Marnie Oursler’s passion started with a challenge.
About a year and a half ago, a client approached the Delaware builder with the idea of building him a house using as many American-made products as possible. There was just one catch: He didn’t want to pay a premium for it.
Oursler took the bait and built the client a house in Bethany Beach, Del., out of 95 percent American-made products. Now she’s using that experience to encourage other construction contractors to do the same.
Her venture was the impetus for We Build American, a campaign being promoted by 84 Lumber Co. The Pennsylvania-based building materials supplier announced the initiative at the International Builders Show earlier this year in Las Vegas.
Oursler is not the first contractor to take on the issue of building American. In fact, her client, Bill Gay, was inspired by the work of Anders and Jake Lewendal, father-and-son builders from Montana who constructed a home entirely from materials sourced or manufactured in the United States. (You can read more about that project at www.theallamericanhome.com.)
Nor does 84 Lumber’s We Build American campaign claim that the products it touts are made entirely from American-produced content. In today’s global marketplace, it’s difficult to find more complex products that don’t contain at least some components made abroad.
Still, We Build American strives to boost the percentage of a house that’s made here, and in doing so, support our economy and create American jobs.
It should reassure consumers, too. Remember the mess that ensued a few years back when some drywall made in China was emitting noxious gases into homes?
The campaign is fairly simple: It encourages contractors to pledge to build American, and it will make it easier for them to do so by listing sources of U.S.-made building materials on its website, www.webuildamerican.com. Consumers can also use the site to find builders who have committed to using American-made products.
Oursler hopes that by doing the research for builders, she and 84 Lumber will encourage more to get on board.
Finding domestic products was her biggest challenge when she first took on the Gay project, said Oursler, a fourth-generation builder who runs Marnie Homes in Bethany Beach.
“The first time was hard,” she conceded. But now that she knows where to find products, she’s finding it much easier to incorporate American products in the five homes she’s currently building.
Timing was another challenge, she said. She discovered that some American-made products had a long lead time because they weren’t in stock here, although ironically she could get some of them from vendors in Canada and Mexico. But she learned that in some cases, she could bypass the vendor and go straight to the manufacturer or producer to get what she needed.
The beauty of We Build American, she said, is that 84 Lumber is establishing those relationships for the builders. That should ensure the builders can get the materials they require in a timely fashion.
Oursler said building the Gay house cost less than 1 percent more than it would have if she had relied more heavily on foreign-made materials. We Build American’s analysis, on the other hand, figures the cost of building American typically would be about 1.34 percent higher.
However, the campaign notes that figure doesn’t factor potential savings in repair and maintenance costs from using better-quality products.
That intangible benefit is worth considering, Oursler said. “You have the peace of mind [of] knowing you’re installing good products.”
In some cases the domestic products were more expensive upfront, she said, but the extra cost was offset by savings in waste and labor.
She used nails as an example. Oursler bought nails for the framing work on the Gay house from Maze Nails in Peru, Ill., which cost considerably more than the Chinese-made nails she was accustomed to using. She said the Maze nails were better quality and jammed her crew’s nail guns less often, reducing waste and saving about 2½ hours of work time a week during the framing process.
Oursler said buying American isn’t always worth the extra cost.
In the case of some products — say, roofing staples — the quality difference isn’t an issue, while the cost difference is significant. But “typically the American products do win,” she said.
The We Build American organizers believe the impact of their effort can be significant. In the typical home built in the United States, they say, an estimated 35 percent of the materials are made or sourced abroad. Product costs now account for about $118 billion a year in the home construction industry and another $67 billion in the home remodeling industry, the organizers say, so they argue that redirecting even 5 to 10 percent of that spending toward American companies could translate into a meaningful increase in jobs.
It could happen one house at a time.
Mary Beth Breckenridge can be reached at 330-996-3756 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also become a fan on Facebook at http://tinyurl.com/mbbreck, follow her on Twitter @MBBreckenridge and read her blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/mary-beth.