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Construction Trends

Help from the IRS: Claiming New Health Care Tax Credit

The Internal Revenue Service has released guidance to help eligible small employers claim the new small business health care tax credit for the 2010 tax year.

The information published includes a one-page form and instructions small employers will use to claim the credit for the 2010 tax year.

The new guidance addresses small business questions about which firms qualify for the credit by clarifying that a broad range of employers meet the eligibility requirements, small employers that cover their workers through insured multiemployer health and welfare plans, and employers that subsidize their employees’ health care costs through a broad range of contribution arrangements.

In general, the credit is available to small employers who pay at least half of the premiums for single health insurance coverage for their employees. It is specifically targeted to help small businesses and tax-exempt organizations that primarily employ moderate- and lower-income workers.

Small businesses can claim the credit for 2010 through 2013 and for any two years after that. For tax years 2010 to 2013, the maximum credit is 35 percent of premiums paid by eligible small businesses and 25 percent of premiums paid by eligible tax-exempt organizations. Beginning in 2014, the maximum tax credit will increase to 50 percent of premiums paid by eligible small business employers and 35 percent of premiums paid by eligible tax-exempt organizations.

The maximum credit goes to smaller employers—those with 10 or fewer full-time equivalent employees—paying annual average wages of $25,000 or less. The credit is completely phased out for employers that have 25 or more FTEs or that pay average wages of $50,000 or more per year. Because the eligibility rules are based in part on the number of FTEs, not the number of employees, employers that use part-time workers may qualify even if they employ more than 25 individuals.

For more information about the credit, including a step-by-step guide to claiming the credit and answers to questions, visit

10 Most Frequently Cited OSHA Standards

Falls are the leading cause of fatalities in the construction industry, and failure to provide fall protection is one of the 10 most frequently cited Occupational Safety & Health Administration standards.

Here is the OSHA Top Ten for fiscal year 2010 (Oct. 1, 2009, to Sept. 30, 2010) as of federal data provided on Oct. 8, 2010:

1. 1926.451 – Scaffolding

2. 1926.501 – Fall Protection

3. 1910.1200 – Hazard Communication

4. 1910.134 – Respiratory Protection

5. 1926.1053 – Ladders

6. 1910.147 – Lockout/Tagout

7. 1910.305 – Electrical, Wiring Methods

8. 1910.178 – Powered Industrial Trucks

9. 1910.303 – Electrical, General Requirements

10. 1910.212 – Machine Guarding

NAHB’s Multifamily Production and Vacancy Indices Show Increased Confidence

Serving as leading indicators for the sector, two composite multifamily indices produced from NAHB’s survey of multifamily builders and property managers showed improvement in the third quarter of 2010. The NAHB Multifamily Production Index increased to a value of 35.6, up from the 26.6 level reported for the second quarter. This is the highest the MPI has been since 2007.

The NAHB Multifamily Vacancy Index, meanwhile, registered a decline (fewer vacant apartments) for the fifth quarter in a row—down to 39.2. The MVI has been declining steadily since reaching a peak of 70.2 in the second quarter of 2009.

The MPI is a weighted average of three seasonally-adjusted components based on respondents’ ratings of starts currently versus the previous quarter. All three MPI components increased in the third quarter: Lower rent apartments rose to 45.7 from 32.8; market-rate apartments rose to 38.6 from 34.4; and for-sale units (condos and co-ops) rose to 23.5 from 14.5.

Similarly, the MVI is a weighted average of three seasonally-adjusted components based on respondents’ ratings of vacancies currently versus the previous quarter. MVI components for Class B and Class C apartments showed improvement (a reduction, indicating fewer vacant apartments) in the third quarter, while the MVI component for Class A apartments increased slightly.

Previously, NAHB had reported multifamily index components individually. Beginning with this quarter, the components are being combined into summary indices based on the ability of the series to predict US Census Bureau data one to three quarters ahead. For example, the Census Bureau’s multifamily starts rate, after an extended decline, has been increasing since the fourth quarter of 2009. NAHB’s MPI surged one quarter earlier. The Census Bureau’s rental vacancy rate in buildings with five or more apartments has been generally declining since reaching a peak of 13.1 percent in the third quarter of 2009, a quarter after NAHB’s MVI reached its peak.

“Since 1985, NAHB has been producing the Housing Market Index, which gives an indication of what the coming months will bring in the single-family market,” said David Crowe, NAHB’s chief economist. “We are confident that the MPI and MVI will provide equally useful information for the multifamily sector.”

“It is important to remember that, although both the MPI and the Census Bureau’s measures of multifamily production are increasing, they are rising from historically very low levels,” Crowe added, “with multifamily starts remaining well below a rate that would be sustainable under more normal market conditions. Further improvement in multifamily production depends upon resolving the formidable problems that currently exist in accessing credit to develop and build economically viable multifamily projects.”

For data tables on the MPI and MVI, visit

Builder Confidence Improves Slightly in November

Builder confidence in the market for newly built, single-family homes improved slightly in November, according to the National Association of Home Builders/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index, released Nov. 16. The HMI rose one notch to 16 from a downwardly revised level of 15 in the previous month.

“Though the gains have been incremental, the fact that builder confidence has improved over the past two months is encouraging,” said NAHB Chairman Bob Jones, a home builder from Bloomfield Hills, Mich. “Many builders are reporting that while the quantity of buyer traffic through their model homes has not improved dramatically, the quality of that traffic seems to be getting better—meaning that more people appear to be serious about buying in the near future. Builders remain very concerned, however, about the lack of available financing for new-home construction at a time when inventories of completed new homes are quite thin; after all, you can’t sell what you can’t build.”

“The most positive aspect of today’s report is the future expectations component, which not only held onto the five-point gain it registered in October, but improved by an additional two points to 25 for November,” said NAHB Chief Economist David Crowe. “This is the highest that component of the HMI has been since the home buyer tax credit program spurred sales activity this spring.” At the same time, he noted, “The most concerning aspect of the report is that survey participants say they have observed absolutely no improvement in their ability to access credit to build viable new projects. This problem is clearly a roadblock to recovery in many markets.”

Derived from a monthly survey that NAHB has been conducting for more than 20 years, the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index gauges builder perceptions of current single-family home sales and sales expectations for the next six months as “good,” “fair” or “poor.” The survey also asks builders to rate traffic of prospective buyers as “high to very high,” “average” or “low to very low.” Scores from each component are then used to calculate a seasonally adjusted index where any number over 50 indicates that more builders view conditions as good than poor.

Two out of three of the HMI’s component indexes registered improvement in November, while the third component held steady. The component gauging sales expectations in the next six months rose two points to 25, the component gauging traffic of prospective buyers rose one point to 12, and the component gauging current sales conditions held unchanged at 16.

The Northeast was the only region to post a decline in its HMI score in November, with a three-point drop to 13. Meanwhile, the Midwest posted a five-point gain to 18, the West posted a three-point gain to 15, and the South held even at 18.

Architecture Billings Index Reverts Back into Negative Territory
Following the first positive reading since January 2008, the Architecture Billings Index dropped nearly two points in October, according to the American Institute of Architects. As a leading economic indicator of construction activity, the news is disappointing.

The AIA reported that the October ABI score was 48.7, down from a reading of 50.4 the previous month. This score reflects a decrease in demand for design services (any score above 50 indicates an increase in billings). The new projects inquiry index was 61.7, down slightly from a nearly three-year high mark of 62.3 in September.

“This is disappointing news, but not altogether that surprising,” said AIA Chief Economist Kermit Baker, Ph.D., Hon. AIA. “We were anticipating a slow recovery period and it is likely that there will be some fits and starts before conditions show consistent improvement. Right now, reluctance from lending institutions to provide credit for construction projects and a sluggish economy are the main impediments to a revival of the design and construction industry.”

Key October ABI highlights include the following:

Regional averages: Northeast (54.5), Midwest (51.8), South (48.6), West (44.3). 

Sector index breakdown: commercial / industrial (54.5), institutional (50.8), multifamily residential (49.1), mixed practice (43.2). 

Project inquiries index: 61.7.

October Construction Advances 2 Percent

The value of new construction starts edged up 2 percent in October to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of $413.8 billion, according to McGraw-Hill Construction, a division of The McGraw-Hill Companies. Much of the upward push was provided by nonbuilding construction, comprised of public works and electric utilities, with an added lift coming from modest growth for housing. However, nonresidential building in October retreated following its improved contracting in September. Through the first 10 months of 2010, total construction on an unadjusted basis came in at $350.4 billion, down 3 percent from a year ago.

The October data produced a reading of 88 for the Dodge Index (2000=100), up from September’s 86. Over the course of 2010, the Dodge Index has hovered between 82 and 94.

“This year’s pattern shows activity fluctuating within a set range, consistent with the belief that construction starts have now stabilized at a low level,” stated Robert A. Murray, vice president of economic affairs for McGraw-Hill Construction. “At the same time, there’s yet to be evidence that renewed expansion on a sustained basis is about to take hold. The emerging recovery for housing has proven to be halting, and commercial building is still in the process of bottoming out. While public works in 2010 has moved at a decent clip, its prospects for 2011 are less favorable, given fading stimulus support and the fact that Congress has yet to pass the appropriations bills for fiscal 2011.”

Residential building, at $120.1 billion (annual rate), improved 3 percent in October. Leading the way was a 10 percent advance for multifamily housing, which rose for the second straight month after losing momentum at midyear. Large multifamily projects that contributed to October’s gain were a $99 million condominium project in San Francisco, a $52 million mixed-use project in Marina Del Rey, Calif., and a $42 million apartment project in Washington, D.C. Through the first 10 months of 2001, multifamily housing was up 4 percent in dollar volume compared to last year, with noteworthy increases in such metropolitan areas as San Francisco (up 101 percent), Boston (up 75 percent), Los Angeles (up 31 percent) and Washington, D.C., (up 8 percent). Single-family housing in October edged up 1 percent, providing more evidence that it has leveled off after the pullback reported during the second quarter. Through the first 10 months of 2010, single-family housing held onto a 9 percent gain over last year, reflecting this performance by region—the Northeast, up 13 percent; the South Atlantic, up 12 percent; the Midwest and West, each up 9 percent; and the South Central, up 3 percent.

Nonresidential building in October fell 9 percent to $147.8 billion (annual rate). Several structure types that had experienced large gains in September pulled back in October. Office construction dropped 47 percent, after a 26 percent increase in September that included the start of a $290 million corporate headquarters. The largest office project reported as an October start was a $35 million federal government office building in Phoenix, Ariz. The manufacturing plant category in October dropped 60 percent, after a 70 percent increase in September that included $1.6 billion for the resumption of work on an oil refinery in Port Arthur, Texas. October did see a few large manufacturing projects reach groundbreaking, including the start of a $325 million steel pipe mill in Youngstown, Ohio. Transportation terminal work in October dropped 50 percent, after a 75 percent increase in September that included a $300 million airline terminal project. Other nonresidential categories that reported diminished activity in October were dormitories, down 9 percent; stores and shopping centers, down 6 percent; and amusement-related facilities, down 4 percent. Warehouse construction in October was unchanged from the previous month.

On the plus side, educational facilities climbed 26 percent in October, in a departure from the generally downward trend that had been present during 2010. Large projects that helped to lift the educational category in October included a $156 million neuroscience research building in Bethesda, Md., a $100 million school of medicine in Richmond, Va., and a $60 million high school in Natick, Mass. Healthcare facilities in October climbed 7 percent, boosted by the $381 million expansion to a university hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and a $90 million hospital in Goldsboro, N.C. Other institutional categories posting gains in October were public buildings, up 9 percent; and religious buildings, up 51 percent; with both rising from weak September amounts. The depressed hotel category also registered a gain in October from a weak September, climbing 43 percent with support coming from groundbreaking for a $96 million hotel in Columbus, Ohio.

The 3 percent slide for total construction on an unadjusted basis during the January–October period of 2010 was due to a mixed performance by major sector. Nonresidential building dropped 12 percent year-to-date, with commercial building down 21 percent, manufacturing building down 18 percent and institutional building down 8 percent. Nonbuilding construction during the first 10 months of 2010 slipped 2 percent, with public works down 2 percent and electric utilities down 1 percent. Residential building continued to be the one major sector able to show year-to-date growth, climbing 8 percent. By geography, total construction during the January–October period of 2010 showed an increase for one region—the Northeast, up 5 percent. Total construction in the Midwest was unchanged from a year ago, while total construction declines were registered by the South Central, down 4 percent; the West, down 5 percent; and the South Atlantic, down 11 percent.

USCIS Introduces First-Ever Fee Waiver Form

For the first time, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has introduced a standardized form for requesting waivers of the fees charged for immigration-benefit processing. Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver, became available for use on Nov. 23, 2010, the same day USCIS’s latest fee schedule takes effect.

The fee waiver form reflects significant input from stakeholders, community-based organizations and the general public. In stakeholder meetings, USCIS heard concerns that the absence of a standardized form led to confusion about the criteria and standards used to approve waivers. In July, USCIS published and sought comments on a proposed form through the Federal Register, generating input from numerous interested parties. Comments reflected applicants’ past experiences in requesting fee waivers and recommended changes to the proposed form and instructions to make them easier to understand for non-native English speakers.

The new form identifies clear requirements for documenting a fee waiver request. The form’s instructions also give information on the methodology that USCIS uses to evaluate the requests. For example, if an applicant can show that he or she is receiving a means-tested benefit and presents evidence to document that claim, then there is no requirement to submit further evidence. USCIS will use the same methodology in reviewing all fee waiver requests, whether submitted on the new Form I-912 or in a written statement generated by the applicant.

USCIS announced Nov. 22, 2010, that it is also seeking feedback on a new guidance memorandum documenting the agency’s consolidated policy for reviewing fee waiver requests. Stakeholders and the general public are encouraged to visit to review the new memorandum and offer their input.

USCIS’s latest fee rule, which took effect Nov. 23, 2010, expands the availability of fee waivers to several new categories. The final rule also increases fees by a weighted average of about 10 percent, but does not increase the fee on naturalization applications.

For more information on USCIS and its programs, visit

People in the News

National One Coat Stucco Association Executive Director Wayne James, CAE, CSI, received the 2010 Distinguished Service Award from the Alumni Association and Texas Tech University in early November. The award was presented at a dinner during the annual Homecoming Weekend in Lubbock.

The award given annually recognizes an individual who has rendered outstanding service to the association and the university.

James was employed by the Tech Ex-Students Association (later the name was changed to Alumni Association) from 1957 to 1978. He was recognized for the numerous programs he initiated for the association and special services to the university. In 1971, under his leadership, the association was selected as one of two University Alumni Associations in the nation to be the recipient of the prestigious Alumi Administration Award for program excellence. The award was the highest award presented by the American Alumni Council.

After leaving Texas Tech in 1978, he headed two multi-state trade associations. In 1985, he became executive director of the Texas Lathing and Plastering Contractors Association and the Texas Bureau for Lathing and Plastering, positions he held until his retirement in 2006. James was named executive director of the National One Coat Stucco Association in 1999.

James has received numerous awards and recognition for his leadership and contributions in the association management profession. In addition, the Association of Walls and Ceiling Industry presented him its Outstanding Association Executive Award in 1991 and 1993.

James and his wife, Peggy were also special honorees in the annual Homecoming Parade and introduced before the Texas Tech-Missouri football game.

Companies in the News

Roll-Kraft, Mentor, Ohio, has undergone an ISO (International Organization for Standardization) re-certification audit and continues to maintain the ISO Standard ISO 9001:2008 With Design. This achievement is identified as a reliable measure when choosing a supplier. The company has maintained the ISO standard for more than a decade.

PrimeSource® Building Products, Inc., Irving, Texas, is purchasing the assets of All Island Exports, Inc., an independent wholesale distributor of building materials serving retailers throughout the Bahamas, West Indies, South and Central America. All Island Exports is headquartered in Pompano Beach, Fla.

All Island Exports currently distributes doors, windows, building materials, roofing materials, door hardware, plumbing supplies, paint sundries, lawn and garden supplies, tools and hardware, electrical and lighting supplies, as well as fasteners, to the Bahamas, West Indies, and South and Central America.

PrimeSource® Canada, Toronto, Ontario, a wholly owned subsidiary of PrimeSource® Building Products, Inc., has signed an agreement to acquire Langtry Industries. The acquisition was expected to be finalized by mid-December 2010.

Langtry is an independent distributor of building materials and fasteners servicing the wholesale fastener, building supply, plumbing, electrical and industrial supply markets throughout Canada, with locations in Vancouver, BC; Calgary, AB; Winnipeg, MB; London, ON; Montreal, QC; and Dartmouth, NS.

National Gypsum, Charlotte, N.C., announced Dec. 9 that it will offer a continuing education course titled “Gypsum Board: Beyond Recycled Content” exclusively through the AEC Daily Online Learning Center. The course is part of a series that highlights products used in the LEED Platinum U.S. Green Building Council headquarters in Washington, D.C.

The free course, available at, is designed to provide an overview of the characteristics of gypsum board that allow it to contribute to sustainably designed buildings. It also reviews methods for ensuring continued healthy indoor air and eliminating waste.

Upon completion, course participants will be able to:
List the aspects of gypsum manufacturing that contribute to environmental sustainability.

– Describe two gypsum board uses in recycled content.

– Discuss how gypsum board should be transported, stored, handled, installed and maintained to eliminate the chance of mold and mildew.

– Describe three ways to eliminate or reuse cut-off waste.

The corporate research team at Selling Power has identified Hilti, Tulsa, Okla., as the best manufacturing company to sell for. Hilti finished first in the magazine’s annual “50 Best Companies to Sell For,” a comparison and evaluation of the largest U.S. sales forces.

Focusing on companies with sales forces of 500 or more, Selling Power’s annual rankings identify companies with the most to offer salespeople. The rankings are based on scores in three key categories: compensation, training and career mobility. Within the category of compensation, the team looked at average starting salaries, incentive pay plans, availability of company cars and other benefit packages, such as health and wellness. In the training area, the time companies invest in both initial selling-skills training and product-knowledge training programs were examined. To assess the issues of career mobility, Selling Power looked at performance review frequency, sales force turnover and the number of salespeople promoted each year.

Hilti earned outstanding scores in every category. The training score was among the best, leading to Hilti’s continued good standing on the list. As the Selling Power editors note, “anyone entering the sales field should begin their efforts by taking a good look” at companies such as Hilti and others on the rankings list.

Fomo Products, Inc., a Norton, Ohio, manufacturer of low pressure spray polyurethane foam, has kicked off its distributor outreach Work Smart campaign. The program is geared toward educating distributors on the latest weatherization applications, low pressure SPF products and proper health and safety guidelines.

As part of the Work Smart program launch, Fomo created a video featuring accredited Building Performance Institute (BPI) Certified Building Analyst Tim Kenworthy, department manager of the refill technologies group at Fomo. The video, available on Fomo’s new Work Smart Web page (via, walks audiences through weatherization applications, the company’s product line and the proper health and safety guidelines for applying low pressure SPF.

Distributors are also receiving Work Smart toolkits that include T-shirts, buttons, hats and an educational certified distributor handbook, as well as updated store signage and displays. Fomo representatives will be visiting distributors personally to review Work Smart materials and products. Additionally, distributors and contractors will also be receiving monthly educational direct mail materials containing helpful tips, the latest weatherization news and more.

CertainTeed Corporation, Valley Forge, Pa., has been honored with a 2010 Communitas Award for Excellence in Corporate Social Responsibility from the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals. The award recognizes the company’s sustainable business practices and overarching commitment to environmental stewardship.

Facilitated by the Association of Marketing and Communication Professionals, the Communitas Awards are an international effort that recognizes businesses, organizations and individuals for excellence in community service and corporate social responsibility. Recognizing the spirit of communitas, or people helping people, Communitas winners make giving back to their communities a priority. For more information, visit

For the 10th year in a row, Armstrong Ceilings has been named a winner in the Excellence in Advertising Awards competition conducted by Architectural Record magazine.

Architectural Record’s Excellence in Advertising Awards recognize the most effective ads in the building and design marketplace. The ads are judged by a jury of 10 architects and designers on both content and graphic presentation.

In the 2010 competition, Armstrong Ceilings garnered two of the four winners in the two-page spread category.

The first ad features the Armstrong Optima® Capz ceiling system, and the second features the Armstrong Ceiling Recycling Program and the beneficial effects it has on the environment.

Products in the News

Sure Cavity™ and 10mm Sure Cavity™, manufactured by Masonry Technology Inc. (MTI), received an evaluation report (ESR#2044) from ICC Evaluation Service (ICC-ES), providing evidence that the products meet code requirements.

New on the ’Net

OSHA Pros Inc., Chicago, announces the launch of a brand new website designed by seasoned OSHA professionals to make OSHA compliance simpler. This new OSHA website,, offers information for obtaining onsite and online OSHA training courses, such as OSHA 10 hour training courses, OSHA 30 hour training courses, 8 hour, 24 hour and 40 hour HAZWOPER training courses, confined space training, excavation competent person training, fall protection training and more.

This website is also a resource for accessing federal and state OSHA standards and websites, free OSHA posters, OSHA inspection reports, injury and illness recordkeeping forms, OSHA certification requirements, information about OSHA experts and more.

Henry® Company, a manufacturer of air and vapor barriers, and roofing and waterproofing products based in El Segundo, Calif., launched its new website,, which now includes interactive index cards for each product, among other features.

Each product has its own index card page and is organized on the website by its category. Each index card includes the product’s description and interactive tabs that provide access to the product’s material safety data sheet; technical data sheet; Tech Talk documents, which include applicable specification standards, installation instructions and other technical information; and guide specifications and architectural details in CAD format.

Another new feature is the BES (Building Envelope Systems®) Binder, which enables registered visitors to save all downloaded reference materials in online binders. The documents would be available at any time and be quickly accessible, as well as being updated automatically to the most recent version.

ASTM International, West Conshohocken, Pa., has established a presence on some popular social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. These social media platforms provide another outlet for users and stakeholders to receive the latest news about ASTM International and international standards activities.

The official ASTM International Facebook page provides followers with the latest news about standards development within ASTM’s 142 technical committees, as well as information about publications, meetings and more, with direct links to the ASTM website. Currently, more than 1,200 “fans” keep up with ASTM through Facebook. A separate Facebook page for ASTM students features news about ASTM student memberships, awards, paper contests, and information about standards in the classroom.

More than 450 users currently follow @ASTMIntl on Twitter. ASTM tweets include all of the latest headline news from ASTM with links to the ASTM site. ASTM also tweets information about upcoming meetings, training sessions, publications and other general ASTM news. As with Facebook, there is also a student presence on Twitter, with the username @ASTMStudentFans.

The ASTM channel on YouTube,, features informational videos from ASTM, including membership and student videos, as well as specialized committee videos that highlight a particular ASTM technical committee or standards activity. Users can view several uploaded videos that cover a variety of standards development subjects and easily share the videos with colleagues and friends.

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The Dodge Momentum Index, issued by Dodge Construction Network, rose 3% in December to 186.6 (2000=100) from the revised November reading of 181.5. Over the month, commercial planning grew 1.0%

The construction sector added 17,000 employees in December and continued to raise wages at a faster clip than other industries, the Associated General Contractors of America reported in an analysis