Products from All over in Today's Homes

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), November 16, 2007 | Go to article overview
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Products from All over in Today's Homes


Byline: Sara Sicks, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Many materials used to build a new home - lumber, drywall, cement and shingles - are manufactured in the United States. However, a growing percentage of the items used to finish the home's interior - wood flooring, carpet, appliances and tile - are now being produced overseas.

Home builders typically have contracts with manufacturers for all sorts of goods ranging from dishwashers to faucets. While a manufacturer must guarantee a level of quality, it is usually its decision rather than the builder's on where the products are made and assembled.

"If you look at the amount of volume that one builder has with a manufacturer, they would not be in a position to say, 'Hey, that must be made in America,' says Tony Callahan, senior vice president of national purchasing, planning and design for Beazer Homes Corp.

"Certainly from our standpoint, our expectation is that we'll have the material when we need it, that it's at the accepted quality level and that it performs," Mr. Callahan says. "That's what that manufacturer must provide. If they do that in country or offshore, that's their decision."

In the current housing market, the decision is tipping toward imports.

"For appliance manufacturers, particularly for large ticket items where a lot of the demand is in new homes, they're really getting squeezed here with housing demand down," says Bernard Markstein, senior economist for the National Association of Home Builders. "This does create additional pressure to move your product offshore."

Many builders defer to their distributors about where products come from.

"The home builders are not the direct importers," says Gopal Ahluwalia, vice president of research for the National Association of Home Builders. "It's the Home

Depots of the world [who are]. I think there are very few national home builders who might be direct importers."

Many manufacturers are reluctant to talk about where their products are produced and manufactured because of public perception.

"A product line might be assembled here, but the pieces come from somewhere else. It's hard to get a good read on how much of it is going on because no one is really talking," says Nigel Maynard, new products editor for Builder magazine and Residential Architect magazine.

Mr. Maynard says a lot of appliances, windows, tile and flooring materials such as bamboo are coming from China.

Europe, however, produces a significant number of home appliances such as dishwashers and washing machines, as well as high-end cabinetry.

"A lot of the innovation in dishwashers and washing machines came from Europe because they're ahead of us in terms of the environment," Mr. Maynard says. Exotic flooring materials, a market driven by high-end customers, are frequently imported.

"Oak is such a boring species now - no one wants oak anymore," Mr. Maynard says. "They want ipe from South America, or they want bubinga, tiger maple or birdseye maple. They want a lot of these exotic species for flooring."

Such exotic materials are not as common in traditional homes offered by a builder because of cost. These materials are more common in custom or remodeled homes and may be offered as an upgrade in other new homes.

The salvaged-wood industry is now beginning to find some of its material overseas. Companies that sell this type of wood are always on the lookout for sources such as old barns, bridges, buildings, pilings and railroad ties. Sometimes, though, these sources aren't enough to meet market demand.

"A lot of the reclaimed lumber, which traditionally came from this country, we're now seeing demolition take place in China and other Asian countries. And that wood - Chinese elm, Chinese teak - is now coming here," Mr. Maynard says.

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