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St. Louis apartment fire ignites debate over building materials

BY Brae Canlen

A blaze that destroyed a 197-unit apartment building in St. Louis, Mo., displacing 250 residents, has called into question the materials used in the construction of the four-story building. An article on the fire in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the structure was built to code, had working sprinklers, and so-called "draft stops" to slow the spread of fire.

But St. Louis Fire Chief Dennis Jenkerson was still concerned by how quickly the fire moved through the attic. (Although the cause of the July 17 fire remains under investigation, arson is not suspected.) Jenkerson questioned the materials used for the building, even if they were allowed by code. In particular, he raised an issue with the use of “lightweight, synthetic materials” instead of brick and real wood.

"Like every fire chief, I look at the (building) code every year," Jenkerson told the newspaper. "We have a risk perspective that’s different from the building trades. You’ve got to take the costs and weigh it against the risk."

 In the case of the apartment building fire, Jenkerson said that the draft stops and drywall partitions weren’t very effective. Each walled-off section of attic contained an abundance of joists, plywood and other combustible building materials.

"In between each draft wall, there was basically a lumberyard," Jenkerson said.

Less than an hour after firefighters arrived on the scene, the top floor began to cave in and they had to abandon the building. No one was killed or injured in the incident. 

Public Safety Director Eddie Roth told the Post-Dispatch said that the use of lightweight building materials was part of "a national debate" and was not unique to St. Louis, which follows national building codes.

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In Texas, Imagine Homes teams with Dow

BY Ken Clark

Dow Powerhouse announced a major new collaboration with Imagine Homes, a San Antonio-based home builder, to offer Dow Powerhouse Solar Shingle roof system to all new home buyers in Imagine Homes’ six San Antonio-area residential communities.

Additionally, Dow Powerhouse will be a standard feature on all homes in the Willis Ranch community, scheduled to open in September 2012.

"The Dow Powerhouse team is tremendously proud and very enthusiastic to be working with one of the nation’s leading green home builders to provide homeowners in the San Antonio metro area with complete energy-efficient building envelope options," said Dan Pezolt, Dow Solar marketing director. "Our partnership with Imagine Homes will integrate our neighborhood-friendly Solar Shingles that actively generate electricity with new homes that have been designed from foundation to roof with energy-efficient design in mind."

The announcement expands the channels for San Antonio homeowners to the solar shingle roof product, making it easier to transform their roofs into a power source that offsets a significant percentage of home energy costs.

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Wood products boost revenues at Weyerhaeuser

BY Brae Canlen

Weyerhaeuser Co., one of the industry’s largest supplier of wood products, reported net sales from continuing operations of $1.8 billion for its second fiscal quarter, a 12.5% increase over net sales from continuing operations of $1.6 billion in the second quarter a year ago.

Net earnings for the second quarter, which ended June 30, were $84 million, compared with net earnings of $10 million a year ago. Earnings for the second quarter of 2012 include after-tax gains of $37 million from special items. Excluding these items, the company reported net earnings of $47 million. This compares with net earnings before one-time items of $32 million in the second quarter of 2011.

"We are seeing signs of a rebound in the U.S. housing market, and as markets strengthen, the operational improvements within our wood products business are yielding clear results," said Dan Fulton, Weyerhaeuser’s president and CEO. "Our ongoing work to improve performance across all businesses is positioning us to capture the full benefit of the market recovery as it unfolds."

Net sales in the wood products division during the second quarter reached $776 million, up from $634 million during the first quarter of 2012. (Year-over-year comparisons were not available.) 

The company attributed much of the increase to higher selling prices for lumber and oriented strand board and operational improvements. Lumber prices increased 13% and prices for oriented strand board improved 9%, according to the SEC filing. Sales volumes increased “substantially.” Special items for the second quarter include a $6 million pre-tax gain on the sale of property.

Weyerhaeuser anticipates lower earnings from the wood products segment in the third quarter of this year. The company expects comparable sales volumes for most products and seasonally lower selling prices for lumber.

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