Anders and Jake Lewendal, of Bozeman, Montana, are trying to rebuild the American economy—one all-American home at a time. By using more American-made building materials, from concrete to kitchen countertops, the general contractors hope to support U.S. manufacturers and kick-start the nation’s economy.
In 2011, the father and son team built the first modern, documented all-American home, a two-story, single-family house in Bozeman (pop. 37,280), inspiring a buy-American, build-America movement among other domestic homebuilders.
“It’s an American idea: Buy local when you can,” says Anders, 53, who has built about 140 homes in California and Montana since 1987.
Jake, 23, embraces the buy-American approach advocated by his dad. He travels around the nation, speaking at homebuilding conventions and shows about the benefits of using domestically made construction materials and supplies.
The key, he says, is opening minds and spreading awareness about the availability of American-made building products, and encouraging other homebuilders to increase their usage.
“We’re trying to get people to look at labels when they buy things,” Jake says.
Anders conceived the idea of an all-American home in 2011 while driving to Moab, Utah, on a family vacation. He wondered how the United States could pull out of the economic recession without government assistance or legislation.
“I always liked the idea of buying local and I wondered whether it would be possible to build a home made with all American-made products,” says the San Francisco, California, native. “I thought: What can we do to stimulate the economy in a recession?”
To make the all-American home a reality, the Lewendals used the Internet and the help of building material suppliers to compile a list of 140 manufacturers in 40 states that produce everything from flooring and kitchen appliances to light bulbs and lumber. “Thank God for Google!” Anders says.
Once domestically made products were located, including Potlatch plywood from Idaho and a Texas-made Trane furnace, construction began on the 2,200-square-foot home, which was completed six months later. Anders adds that the $400,000 home cost only 1 percent to 2 percent more to build than if foreign-made products had been used.
However, finding domestically made building supplies isn’t always easy. “American-made nuts and bolts are hard to find,” Anders says. “Screws are very difficult to find, as are light fixtures.”
As are the tools needed to build homes. “It’s hard to find American-made power tools,” says Sven Wigert, 45, a subcontractor who builds homes for the Lewendals. “We buy American-made when we can.”
Anders’ initiative, and the media attention that followed, has inspired a buy-American movement among other homebuilders and benefited domestic companies, from lumber mills to nail manufacturers.
Sales of Maze nails, for example, have increased since 2011, says Roelif Loveland, 53, president of W.H. Maze Co. in Peru, Illinois.
“Having people like Jake and Anders push the awareness has helped,” says Loveland, who’s added four employees to his workforce of 30 in the last two years. “There is a tremendous amount of interest and pride in using American-made products.”
Since the Lewendals completed the first modern American-made home, at least a dozen others have been built across the nation, including homes in Delaware, California, Florida, Oregon, Texas, Virginia and Washington, and other builders have increased their use of American-made construction materials.
“As long as it’s financially viable, we source American content,” says Marnie Oursler, 35, president of Marnie Homes in Bethany Beach, Delaware.
In 2012, Oursler spearheaded construction of a home in nearby Middlesex Beach, Delaware, for Bill and Diane Gay. The Gays’ 3,700-square-foot house was built with at least 95 percent American-made products. “I ended up with a better price, higher quality and more options than I’d anticipated,” says Bill, 68, a retired information technology engineer.
Gerald Rowlett, 57, owner of Westlake Development Group in Happy Valley, Oregon, also adopted the buy-American, build-America approach after seeing an ABC News story about the Lewendals. He’s since supervised construction of three homes with at least 97 percent domestic products, including his latest, a $2.5 million project in West Linn, Oregon, replete with American-made furniture.
Creating U.S. jobs
Supporting U.S. manufacturers is in the best interest of all Americans, Anders says, noting that the jobs they’re saving—or creating—by buying domestic products may be their own or their neighbor’s.
“I’m not asking any American to stop buying foreign products,” he says. “I’m just asking them to increase the percentage of American-made products they buy by 5 to 10 percent.”
Anders estimates that 3 million jobs could be created in the United States if every American bought 5 percent more American-made products. He cites a 2012 Boston Consulting Group report that projects manufacturing growth could create 2 to 3 million U.S. jobs in the coming decade because of rising costs in China.
“We’re going to manufacture in America again, because costs overseas are going up,” Anders says, adding that the United States already produces 21 percent of all manufactured goods on the planet.
In addition to creating jobs, Anders says buying more American-made products can have social and environmental benefits by creating higher quality standards and goods, and reducing energy consumption, which increases with overseas transportation.
“I believe in America,” he says. “I’m proud to be American.”