The (Almost) All-American Home

When Karen Lantz, a Houston architect, was in high school, the Armco steel plant where her father had worked for two decades shut down. “He was 47”. “It was tough.” He found other jobs, but the financial loss stung, and the family’s options became more limited. Lantz put herself through community college and then architecture school at University of Houston. Now 37, Lantz is a working architect, but in 2009, when she started planning her dream house in grip of a recession, her father’s experience weighed on her. People all over United States were out of work; if she bought American-made products for the house, she could do her part. But how far could she take it? Was it possible to build a house entirely of products made in America? Some things were easy. Karen Lantz traveled to a quarry in Lueders, Tex., to find chocolate-brown limestone. Marble chips made up her terrazzo came from Marble Falls. She found Heatlok Soy 200 foam insulation in Arlington, windows manufactured in Stafford. Other items required her to look further afield: Lantz bought shower drains from Iowa, a skylight made in South Carolina, hose valves made in Alabama, fences from California and baseboards from Georgia. She developed the skills of a private investigator. Some companies would claim “Made in U.S.A.” when they had just a sales office in U.S.; others claimed American provenance when they were assembled here from foreign parts, like the pool finish contained Australian sand. Lantz’s toughest battles were over what she calls “jewelry and accessories in architecture,” like appliances, faucets and lighting fixtures. “If you Google ‘made in U.S.A.,’ it can be bad,” she said. “It’s not high design. That’s what’s tough, and that’s what our industrial designers are weak on.” So it was with the edge pulls: handles that would fit flush along the face of cabinets made of shimmering, dark-hued sinker cypress reclaimed from Florida river bottoms. Karen Lantz showed me 2 such pulls. To my eye, they looked pretty much the same. Each had clean lines and a soft finish of gently weathered bronze. Each felt equally heavy in hand. “This one?” Lantz said, picking up the pull on left and turning it over for my inspection. “From Italy. 9 dollars.” She picked up the one on her right. “This one?”. “China. 4 dollars.” The U.S.-made pull that was closest to what she wanted cost $72. She called company after company trying to do better. When she asked why American pulls cost so much more than those made overseas, the answers ranged from “We make them here” to “It’s a classic.” Time passed; cabinet installers grew restless. Finally, Lantz gave in and bought Italian. (She has tried to avoid Chinese products since problems with contaminated drywall surfaced in the early 2000s.) “I needed 160 of them,” she explained. “It was a big price difference, I just couldn’t do it. I tried, but I just couldn’t do it.” Near completion on house, Lantz estimates she came within 90% of her goal. In addition to pulls, gave in to sinks from Germany and faucets from Italy, and when Lantz fell in love with solar panels designed in Colorado but manufactured in China, she threw in the towel. Lantz calculates that the cost of her Made in the U.S.A. house to a client, who would have to pay an architect, contractor, etc, would come in at around $250 a square foot, more than some custom luxury homes in Houston but less than most. Karen Lantz figures she made something of lasting value. “I built it to be here 100 years,” she said. “But if the day comes, it’s all recyclable” (source: NYTimes – 13/10/2012) 


Acerca de ignaciocovelo
Consultor Internacional

One Response to The (Almost) All-American Home

  1. Professor Uziel Nogueira says: Housing is the backbone of the US economy and the largest job creator sector. It generates more jobs per additional spent dollar than any other economic activity in the country. Ms. Karen Lantz (frustrated) experiment of building a ‘made in the USA’ house is revealing. It shows the positive and negative impact of the US business profit maximization model. In the upside, the US business model offers consumers a wide range of good quality products for a reasonable price. Companies make handsome profits and consumers get good quality affordable housing. In the downside, the economy loses well paid manufacturing jobs to overseas competition. The internationalization of the housing sector is a good example – a micro cosmos so to speak – to explain one of the reasons why the economic recovery is not generating enough jobs as it did in the past. Most jobs are created overseas – directly and indirectly – during the manufacturing phase of housing components. Relatively fewer direct jobs are created in the US during the final phase of putting together foreign made components of a house. Without foreign components, costs of house construction in the US would skyrocket.

    The (social) question to be asked in the housing sector is: Are the benefits to consumers higher than the costs paid in jobs?


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