I keep thinking about the expression “The New Normal” as I try to determine which way the wind is blowing in this rapidly changing economy. There are opportunities in any economy; you just have to figure out where they are and how to position yourself to take advantage of them. No solutions here, just sharing some random thoughts and dreams.
I keep thinking about the expression“The New Normal”as I try to determine which way the wind is blowing in this rapidly changing economy. There are opportunities in any economy; you just have to figure out where they are and how to position yourself to take advantage of them. No solutions here, just sharing some random thoughts and dreams.
I should preface the rest of this blog by noting my years of supporting Habitat for Humanity International (HFHI). Not boasting … I am not what you would call a“Major Supporter.”But I am a believer in and supporter of the“Theology of the Hammer.”As HFHI’s founder, the late Millard Fuller, explained, "This theology is about bringing a wide diversity of people, churches and other organizations together to build houses and establish viable and dynamic communities. It is acknowledging that differences of opinion exist on numerous subjects - political, philosophical, theological - but that we can find common ground in using a hammer as an instrument to manifest God's love."
In my own words, I believe everyone on the planet deserves the right to work hard to earn and own a decent place to live. Since I make a living in the roofing and construction business, supporting a ministry like HFHI comes naturally.
The residential construction business does not have a direct impact on all roofing contractors, but this sector is so vital to the economy that it ultimately affects all players. One thing that I do not see or hear being addressed is the scale and scope of residential construction. Maybe I am missing something, but it seems like everyone in the residential construction sector is focused on eliminating the existing inventories and a return of affordable financing. These things are necessary, and change will come in the financial sector due to more stringent and conservative lending guidelines (a good thing, but let’s not go overboard … but that’s another blog).
But what about the scale and scope of the product residential builders plan on delivering in The New Normal? It seems like they are just waiting to return to building the same thing.
I believe The New Normal calls for wiping the drawing board clean and designing homes for this new world. Everyone is on board with the move to sustainable construction. Everyone wants to build to conserve energy. Everyone realizes that the emerging economy (at least in this country) has the potential to be “less” than it was in the recent past. Not a bad thing necessarily, but let’s face it: we have to pay for a war that is still being prosecuted along with the stimulus package. We have to pay to bail out Social Security and Medicare. But we still need to grow. “Less” stuff does not necessarily translate to less growth, peace, happiness, or prosperity in my way of thinking.
I believe what will stimulate the residential construction sector is more “less.” Homes can be constructed on a smaller interior footprint while taking better advantage of exterior spaces. I believe homes can be constructed that begin smaller with expansion designed into the plans from day one. Why not build a starter home at 1,400 square feet that is expandable to 1,800 then 2,400 or more? Would it kill us to design a home that takes better advantage of natural lighting and the surrounding environment (i.e., placement of the home for maximum heating/cooling efficiency)? All this could be done while seeking use of materials that are affordable, sustainable, and light in weight.
Designers would tell you that many of these things are not practical or even available. They would certainly not pass muster at the county courthouse where I live in Gwinnett County (Metro Atlanta), Georgia. Here bigger and more expensive has been the trend in zoning for years. But The New Normal is going to look pretty ugly if we do not all embrace the change it brings and do something to make it good rather than sit around being miserable as we wait for the “Old Normal” to come back. It is not likely to come back and that is not a bad thing.
In spite of the gloom and doom we are forced to read about every day, I think this is an incredibly exciting time. Change causes most of the fear that keeps many of the collapsed markets from returning. Embracing change and managing it could begin the next rally in residential construction.
Well that’s about it from me. Am I just dreaming, or can we get on with building again? Am I wrong about The New Normal … will the old ways return and send these few years into the back of our memories? Are municipalities busy rewriting zoning law to accommodate The New Normal and I’m just not reading about it? Are new designs for mainstream residential construction so new I just haven’t heard about them yet?
I am not the guy to design for The New Normal, but I hope that the great design talent that got us this far will take us to the next level. It may sound like I am complaining about them, I believe the residential design and build community has done some spectacular work over the years. I just believe that a radical departure is needed to bring the industry back from the brink. Tell me what you think.