Monday, February 8, 2010

Smoke, Fire and Your Home

Over the past several years, my household has tested and re-tested the smoke alarms in our home. Having experienced 3 fires in my home over the past 2 years, I am keenly aware of the performance of my smoke detectors and became concerned after the most recent fire because of the slow response. While prevention is preferred, timely notification is key to keeping you family safe in the event of a fire.

According the US Fire Administration, smoke detectors typically have a useful life of about 10 years. All should be equipped with a back-up battery which will either last for the useful life, Lithium-Ion, or should be replaced annually, standard 9-volt. It is recommended that you test each alarm in your home once a month. In some applications, if all are hard-wired together, you simply test one and all will sound simultaneously.

If you are like me and realize the age of your detectors is reaching the end of their useful life, the time to shop for new detectors is now. My home is just short of 10 years old. Chances are, if you home is older than 10 years, you are likely due for new detectors as well. Looking online or at your local hardware store you will find a plethora of options ranging in price from $4 to over $100. Here are a few recommendations:

- Buy at least one Smoke/CO combo detectors – This is especially important if you have an attached garage or gas appliances (furnace or water heater). CO detectors should be places as close to the potential source, or point of entry, as possible.

- Use a combination of Ion and Photoelectric sensors to protect your home. Ion sensors detect open flames faster and Photoelectric detect smoldering flames faster.

- Place a detector in each bedroom and in the hall outside the bedroom. Also, placing detectors on each floor of the home is important to fire safety.

- For homes with hearing-impaired individuals, a strobe light pack can be added to interconnected units.

- Heat detectors can be used in areas where a smoke detector is impractical.

Whether the fire is due to a wiring issue, a candle, or toast left too long in the oven, keeping your home protected is key to surviving a house fire. Check smoke detectors monthly, replace batteries annually and exchange the entire unit every 10 years to keep your home safe.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Affordable Alternative in Green Building

Recently, I attended the International Builder Show in Las Vegas. Each year, the show is an opportunity to see the biggest and brightest ideas in the homebuilding industry. This year was no exception. As you might imagine, green building was especially prevalent in the products landscape and the discussions heard throughout the exhibit hall. However, one of the greenest building concepts at the show was not a new technology, but a mainstay in the building industry.

Modular housing has taken a place in the ranks of the green housing crowd, largely due to the efficiency found in manufacturing housing components in a controlled environment. While not directly recognized in most green building programs, the dramatically reduced waste, as compared to on-site construction techniques, of modular housing provides a much higher standard of construction while utilizing the majority of resources.

In this controlled environment, modular home components are built with precision, ensuring each penetration is sealed. The result is a sealed structure that utilizes energy efficiently to heat and cool while providing a healthier indoor environment for the owners. With the addition of other green features like energy efficient lights, low-impact faucets and homeowner education, modular homes provide a green option that is feasible and affordable.

For More Information on Modular Homes, two great organizations to talk to are: CT Valley Homes and Modular Homes, Inc.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Sustainable Steps for Housing

The housing industry continues to struggle and is perpetually on the forefront of the green movement.  Homes and buildings are the most utilized assets and consume the most resources to both build and operate through their useful life.   While builders can include many sustainable features that reduce future power, water and resource consumption, the responsibility to reduce usage is up to the future owner.  Green features are sellable, but the opportunity to reduce ecological impact begins much earlier in the process. Today the focus needs to be on material usage and waste on the jobsite. 

Several misconception exist surrounding material usage and waste.  One major misconception is that if you see no additional material orders, quantity estimates must be accurate.  The reality is, additional orders is a better indicator of performance than no orders at all.  In the best case scenario, only the amount of material needed in the structure would be ordered originally and any mistakes or extra would result in additional orders.  Great for materials, but bad for transportation.  There must be a better way.

As an estimator, I was taught three methods for estimating a homes materials and labor.  These methods are the Good, Better and Best.  Good methods are just that; they are pretty good but fail to rise to the occasion when it is important.  (Pretty Good, by Charles Osgood)  The good method consists of tested Rules of Thumb; methods that get close enough to the right number to ensure extra material is not needed.  The better method starts with a rule of thumb and applies additional thought to the process.  The best method takes an entirely different approach and, in the end, drastically reduces material and labor needed to build a home.

A great example is estimating the stud count for framing.  While less applicable today with the introduction of wall panels in typical home construction, it provides a spectacular example of Good, Better and Best:

  • The Good – The rule of thumb for studs tells us that a wall with 16” spaced studs, estimating 1 stud per lineal foot of wall is sufficient to cover studs for the wall as well as king, trimmer and cripple studs needed for door and window framing.  Close, but efficient structures, which are typical in production homebuilding, require a lot fewer studs and incorporate varying spacing based on the structural needs of the wall.
  • The Better – The better methods starts at a one stud per foot methodology, then logically backs out studs, based on experience, to produce an end number.  This method is useful for a one-time build, but still leaves a large opportunity for savings, either in less material or saved trips to the jobsite. 
  • The Best – Taking the entire process back to formula, and putting aside estimating, the best method determines the actual stud usage in the wall, then based on industry cull rates, adds material to the estimates to cover the material in the wall, the cull rate and nothing more.  The best method does not add material for mistakes and what-if’s as the method requires accurate plans and homes built to these plans.
  • Verification – The best method, because of the estimating methods, creates verifiable numbers.  These quantities, once constructed, can be verified and corrected.  Once a number is verified, it is no longer an estimate, but actual quantities required for construction.

Material waste represents a significant cost to both the builder and the end consumer.  Material waste also creates unnecessary impact on the environment through use of raw material, processing (heat, beat or treat) and waste sent to a landfill or down-cycled into less useful products.

To learn more about reducing waste in all construction processes, contact me at and request a no sales pitch White Paper from Scott Sedam and True North Development.  To learn more about Best Estimating practices, submit a request to

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Presidential Online Seminar

Tomorrow, Builder Magazine is offering a unique opportunity to hear Scott Sedam, Founder of True North development, speak about "Becoming the Lean Builder". This 60-minute webinar will cover the importance of Lean Building practices are part of your companies strategy to survive this changing economy. In Scott's own words, "It is not merely slashing overheads and sending “demand letters” to your suppliers & trades. This is about learning to identify and eliminate waste in all products and processes wherever it is found, tapping into the knowledge and experience of every associate, including suppliers & trades." Join other industry leaders for this experience:

The 90/90 Rule and the Rebirth of Operations

Presidential Online Seminar
Wednesday, April 15, 11:00 AM EDT
Registration is fast, easy and no charge at:

Please register and forward this email to members of your team, your company, other associates and perhaps your key suppliers & trades. This webinar will appeal to and inform all functions and all levels. There is no “sales pitch” in the webinar, of course, but if you are not sure it will be worth an hour investment of your time, ask yourself this: If you had added $8,300 per unit in margin the past 12 months, brought to you willingly and enthusiastically by your suppliers & trades, would it have made a difference? In just over 2 years, that is the amount that TrueNorth Clients of our LeanBuilding Blitz have found on average – and your results are 100% guaranteed. No matter how you have been pursuing cost reduction, the LeanBlitz approach is genuinely different, as we have heard repeatedly from some of the most sophisticated builders in the industry.

If you cannot register and you would still like to have our educational, no sales-pitch white paper, “Seeing with New Eyes – an Intelligent Guide to Lean Building,” to learn more about this groundbreaking approach to cost reduction, just contact me and write “send white paper.”

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Green Product Reviews

On several occasions, I have mentioned the need for products that are innovative, green and affordable. In Las Vegas, I spent a great deal of time seeking out products that meet these criteria. As part of my continuing efforts to share green methods with the world, product reviews will become an vital part of this blog moving forward. So, the lucky winner of the first review is….

Fi-Foil Company: Radiant Insulation Solutions

In Las Vegas, I had the pleasure of meeting Tim with Fi-Foil. The one product that stood out was Flash & FOIL frame wall insulation with VR Plus Shield. This is a unique product that combines with spray foam insulation to provide a high r-value in normal 2x4 construction wall.

As a builder and purchasing manager, I reviewed pricing for spray foam insulation on a number of occasions. Each time, the benefits of spray foam were far out-weighed by dramatic increase in cost. In addition to the cost, filling wall cavities with foam makes repairs to electrical, plumbing and any other product contain in those walls a little more challenging. Thus enters a revised system.

This system consists of 2-½” of spray foam combined with the VR Plus Shield. VR plus shield is a multi-layer foil product with a paper face which, when applied to the studs, separates allowing air to pass between the layers contributing the insulative properties of the product. This system allows wiring and plumbing to be installed so as to not be covered in foam. It also reduces the quantity of foam required replacing it with a less expensive, more effective product.

So, Fi-Foil makes a great insulation product that increase energy efficiency, improves indoor air quality and reduces the cost of installation. Find more information on their website at:

Monday, February 16, 2009

Sustainable Solutions

As more research and study continues on the environmental front, the larger solution to many problems we face is sustainability. In basic terms, sustainable products are items that have a long life and do not require replacement on a schedule. The definition can also be expanded to items, once used for a time period, which can be easily converted to another product or use, as communicated in Cradle to Cradle, by William McDonough & Michael Braungart.

Residential construction has been through periods of very sustainable and very disposable construction practices. As a college student, I worked for a remodeler in Pittsburgh, PA for a summer. One of our projects was a 100 year old renovation and addition. The craftsmanship of the original home was phenomenal. While modern conveniences of air conditioning, kitchen appliances and bath upgrades had been added, the original structure stood on it own. Very little had been replaced, as the home had the original windows, exterior cladding, floors and plumbing fixtures throughout the home.

Today, builders continue to work towards more sustainable structures. Treated wood is used to prevent termite and rot issues. Better water intrusion prevention systems are employed as a best practice for construction. Unfortunately, some areas of the home still need some work, especially on entry-level homes. Many consumers are guilty of contributing to the problem when they say, “Oh, I’ll just replace that when I find what I like” or “ It will last until I can find something better”.

Below, I have broken down a list of the most common “disposable” products still installed by builders on a regular basis. Most of these have a viable alternative, relatively low in cost, yet more sustainable.

  • Toilet Seats – The standard seat installed by a builder is a molded wood, high gloss finish toilet seat. At first glance, the seat is fine. But two years later, even with a clean freak (my wife hates a dirty toilet), the seat is stained, the finish on the bottom is deteriorating and the only solution is to replace the seat. Cost to upgrade to a Kohler plastic seat is about $7/seat retail. A small price to pay for longevity.
  • Dishwashers – Builders are known for the cheapest dishwashers on the market. A standard entry line is loud, inefficient and requires additional rinsing and rewashing of dishes. For a small upgrade of $40-50, these inefficient models can be replaced by a more efficient, quieter model. Options are often offered, however builders should be encouraged to eliminate non-performing models for better units.
  • Carpet – As a general rule, the actual carpet in any home will have to be replaced at some point. However, on the low end, ensuring the right carpet is installed will provide long life to that particular carpet. Nylon 6, a polyester fiber used in some carpets, has endless recycling capabilities. This fiber, compared to others, can be recycled again and again without degrading the original material. Even on the low end, this fiber is affordable and can provide consumers the convenience of changing carpet as the needs of your family changes, without contributing to landfills.
  • Lighting – Another area where builders are prone to find the least expensive items which homeowners can replace later; I was guilty of this early in my career. As a consumer, you will find little success changing this trend in the near future. However, if you are planning to change out fixture upon occupancy, ask you builder to cap the fixture location instead of installing a disposable fixture. If overhead lighting will not be used, ask for a switched outlet for lamp lighting control. Also, request ENERGY STAR lighting options to replace standard fixtures.
As a general rule, Homebuilders are slow to change to the latest practices and technologies. The consumer mentality of “I’ll fix it later” needs to be changed to a request for alternatives. To change the trend from disposable to sustainable construction requires feedback to the builder so they know how to improve products and meet consumer demands for quality.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Define Your Shade – Resource Efficiency

This is the last article in the series that defines Green Building for homes. In a previous article, we discussed the definition of efficiency: utilizing products better than before to reduce usage, rather than just eliminating the item (conservation). With respects to resources, efficiency reduces the amount of product needed to build a home without reducing the overall performance of the structure.

The most common methods of reducing material usage onsite is through pre-manufactured systems: Walls, Floors, Roof Trusses, etc. Building these products onsite creates more waste. In a manufacturing environment, wood is cut to length in one area and the fall-off, smaller end pieces typically less than 2 feet in length, is moved to another part of the facility for use in other products. Manufacturing also provides better avenues to recycle not only the waste material, but sawdust, in the case of wood construction, as well.

Resources also play a role in the design phase of the construction process. Knowing the dimensions of standard goods will reduce wasted material and wasted work. Carpet is typically purchased in 12’ roles; Stud spacing is 16” or 24” on center; Drywall is purchased in 8’,12’ & 16’ lengths. Designing room dimensions and overall dimensions to maximize the usage of material is preferable in the green building process.

Recycling can also play a role in resource management. While some materials are recycled into products not used in the construction industry, some recycled products can be used in the construction process. In Nashville, Tennessee Waste offers the most comprehensive construction waste recycling program available. Meeting both LEED and NAHB Green Building standards, Tennessee Waste recycles about 70% of waste collected and returns a portion of that material to jobsites through there aggregates program, saving the landfills while saving builders money.

An aspect of resource management often overlooked in the industry is scheduling. Installing products too early can result in rework due to damage or replacement due to theft. Some builders spend as much as 15% of total construction costs on rework, repair and theft. In some cases, builder could build a much greener home and pay for the upgrades through better scheduling and trade management.

In summary, Green Building is much more than just lighting and smaller homes. Homes of all sizes and uses can be built better and more green by understanding the various aspects of efficiency, air quality and site work.