Construction Trends

September 2007

First Reaction to Fire Often Incorrect—Men, Women React Differently

Americans’ first reactions to a building fire could place them in greater danger, according to nationwide survey conducted by Bethesda, Md.–based Society for Fire Protection Engineers reveals.

When asked "If there were a fire in your building, what would be your first action?” 39 percent of respondents said they would call the fire department.

"At first glance this seems like a sensible response,” said Chris Jelenewicz, SFPE engineering program manager. "However, people should first exit the building and then call the fire department once in a safe location.”

Only 28 percent of Americans answered that their first action in a fire emergency would be to leave the burning building. Other responses included notifying others (24 percent), fighting the fire (4 percent), searching for the source of fire (3 percent), and search for more information (2 percent).

"The results of this survey are concerning,” says Jelenewicz. "Delays before deciding to evacuate, time spent searching for the fire, gathering belongings and trying to fight the fire are behaviors that have been observed repeatedly in real fire situations.”

When comparing the results of this survey to research on how humans behave in fire, a study of 335 fire incidents that occurred in the United States found the top three first reactions were notifying others (15 percent), fighting the fire (10 percent) and searching for the fire (10 percent). Exiting the building was not even among the top five things people do when they know there is a fire.

The survey also revealed that the elderly, statistically a high-risk group from fires, generally respond incorrectly. More than half of people 65 years old or older would first call the fire department, compared to 30 percent who would exit the building first.

The survey also shows that men are much more likely to try to fight the fire than women. Seven percent of men said that they would fight the fire, compared to less than 1 percent of women.

The survey was commissioned by the SFPE in January, 2007 by Synovate, and polled more than one thousand American adults. The findings have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percent.

For more information, go to www.sfpe.org.

Grace Construction Products Launches Green Building Web Site
Grace Construction Products, Cambridge, Mass., has expanded its green building initiative with the launch of a dedicated section on its Web site, www.graceconstruction.com, to green building products and practices. The new "Building Green with Grace” site links users with an interactive guide to products that help architects and specifiers achieve the prerequisites and points needed to meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Green Building Rating System™.

The new Web site complements the company’s recently introduced "Building Green with Grace” brochure that highlights how its products may be used to help projects achieve LEED certification. Both tools underscore Grace’s commitment to green building practices, which also includes having several LEED Accredited professionals within the company.

The "Building Green with Grace” Web site is clearly organized according to six LEED categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality and Innovation in Design. Each category is further segmented by LEED-NC (New Construction) Version 2.2 prerequisites or credits that Grace products could help achieve. In addition, illustrations point to those parts of the construction project covered by each category.

Wallboard Shipment Volume Announced for Second Quarter of 2007
According to statistics complied by the Gypsum Association, Washington, D.C., the United States gypsum board industry shipped a total of 8.001 billion square feet of material during the second calendar quarter (April–June) of 2007. During the same period, Canadian manufacturers shipped 839 million square feet of material.

During the first six months of 2007, U.S. manufacturers have shipped a total of 15.770 billion square feet of material, and Canadian manufacturers have shipped 1.632 billion square feet of material.

Builder Confidence Falls Further in July
A surplus of unsold homes on the market, combined with ongoing concerns in the subprime mortgage arena and affordability issues associated with tightened lending standards and higher interest rates, continue to take a significant toll on builder confidence, according to the latest National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, released July 17. The HMI declined four points to 24 in July 2007, which is its lowest level since January 1991.

"The bottom line is that the single-family housing market is still in a correction process following the historic and unsustainable highs of the 2003–2005 period,” noted NAHB Chief Economist David Seiders. "Builders are actively trimming prices and offering buyer incentives to work down their inventories, but meanwhile there is a large supply of vacant existing homes on the market, and affordability problems persist despite efforts to attract buyers.

"In spite of these challenges, we expect to see home sales get back on an upward path late this year, and we expect housing starts to begin a gradual recovery process by early next year. At that point, this market will be operating well below its long-term potential, providing plenty of room to grow in 2008 and beyond.”

Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for more than 20 years, the NAHB/Wells Fargo HMI gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months. Scores for each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view sales conditions as good than poor.

All three component indexes declined in July. The index gauging current single-family sales and the index gauging sales expectations in the next six months each declined five points to 24 and 34, respectively, while the index gauging traffic of prospective buyers declined three points to 19.

Likewise, all four regions of the country posted declines in the July HMI. The Northeast and South each saw five-point declines, to 31 and 26, respectively, while the Midwest slipped a single point to 19 and the West declined three points to 25. May Construction Jumps 8 Percent

At a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $612.1 billion, new construction starts in May climbed 8 percent from the previous month, it was reported by McGraw-Hill Construction, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies. A surge of activity by the nonbuilding construction sector, both its public works and electric utility segments, boosted the dollar amount of total construction starts. Nonresidential building in May showed moderate strengthening, but residential building continued to weaken, heading downward for the fourth time out of the first five months of 2007. On a year-to-date basis, total construction came in at $245.4 billion, down 15 percent from the January–May period a year ago. If residential building is excluded from the year-to-date statistics, new construction starts in the first five months of 2007 were essentially steady with last year.

May’s data lifted the Dodge Index to 129 (2000=100), up from 120 in April.

Nonresidential building, at $198.0 billion (annual rate), grew 4 percent in May. On the plus side, office construction advanced 35 percent, regaining an upward trend after a sluggish performance in March and April. In May, large office projects were started in Charlotte, N.C. ($420 million), Nashville ($126 million), Miami ($118 million) and Atlanta ($114 million). Through the first five months of 2007, the top five metropolitan markets in terms of dollar volume of new office starts were: New York City, Washington, D.C., Charlotte, N.C., Miami and Dallas-Ft. Worth.

"While still well below the levels that were reported in the late 1990s, office construction over the past year has shown healthy growth, and 2007 is seeing continued expansion,” stated Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction.

Healthcare facilities also had a large gain in May, bouncing back 37 percent from a weak April, with very large hospital projects started in Ann Arbor, Mich. ($523 million) and Grand Junction, Colo. ($200 million). Manufacturing plant construction in May registered a 34 percent increase, led by the start of three large ethanol plants located in Indiana ($156 million), Ohio ($130 million), and Wisconsin ($75 million). May increases were also reported for two of the smaller institutional structure types: transportation terminals, up 40 percent, and public buildings, up 8 percent.

On the negative side, several commercial categories showed a moderate loss of momentum in May. Store construction settled back 7 percent, although May did include the start of a $200 million shopping mall in Deer Park, N.Y. Murray indicated, "While retreating in May, the strength for store construction so far in 2007 is noteworthy, with the first five months up 10 percent in dollar volume compared to last year. The competitive retail landscape continues to support more store construction, even with the sharp decline in residential development that has taken place over the past year.”

Other commercial structure types with moderate May declines were hotels, down 10 percent; and warehouses, down 15 percent. With regard to the institutional categories, school construction slipped 7 percent in May, taking a brief pause after the strength shown earlier in the year. Church construction in May was also down 7 percent, and amusement-related projects dropped 25 percent from elevated contracting in April.

Residential building in May decreased 2 percent to $271.8 billion (annual rate). Single-family housing continued to weaken, sliding an additional 2 percent, as this market has yet to provide firm evidence that it’s bottoming out. By region, single family housing in May showed this pattern – 4 percent declines in the South Atlantic, the South Central, and the West, while the Midwest edged up 1 percent and the Northeast advanced 8 percent. The May pace for single-family housing at the U.S. level was 20 percent below the average for full year 2006.

Murray stated, "The rate of decline for single-family housing is not as steep as last year, but there are a number of reasons why the decline is still in progress. Inventories of unsold homes are substantial, and lending standards have tightened considerably for nontraditional mortgages. In addition, the cost of financing is now rising—the 30-year fixed mortgage rate averaged 6.2 percent during the first five months of 2007, but by mid-June it had moved up to 6.7 percent.”

Multifamily housing so far in 2007 has generally weakened, yet this structure type was able to register a 2 percent gain in May. Large multifamily projects that reached groundbreaking in May were located in Honolulu ($129 million), St. Louis, Mo. ($123 million), Atlanta ($116 million) and Denver ($93 million).

"Although the condo boom is definitely winding down, the current year is still seeing a number of major condominium projects get under way,” Murray said.

The lower amount for total construction during the first five months of 2007 was due to this pattern by major sector: residential building, down 28 percent; nonresidential building, down 4 percent; and nonbuilding construction, up 6 percent. As 2007 proceeds, it’s anticipated that the decline for residential building will become less severe, as the comparison begins to include the weak residential activity in the second half of 2006.

By geography, the first five months of 2007 showed total construction with the following performance relative to a year ago: the Midwest, down 9 percent; the South Central and the Northeast, each down 11 percent; the South Atlantic, down 17 percent; and the West, down 23 percent.

People & Companies In the News
Structus Building Technologies, Inc., Bend, Ore, has hired Ben Lester as product manager for its LevelLine™ drywall corner trim.

Lester will be responsible for overseeing the continued growth of the LevelLine™ brand both domestically and internationally.

Lester has held national sales and marketing management positions in the wall and ceiling industry for the past 14 years. He currently sits on the board of directors of the Association of the Wall and Ceiling Industry and is a member of several AWCI committees.