Credit Crunch Visits High Rises

There are a couple of examples where the construction of skyscrapers is stalling out due to credit availability issues. In Chicago, two spectacular residential projects have seen their space sales stall leaving them wanting for construction funds.

Looking like a steel and glass spiral the Chicago Spire was begun in 2007 with a completion date of 2010 (since changed to 2012) and is supposed to be the tallest building in the U.S. at 2,000 feet. There were 34 caissons used in the construction of its foundation and you can see a wealth of construction pictures here. But in a surprising development the architect himself, Santiago Calatrava, has filed a lean against the project claiming to be owed a bit more than $11 million. The developers say 30 percent of the building units are sold while acknowledging the construction site is quiet right now.

The other project, a hotel and condo effort called Waterview Tower is supposed to top out at a little more than 1,000 feet high. One real estate appraiser claims the two projects broke ground and then went for financing. But the developer of the Spire says “the banks should start acting like banks,” and continue lending. In the final analysis, many believe the projects will go on because of the momentum around them.


Chicago Spire may one day top out the city's skyline.
Chicago Spire may one day top out the city

Great American Places Announced

What does Mill Avenue in Tempe, AZ have in common with Clarendon and Wilson Boulevards in Arlington, VA? You guessed it. They are both finalists in the American Planning Association’s (APA) Great Places in America: Streets. These streets are designated as such because they are places of “exemplary character, quality and planning.” The organization also cites them as places where people want to be and to live and work. There are slide shows of the various winners at the Web site.

Besides the great streets there are categories for neighborhoods and public spaces. Downtown Salem, MA and Greater Park Hill in Denver, CO were in the top 10 neighborhoods, and Portland, OR’s Pioneer Courthouse Square along with Charleston, SC’s Waterfront Park ranked in the public spaces category. APA says the public spaces honorees are places that help promote social interaction and a sense of community. Great streets have both form and composition, character and a sustainable environment. The other category, Great Neighborhoods, capitalize on architecture, design, scale and other attributes to create visual experiences and other qualities.

There is a lot more at the links above along with the complete list and plenty of pictures. There are also guidelines for those who would like to submit an entry for next year’s event.

Home Energy Tax Breaks Keep Coming Home

As the total 2008 home energy costs begin going over $2,000 for the average U.S. Household, the Alliance to Save Energy put out a reminder about the energy tax break that came as part of the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 signed into law on October 3.

The cap is $500 and can be used by those who claimed less than the total credit available in 2006 and 2007. Check with your tax advisor, or the IRS if in doubt as to whether you may qualify.

The kinds of purchases that qualify include:

  • 10 percent of the cost of insulation products, exterior doors and roofing products;
  • Up to $300 toward the full purchase price of central air, heat pump, water heater or bio-gas stove;
  • Up to 10 percent of the costs of Energy Star rated windows;
  • Up to $150 toward the purchase of a furnace or boiler; and
  • This one runs through 2016 – 30 percent of the cost of Energy Star geothermal heat pumps, up to $2000.

Office Space Morphs To Reflect Change

If you have been in the business of building office space there are some changes underway that may make you rethink how this space is built, according to Corporate Portfolio Analytics. Large corporate occupiers of business office space are expected to decline by 40 Percent over the next five years.

The reasons are diverse and span technology, economics, sociology and organizational structures. Instead of the current 250 sf per employee the demand will be more like 150 sf by 2013.  Mobile devices are freeing people from landlines and allowing them to work most anyplace. Then too the Gen X and Y crowds are different from earlier generations in their desire to just take responsibility for their work without having to be seen everyday by their bosses. Currently 40-70 percent of the cubicles in the U.S. are unoccupied during the workday.

So, if you build out this kind of space you may be seeing reductions not only in the sizes of the facilities, but also in the sizes of the individual spaces that are planned for them. Companies will be aggressively trying to balance the cost of building ownership with the number of people they support. Very green solutions should become higher priorities in this pursuit so that operational costs of buildings don’t get too high per employee. While fuel costs have momentarily subsided, in the long term, rising gas prices are going to keep more people from driving to a workplace. Most interestingly it appears this is not just about telecommuting but also about sizing workspaces to fit the type of work.

Monday Morning Mumblings for 10/27

PVC Improving at the Cellular Level: In yet another attack on the cost of labor in construction is a continuing drive to improve cellular PVC products. Behaving like wood but having extreme durability with little to no care the material is now undergoing an improvement that reduces its density without sacrificing performance. That is supposed to make it cheaper to manufacture things like trim pieces in particular. The labor savings come in during construction when corner pieces and wraps easily slip over any siding to produce an instantly finished look with all the benefits of cellular PVC. Rohm and Haas shares a video on this topic as it relates to their new foam cell stabilizer that is used in the manufacture of these items.  

Enforcement Bolsters States’ Coffers: Last Monday here you may have read how Ontario is pushing legislation to make workers compensation insurance a mandatory requirement in the construction sector. California already has such requirements yet fully 25 percent of contractors are not providing the coverage, according to state officials. In recent sweeps of construction sites the State Division of Labor Standards and Enforcement gave out almost a half million dollars in fines to those companies not in compliance. Expect to see more of these money-raising activities as more states struggle with dwindling operating revenues.

Moving The Permitting Process Online: Atlanta becomes one of the cities moving its permitting process online as it rolls out ePLANS. The electronic plan submission, review and tracking effort features software by Avolve called ProjectDox. Currently the system is available to those doing commercial alterations and over the next year it will roll out to include the other types of permits. Just think, no more trips to the copy shop to make five large copies you’ll never see again. Plus, plan changes should be easier to incorporate into the final record. The only thing I’m wondering is why it has taken so long. Not specifically in Atlanta’s case, but in general. 

Connecting Sips to ICFs Demystified


The continuing push for better energy efficiency in buildings is leading the charge on the use of insulated concrete form (ICF) structures with structural insulated panel (SIP) roofs. The combination of the two technologies leads to incredibly tight structures that resist the loss of heating and cooling BTUs. 

Every now and then I like to see just how disparate materials are supposed to be connected together. Any mind that has worked in the process of joining concrete and wood can come up with an amazing array of techniques for doing so, but not all of them may be sturdy enough to survive wind loads, or long-lasting enough to survive to the expected end of the structure’s design lifetime.

HUD recently had a few things to say regarding the connecting of SIP roofs to concrete walls and it has made a PDF booklet available to all who might be interested. This is some in-depth that will help you to use the best connection for your area and types of materials being used. Bear in mind that you still need to satisfy your local codes. Below is just one example of how to connect SIPs to ICFS when it comes to roofs.


Connecting SIP Roof to ICF Walls - just one example
Connecting SIP Roof to ICF Walls - just one example



Nanomaterials Have Two Edges

Nano technology holds a lot of promising developments for construction and at the same time it is presenting some challenges that may end up diluting those promises.

In a recent instance a spray that is made from carbon nanotubes can be applied to bridges at critical points so a sort of early warning system is set up to alert engineers of potential problems. This sprayed-on material conducts electricity so whenever a crack occurs in the underlying material it breaks the current thereby alerting a computer to higher than normal resistance in the area of the crack. So not only is the damage detected, but the location is pinpointed. This skin will also observe corrosion, which is another major contributor to the decline of the nation’s bridges. This definitely looks like a great advancement.

But on the other side of the coin nanomaterial advantages are showing some signs of being offset by the process used to make them. At the University of Illinois at Chicago researchers discovered the strict material purity requirements, lower tolerances for defects and the overall lower yields related to the manufacturing process of nanomaterials can lead to greater environmental burdens than traditional manufacturing. And at Ohio State University it was found that life-cycle environmental impacts could be as high as 100 times more per unit of weight than for traditional materials.

It’s unlikely that nanomaterials will run aground but it appears they will increasingly be subject to scrutiny with benefits being weighed against known detriments.

Cordless Drill Battery Blues

I have a cordless DeWalt drill that came with two 12v battery packs. One of them died and won’t recharge – the charger light blinks continuously and according to information on the the charger that’s when the battery pack should be replaced. I got a little more life out of it by cleaning the contacts and then charging it overnight, running it down and charging it overnight again. But, after few more charges it wouldn’t charge anymore. 

This drill has done a lot of work from deck building to siding to kitchen cabinets. So, I can’t complain too much but it kind of galls me that a new battery costs about half what the whole kit originally cost on sale. These batteries ought to be $10. According to DeWalt, 85 percent of Ni-Cd batteries are used in cordless power tools and the company estimates there are 431 million of these tools in U.S. households. And that number was from 2001. You would think that economies of scale would have kicked in by now and they would be cheap.

But the first step in any battery decision is finding out what to do with the old one. DeWalt recommends recycling the old batteries through Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC). Basically it tells you where to recycle your old batteries at a facility near you. So I put in my zip code and sure enough there were more than a couple of options including Radio Shack and Home Depot. So, now I can sleep better at night knowing the old battery will be dealt with so I don’t have the fate of the human race on my shoulders if I just throw it in the trash. But, I still need a new battery. Anyone who has ever used a cordless drill knows that if you want to use it for six or eight hours you need at least two batteries.

I read some opinions (expert testimony) regarding the concept of buying refurbished batteries and they were not favorable. If any of you have a contrary opinion I’d like to hear it, but by my readings refurbished is questionable. There is another option where you send in your battery and they rebuild it (isn’t that refurbished?). The one place I looked at, called it “Refilling” the battery and claimed the process they use gives you a battery that will run 20-40 percent longer than the original equipment. I used the form that narrowed down just what my battery was and the cost was $41.25.

An Internet search showed the battery available at a couple of places for $46 (I always round up since the whole 90-something-cent concept used to price things just means it’s going to cost the next dollar anyway). 

So, shipping, handling and other expenses considered, buying new appears to be the way to go.

So, now I come back to costs. In a world that is well polluted wouldn’t you think people would be offering solutions that encourage you to recycle, or reuse your old batteries? The incentive comes in the performance, but the price has to match up as well. Okay, so maybe I’m being too stingy what with the costs of having to dispose of the waste material so let’s say it costs $20 for a refurbished or refilled, and I’ll even factor in another $6 for shipping and handling, both ways. That’s $26. If you know of someone who will deliver to my door a $26, 12v, NiCd battery that will fit my DeWalt drill, and that will last at least as long as original equipment, let me know. Comments are welcome for this post and all the others, too.