Housing starts delayed

The Portland Cement Association (PCA) estimates that housing starts in 2008 are expected to be 36% lower than 2007 levels, according to a recent Economic Research report. The toxic mix of weak economic conditions, tight credit conditions, and tepid sales are causing huge housing inventory overhangs that must be cleaned up before housing construction can begin its recovery.

"Despite large home price declines and improved affordability, sales remain sluggish and offer little help that the inventory glut will be worked off anytime soon," says PCA chief economist Ed Sullivan. "The economic environment remains weak, being dragged down by high energy costs and weak employment fundamentals."

Sullivan says current home inventories stand at a 10 1/2-month supply, more than double the five-month supply that normally accelerates start activity. Continual cutbacks in starts and marginal gains in sales are expected to be more than offset by increases in housing foreclosures that will be added to the market's inventory in 2008 and 2009. For more information, visit www.cement.org.

GREEN Act helps homes, mortgages

The Green Resources for Energy Efficient Neighborhoods (GREEN) Act of 2008 seeks to promote consumer access to energy-efficient homes by providing incentives to lenders and banks that offer low-interest mortgages and other benefits. This will help homeowners finance the purchase of energy-efficient homes or improvements by requiring lenders to incorporate energy- and location-efficient mortgages.

In addition, the act authorizes the creation of a Residential Energy Efficiency Block Grant Program that will award grants to activities that lead to compliance with energy efficiency and green-building standards. Other provisions include an educational outreach campaign to publicize energy- and location-efficient mortgages and other benefits to encourage information centers for consumers.

Concrete contractors could potentially use these resources to advocate for green-building standards to be integrated into projects. For more information, visit www.usgbc.org.

Sustainable awards for public officials

Nominations for the 2007-2008 Portland Cement Association (PCA) Sustainable Leadership Awards are now closed. PCA members, and members of the construction industry, nominated public officials that demonstrated through policy or projects a passion for sustainability. The three tiers of sustainability that were looked at include economic responsibility, environmental responsibility, and social responsibility.

The Leadership in Sustainability Policy Award will honor public officials who advance policies that promote the concept of sustainable development by advocating for and promoting the use of concrete and cement-based products in their communities. Additionally three award categories honor specific projects in the areas of: Homes and Residential Building, Non-Residential Building, and Infrastructure.Nominations currently are being reviewed and winners will be notified by Aug. 5, 2008. For more information, visit www.cement.org/SD/.

New Fortified home in Northwest

The newly completed NextGen "First to the Future" Home in West Seatle, Wash., is the first home built in the Northwest to received the Fortified...For Safer Living designation from the Institute for Business & Home Safety (IBHS). IBHS is an independent research organization supported by more than 200 insurance companies.

"The program is focused on building homes with added protection to better withstand nature's wrath, and in the Northwest that often means high winds and seismic events," explains Chuck Vance, Fortified program manager at IBHS. "This designation lets people know that a home has been built beyond local building codes, so they can have peace of mind that their property is protected to an even higher level."

The 4100-square-foot, three-bedroom home looks over the Puget Sound. Built with Amvic insulating concrete forms, the house meets the new LEED for Homes program guidelines created by the U.S. Green Building Council. More information is available at http://www.cement.org