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Harvard housing researchers take builders to task

BY Brae Canlen

U.S. home builders were immensely profitable during the housing boom but did little to improve the efficiency of their operations, according to a book just released by the Harvard Joint Center for Housing Research. In “Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better: Lessons from the Harvard Home Builder Study,” university professors and researchers examine the period of housing growth between 1999 and 2004, relying on a detailed survey of large home builders. What they found, the authors said, is that builders were more focused on growing their companies than improving their products and operating procedures. 

“Large home builders were very effective at attracting capital for expansion, assembling favorable land positions and developing a consistent corporate brand,” said Kent Colton, a senior fellow at Harvard’s Joint Center for Housing Studies. “However, since much of the growth over this period was through acquisitions, there was little opportunity to fully integrate them into practices and procedures of the parent company.”

The home-building industry still has gains it can realize from improving basic on-site building operations, the researchers concluded. The book exams the experience of companies in other industries, from autos to computers to retail, to provide insight into how American home builders might better cope with operational challenges going forward. 

“Many other industries have faced these same challenges,” said David Weil of the Boston University School of Management. “Home building is an unusually decentralized industry, and for that reason typically has not been a leader in implementing new innovations. Still, there has never been a more important time to introduce new practices into this industry.” 

“Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better: Lessons from the Harvard Home Builder Study,” is available through Amazon.com and Lexington Books.

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California cement plant agrees to pay $1.4 million pollution fine

BY HBSDEALER Staff

CalPortland Company (CPC), a major producer of Portland cement and building materials in the United States, has agreed to pay a $1.425 million penalty to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act at its cement plant in Mojave, Calif.

As announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), CPC will spend an additional $1.3 million on pollution controls that will reduce harmful emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and sulfur dioxide (SO2), pollutants that can lead to childhood asthma and smog.

The $1.425 million penalty is one of the largest settlements for a single cement facility, according to federal authorities, who described the Mojave plant  as “one of the largest emitters of nitrogen oxide pollution in California.” .The plant is located in Kern County, Calif., which has some of the worst air pollution in the country. The pollutants covered in the settlement contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, or smog. Exposure to even low levels of ozone can cause respiratory problems, and repeated exposure can aggravate pre-existing respiratory diseases.

The government’s complaint alleges that CPC made significant modifications to its plant, resulting in increased emissions of NOx, SO2 and carbon monoxide, without first obtaining a Clean Air Act-required permit and without installing necessary pollution control equipment.

The proposed consent decree will be lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of California, and will be subject to a 30-day public comment period.

More information on the settlement can be found by clicking here.

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Railing manufacturers merge

BY Brae Canlen

BW Creative Wood Industries, a manufacturer of both interior and exterior railing systems, components and accessories for the residential housing market, has acquired the Probuilt DIY aluminum railing from Alco Ventures. The purchase price was not disclosed.

“BW Creative has been looking for new opportunities to grow its business, and Alco’s Probuilt railing business provides this opportunity,” said company president and CEO Rob Mitchell. 

“This is a terrific opportunity for Probuilt dealers who now gain access to the full line of interior and exterior railing products from BW Creative, including RailSimple and StairSimple, and for BW Creative dealers who can now strengthen their position with the addition of the Probuilt DIY aluminum railing line.”

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