The idea of “buying American” has spanned multiple industries in the past few years – and now, homebuilders are getting in on the act

2013-03-23T00:00:00Z The idea of “buying American” has spanned multiple industries in the past few years – and now, homebuilders are getting in on the actBy MELISSA KANDEL CTW Features
March 23, 2013 12:00 am  • 

For Gerald Rowlett, inspiration came from an email – specifically, an email detailing Montana-based builder Anders Lewendal’s project, “The All-American Home,” a house constructed entirely from materials and products made in the U.S.

“I though, oh my goodness, why aren’t we doing this too?” says Rowlett, owner of Westlake Development Group in Happy Valley, Ore. “I contacted my clients asking if they would be interested and they all came back to me and said, ‘This is the right thing to do.’”

But buying American isn’t just about the materials that go into your home. “If you build a house, you create two permanent jobs,” explains Anders Lewendal, owner of Anders Lewendal Construction in Bozeman, Mont. The economist-turned-builder challenges contractors to reallocate 5 percent of their spending to American-made merchandise. With figures corroborated by the Boston Consulting Group, Anders calculated that even this 5 percent modification would add 220,000 construction jobs and send $14 billion into the U.S. economy.

“Buying local has been around for generations,” Lewendal notes. “I’m just quantifying this idea and its economic meaning.”

Following Lewendal’s lead, Rowlett successfully built the first all-American-made home on the West Coast. He has since become an influential player in the “Buy American” initiative, a national effort by homebuilders to change the mindset of their industry as well as customers constructing new homes.

Jake Lewendal, Anders’ son who assisted on the original project, the shift to American-made is also about compassion. “From a buyer’s standpoint, it really does pull on your heartstrings,” he says. “When we first started looking at the working conditions for laborers in developing countries, it was basically all horror stories.”

In fact, Lewendal maintains that the cost saved when purchasing cheaper foreign-made products is often value lost in the end.

“If it’s made in America, it’s usually higher quality because of our regulations, our standards and our laborers, who have better working conditions and are more efficient because of the technology we have here,” he says.

There’s another advantage for energy-conscious homebuyers. “You’re creating a house with the lowest possible carbon footprint,” Rowlett says. “I mapped it out, and it took 274,000 travel miles to build a 97-percent American-made home. If I had gone to my nearest port outside of the country – in China – and took those same trips, it was 1.2 million travel miles.”

Further, Rowlett and the Lewendals confirm that even their 100-percent American-made homes cost only 2 or 3 percent more than normal construction fees. Rowlett asserts that builders can go as high as 97 percent American-made without incurring any additional cost.

So if it’s that simple – and equally priced – then why don’t more U.S. homebuyers embrace the idea?

“There’s an educational part to it,” says Garrison Hullinger of Garrison Hullinger Interior Design. Some of his clients worry that the design will suffer, or that the final product will not look the way they want – Hullinger has to assure them that’s not the case.

If you’re a homeowner looking to purchase American products for remodeling, Hullinger suggests skipping the large depot stores in favor of small businesses, which are more likely to carry the American-made products you seek.

In the end, buying American has ripple effects felt nationwide. “If we’re continuing to source for American materials, those people in the manufacturing plants will not have jobs,” Hullinger explains.

Jake Lewendal agrees. “That’s what the American initiative is really all about,” he says. “We’re creating jobs here in America and helping our neighbors.”

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