Can You Build an All-American Home? It's Hard and Expensive, and It's All About the Details
Jobs in America are a big deal in the runup to the election as the two leading presidential candidates promise to bring them back from abroad. Houston Architect Karen Lantz watched her dad lose his job in a steel plant, and according to Mimi Swartz in the New York Times, decided to try and do something about it in her own house.
People all over the 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?
Actually, building a house in America out of all local materials is not that hard; most of the materials that go into a conventional house are heavy, awkward and of low value like cement, lumber and vinyl. The problem comes when you try and build a decent green house with quality materials. Lantz's house appears to be a mix of passive design (deep overhangs, careful siting, screened porches, green roof and rainwater harvesting) and gizmo green (thin film photovoltaics, evacuated tube hot water).
It is the details that kill you. According to the Times,
Lantz’s toughest battles were over what she calls “the 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.”
In the end she bought Italian drawer pulls for nine bucks each; the only American ones she liked were $72. After a few other compromises, Lantz estimates that 90% of the value of her house is American.
Is it a worthwhile exercise to try and do this? The fact is, ceramics from Italy and hardware from Germany are better because they have a completely different kind of housing market and demand the stuff; In America the housing market is predominantly driven by price. I don't think that it is a terrible thing that she had to buy a few drawer pulls from Italy; at least Lantz kept away from the Chinese knock-offs and is helping to support European craftsmanship. That has value too.
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