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Campaign touts building with American-made products

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Marnie Oursler's passion started with a challenge.

About a year and a half ago, a client approached the Delaware builder with the idea of building him a house using as many American-made products as possible. There was just one catch: He didn't want to pay a premium for it.

Oursler took the bait and built the client a house in Bethany Beach, Del., out of 95 percent American-made products. Now she's using that experience to encourage other construction contractors to do the same.

Her venture was the impetus for We Build American, a campaign being promoted by 84 Lumber Co. The Washington County-based building materials supplier announced the initiative at the International Builders Show this year in Las Vegas.

Oursler is not the first contractor to take on the issue of building American. In fact, her client, Bill Gay, was inspired by the work of Anders and Jake Lewendal, father-and-son builders from Montana who constructed a home entirely from materials sourced or manufactured in the United States. (You can read more about that project at www.theallamericanhome.com.)

Nor does 84 Lumber's We Build American campaign claim that the products it touts are made entirely from American-produced content. In today's global marketplace, it's difficult to find more complex products that don't contain at least some components made abroad.

Still, We Build American strives to boost the percentage of a house that's made here and, in doing so, support the U.S. economy and generate American jobs.

It should reassure consumers, too. Remember the mess that ensued a few years back when some drywall made in China was emitting noxious gases into homes?

Jeff Nobers, 84 Lumber's vice president of marketing, said the company, headquartered in Eighty Four, is trying to persuade home builders and developers to agree to build with American source materials.

“We already have the venders ready to participate. All we need are the builders and developers,” Nobers said. “Our sales staff reports there has been about a 16 percent increase in the amount of American-source products being purchased, but that could also be because of the increased housing production,” he said.

“We also have been talking with three home builders and one developer who are receptive to buying American. Until they finish using the products they previously purchased for their jobs, they have delayed any purchase of American products,” he said.

Nobers said 84 Lumber plans to set up some of its stores to have higher inventories of American products than foreign products. He wants to be sure the American products it demonstrates in those stores are what's used in those areas.

The campaign is fairly simple: It encourages contractors to pledge to build American, and it will make it easier for them to do so by listing sources of U.S.-made building materials on its website, www.webuildamerican.com. Consumers can also use the site to find builders who have committed to using American-made products.

Oursler hopes that by doing the research for builders, she and 84 Lumber will encourage more to get on board.

Finding domestic products was her biggest challenge when she first took on the Gay project, said Oursler, a fourth-generation builder who runs Marnie Homes in Bethany Beach.

“The first time was hard,” she conceded. But now that she knows where to find products, she's finding it much easier to incorporate American products in the five homes she's building.

The beauty of We Build American, she said, is that 84 Lumber is establishing those relationships for the builders. That should ensure the builders can get the materials they require in a timely fashion.

Oursler said building the Gay house cost less than 1 percent more than it would have if she had relied more heavily on foreign-made materials. We Build American's analysis, on the other hand, figures the cost of building American typically would be about 1.34 percent higher.

The Akron Beacon Journal and Trib Total Media staff writer Sam Spatter contributed to this report.

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