased interest in metal roofs, including types
that imitate roof tiles (below).
The interest in storm-protection products extends to
developments and builders as well. Frank McKinney, president of
SolarShield, a Tampa-based metal roofing company, says that
since the storms, his company installed metal roofs in a
development that previously resisted such products.
"The homeowners association had allowed only tile and shingle
roofs, but those tiles and shingles became projectiles that hit
the next roof and blew it apart," he says. "What you saw was
basically a chain reaction. Last year I couldn't put a metal
roof [in that type of development]. But now people are looking
for an alternative."
McKinney says his company recently struck a deal with a local
Tampa builder, Mac-Built, to supply metal roofs for a series of
custom homes. The builder plans to use a high-end metal roofing
product that can mimic the appearance of barrel tile, wood
shakes, and other premium surfaces.
Still, despite the orders he is getting from custom builders,
McKinney sees the entry-level production-home market as a hard
one to crack. Storm or no storm, most buyers of homes in the
$100,000 to $500,000 range prefer to spend that extra $15,000
(the approximate cost of a metal roof) on upgrades in cabinets,
appliances, or floor coverings.
The biggest damage inflicted by Florida
hurricanes was from water penetration. Once the roof covering
failed, interiors were drenched — even in this four-story
condo, which was soaked all the way to the bottom floor (left).
Industrial-strength dryers were common sights after the storms
As for the upsurge in weatherproofing products, McKinney
thinks the ultimate protection solution is relatively simple:
"Shingles and tiles will come off in hurricane conditions
— it's not a matter of if, it's a question of when. And
when they do, even if they don't go through a hurricane-rated
window, they will usually break it. And when the roof comes
off, the rain ruins everything in the house. That's where most
of the cost of the damages comes from."
He finds that homes are, for the most part, impervious to wind
damage and flying debris if their windows are covered and they
have a wind-resistant roof covering. "And it doesn't have to be
a metal roof," he says. "There are other products out there
that can resist damage from winds of up to 140 miles per hour.
If the insurance companies gave home buyers an incentive to put
these things in up-front, you'd see the damage numbers that get
quoted for these storms go down by about 80 percent. But since
I'm mostly in the reroofing business, that probably wouldn't be
very good for me." — Charles Wardell
Arizona Cracks Down on
Two years ago, the state of Arizona concluded that it had a
major problem regulating building contractors. A 2003 report
from the auditor general's office cited an increase in consumer
complaints about shoddy workmanship and a lack of state efforts
to protect consumers.
The report cost the former director of the Arizona Registrar
of Contractors, Michael Goldwater, his job after 12 years
serving under two different governors. His successor, Israel
Torres, blames the growing complaints on unlicensed
contractors, and has ordered his agency to hunt down and
eliminate them. "Unlicensed contractors became public-enemy
number one," says Torres. "We needed to become very proactive
in putting them out of business, and that's where we are
putting our energy."
His tactics have included a program of sweeps and stings.
Working with local police, the agency set up a series of
so-called "bait houses," then used tips from builders,
consumers, and others to contact and offer jobs to contractors
who were suspected of doing work without a license. When the
job offers were made, inspectors requested licenses.
The reform effort has also included changes in the licensing
process, Torres says. One problem was that corrupt contractors
were using rotating licenses to stay in business: A contractor
whose license got pulled would simply use the one he had with,
say, his Uncle Arthur's name on it. The license tracking
process has been changed to flag contractors who use such
While the effort has shown results, Torres thinks it could do
better. "We've caught between 50 and 60 unlicensed contractors,
but we have only 26 full-time inspectors out there," he says.
He has tried to discourage unlicensed contractors by
publicizing the program. For instance, he credits a recent
story in the Arizona Republic with getting the word out. "A
huge part of the program is about the media — the message
and visibility," he says. "It makes a difference when people
know we're doing this. I only wish we had the manpower to do
more operations." — C.W.
OFFCUTSThe city of Polson, Mont., is being sued over the
sudden collapse of a deck last summer at a bar and
80 people were injured. Since JLC reported
on the incident in its September 2004 issue ("Deck Collapse
Injures Scores," In the News), three suits have been filed that
charge the city with responsibility for the collapse, on the
grounds that it approved the construction. An investigation
traced the cause to a wooden ledger that was not adequately
fastened to the building. The city is denying any
Despite low interest rates, rising prices have put
California real estate even further beyond the reach of most
buyers, according to a survey released in December by
the California Association of Realtors. The association's
quarterly Homebuyer Income Gap Index reports a growing rift
between household income and the cost of a home. At the end of
2004, buyers needed an annual income of $108,000 to afford a
median-priced single-family home of $462,000. The year before,
the median home price was $385,000 and the qualifying income
New York Governor George Pataki has vetoed legislation
to limit the use of plastic plumbing in larger homes and
commercial buildings, reports the Buffalo News.
Plumbers' unions had pushed the measure, citing a supposed
toxic threat from plastic pipes. Builders countered that the
plumbers were only trying to protect their vested interest in
the use of iron and copper pipes, which require more labor to
install. But environmental groups also backed the bill,
prompting a large majority of legislators to vote for it. In
vetoing the measure, Pataki called it "well-intentioned," but
said a plastic plumbing ban would conflict with the state's
newly streamlined building code and lead to enforcement
Cul-de-sacs have been a staple in new developments
since the 1950s. The practice of placing homes close
together and facing one another was supposed to encourage
people to interact with their neighbors, but it doesn't seem to
be working. According to a story in the Chicago Tribune,
cul-de-sac residents are just as socially isolated as other
suburbanites. In fact, the physical closeness apparently tends
to make them even more annoyed by their neighbors' noisy kids.
And because residents generally don't know each other, they are
more likely to complain to the homeowners association or the
police about problems than try to work things out among
themselves. Such troubles have already led planners in
Charlotte, N.C., to discourage cul-de-sacs, and other
communities are considering similar moves.
A Gratiot County, Mich., storm-drain project was
halted so that an endangered plant species could grow near the
project site, according to a story in the Grand Rapids
Press. Although American slough grass has never been seen in
the area, that didn't stop the state Department of
Environmental Quality (DEQ) from denying the project a permit.
County drain commissioner Brian Denman had to hire a biologist
and charge an assessment to nearby property owners. Denman
figured the inquiry would end up stalling the project by at
least four months. DEQ has told Denman that he might have to
relocate the drain.
Safety Inspections Turn
Ugly in Pacific Northwest
In the state of Washington, the question of how inspectors
gain access to job sites for safety inspections has turned into
a contentious dispute. On one side is the state's Building
Industry Association (BIA); on the other, the state Department
of Labor and Industries (L&I), whose Washington Industrial
Safety and Health Act (WISHA) program monitors compliance with
federal workplace safety standards. The BIA has filed suit
against WISHA, accusing it of harassing builders by illegally
entering and inspecting job sites.
"We're averaging one complaint a month from our members about
this," says BIA legal counsel Tim Ford. The BIA's position is
that inspectors need permission from the contractor to go on a
job site and conduct an inspection. Ford argues that the courts
have no statutory authority to issue warrants to WISHA
inspectors, even though the courts have been doing so, and that
WISHA's warrant applications have been so riddled with errors
— including wrong addresses and other false information
— that they wouldn't be legal under any
The BIA's suit cites an incident with Nathrop Construction in
Seattle. The BIA maintains that a WISHA inspector filed a
warrant application with false information to gain access to a
Nathrop job site after a worker was injured in a forklift
rollover. The case is currently under appeal before the state's
Board of Industrial Appeals in Seattle, which serves as a
precursor to a possible full-blown legal case in Washington's
circuit court system. No time frame has been set for a final
decision on the appeal. Several calls by JLC to WISHA president
Sharon McCann about this issue were not returned.
The BIA says it doesn't oppose safety inspections per se, just
those it sees as illegal. Ford maintains that there is a legal
remedy for WISHA if the agency wants its inspectors to have
warrant power. "WISHA needs to approach the state legislature
and have a provision written into state law if it wants its
inspectors to be able to get warrants for inspections," he
says. "We wouldn't have a problem with that. But what they're
doing now violates the constitutional rights of our members,
and we're going to continue to contest and protest inspections
that are done without explicit permission."
Meanwhile, relations have definitely become more acrimonious.
The BIA Web site currently features a downloadable "Keep Out"
poster that specifically targets WISHA inspectors. —
Associations Struggle To Cope With Developers' Legacy
For the past two decades, developers have been selling homes
in soup-to-nuts planned communities where buyers pay monthly
fees to maintain such infrastructure systems as water, sewer,
When the development is completed, responsibility for
maintaining these systems is turned over to a homeowners
Now a rash of lawsuits has charged developers with leaving
those associations with major financial shortfalls.
One current lawsuit involves Del Webb, one of the country's
largest builders of privately run adult communities. Residents
of the 10-year-old Sun City Roseville community in Sacramento,
Calif., say Del Webb stuck them with a defective water system
that will require either a huge hike in monthly fees or a major
hit to the association's cash reserves to fix. The residents
are suing Del Webb for the cost of repairs.
A similar case has been filed in Florida, where residents of
Villa Borghese in Delray Beach are suing Ansca Homes for $1.2
million. The residents claim they inherited a $280,000 debt,
along with a faulty irrigation system, when Ansca pulled out of
Ansca has also been sued by the Ponte Vecchio West homeowners
association in nearby Boynton Beach, for like reasons.
Industry analysts cite different reasons for such problems,
including the lack of state and federal laws regulating the
level of community funding and the competitive pressure that
can lead to developers setting low monthly or annual
assessments to attract buyers. — C.W
Private Firms Allowed To
Conduct Houston Inspections
As part of a move to privatize the building inspection
process in the city of Houston, private firms will now be
allowed to perform inspections of residential buildings.
The privatization initiative, which went into effect at the
end of 2004, was devised by the deputy chief of staff for
neighborhoods and housing, John Walsh, under the guidance of
Mayor Bill White, to help alleviate red tape and the delays
caused by a surge of retirements among public inspectors.
The change has been backed by the Greater Houston Builders
Association. "About four years ago, we started this process
because the city wanted to increase the number of new homes
being built in Houston," explains Toy Wood, the association's
executive VP and CEO. "This was just one of many suggestions we
had for ways to bring builders back into the city, to speed up
the process and make it worth their while to build here."
According to Wood, the move to privatize inspections is part
of a growing trend.
"I haven't tracked it around the country, but I know Fort Worth
uses private inspectors, and there are other cities doing it as
well," she says. "And some of the smaller municipalities do it
because they either don't have the money or don't want to
retain someone on staff."
Private companies have also been allowed to perform
inspections in the considerable amount of unincorporated area
outside Houston's city limits.
The sole opposition to the privatization move came from local
trade unions. "We're not actually sure why they opposed it,
because it doesn't affect them in any way," says Wood. "We
think it was just because they are philosophically opposed to
The opposition was token, anyway: Wood says that the unions
registered a protest to let the city know they opposed
privatization, but took no further action. — C.W.
Smart Wall Could Reduce
Philadelphia architect Michael Rosen has developed a
prefabricated utility wall that he hopes will bring the
benefits of plug-and-play to any new home's electrical and
mechanical systems. The Rosen CoreWall is a structural
insulated panel (SIP) that has been laser-cut to accept all of
a home's utility connections: the electrical panel, the
structured wiring hub, home monitoring and security systems,
sewer and water connections, the hvac system's supply and
return ducts, and so on.
Rosen calls it "the home's engine," because it centralizes the
utilities that drive a house. He says that any home can be
designed to be CoreWall-compliant; it's just a matter of
arranging baths, kitchens, laundry rooms, and other wet areas
in such a way that you can drop the wall into place to complete
most of the house's plumbing and wiring. "It's a more efficient
way to build in that there's only one wall with systems in it,"
he says. In fact, he claims that the product can reduce the
total cost of a home by 15 percent because fewer pipes, wires,
and ducts need to be installed. "You don't need rough plumbers
or hvac guys," he says.
Even before CoreWall was unveiled last month at the NextGen
Demonstration home at the International Builders' Show in
Orlando, Fla., Rosen began receiving orders from production and
custom builders. The walls are custom-manufactured by a SIPs
manufacturer in Seattle, and can be shipped anywhere in the
U.S. given a four- to six-week lead time. For more information,
go to www.corewall.com — C.W.