This article was originally published in the May/June 1997 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.


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Home Energy Magazine Online May/June 1997

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Contractors Face Changing Marketplace

If a nationally known expert on building trends is correct, the home retrofit and remodeling marketplace will become dominated by corporate players who sell contracting services with their products. Walt Steoppelwerth, author and 30-year veteran in the building industry, made this prediction in his keynote address to the Construction Business and Technology Conference (CBTC), held February 28-March 2 in Providence, Rhode Island.

According to Stoeppelwerth, home centers, appliance distributors, and lumber yards are beginning to offer customers complete package deals that include installation. Rather than viewing this as competition, he urges contractors to get into the act or be left behind in the sawdust. Partnerships will be the wave of the future, he contends. If these companies are to succeed in their new venture, they will need dependable contractors to deliver the finished product, he says, and this means the work will go to those who form partnerships.

Stoeppelwerth didn't mention utilities, but a similar trend exists in areas where they are offering customers installation services on energy-saving improvements. Many local contractors have been critical of the utilities, but those who join the programs do get the jobs.

For the 900 building professionals attending the CBTC--mostly custom builders and remodelers---the prospect of one-stop shopping for major home upgrades did not seem to alter the prevailing attitude that quality performance will always give you a competitive edge. And this was the place to improve skills and get up-to-date on new technologies.

On the Energy Track 

Unlike most building conferences, the CBTC recognizes energy as an integral component of home design and offered a full track of sessions on energy-related topics. Among the speakers were a few respected old hands in the energy field: John Tooley of the North Carolina Alternative Energy Corporation described some hazards that can be caused by poorly designed mechanical air distribution system; and moisture expert Joe Lstiburek explained the proper placement of vapor barriers.

As usual, both speakers emphasized the importance of approaching the house as a system, a concept slow to catch on in an industry where contractors traditionally specialize in a specific trade. However, if TV celebrities help spread the word, maybe the industry will experience a revolution more significant than corporate partnerships. Richard Trethewey, host of the popular TV program This Old House, proved to be a strong advocate of the whole-house approach. In two sessions dealing with heating systems, Trethewey stressed how comfort and efficiency might best be achieved with integrated, rather than single, hot air or hydronic systems, since rooms all have different comfort requirements depending on their exposure, construction, and use. His preference, when possible, is to install radiant floor heating in rooms he calls cocoons---kitchens, bathrooms, and family rooms.

The conference also featured tracks dedicated to building structure, materials, design, business, and computers, and an expo area where hands-on demonstrations were featured regularly each day.

On September 26-28, the CBTC, which is sponsored by the group that publishes the Journal of Light Construction, will hold its first West Coast conference in California. For information call (800) 375-5981.

--Ann Kelly

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