Bozeman Daily Chronicle

Bozeman contractor aims to build first ‘all-American’ home

Chris Sucich works on a house on East Cottonwood Street on Tuesday. The general contractor, Anders Lewendal, is using only materials produced in the United States to build the home.

Chris Sucich works on a house on East Cottonwood Street on Tuesday. The general contractor, Anders Lewendal, is using only materials produced in the United States to build the home.

Chris Sucich works on a house on East Cottonwood Street on Tuesday. The general contractor, Anders Lewendal, is using only materials produced in the United States to build the home.

Chris Sucich works on a house on East Cottonwood Street on Tuesday. The general contractor, Anders Lewendal, is using only materials produced in the United States to build the home.

In today’s global economy, the term “all-American” doesn’t strike most people as synonymous with dishwashers, nails and screws. But it could, suggests a local contractor.

When the East family’s house 514 E. Cottonwood St. is finished in a few months, it will be the first documented all-American home, said Anders Lewendal, a Bozeman contractor with more than 140 Gallatin Valley homes under his belt.

At about 2,000 square feet and an estimated final cost of $400,000, the all-American home is a little house that represents a big idea: every piece of it is predominantly American. Even its plastic sewer caps and underground copper connectors, Lewendal said, gesturing toward the frame of the two-story house.

He puts particular emphasis on the term “predominant,” because some things – like the computer chips that might regulate an American-made furnace – could have been made in a foreign country.

“Why?” people ask when Lewendal explains his project. He launched into the story behind the house.

Like most contractors, the economy left Lewendal with fewer homes to build than in previous years. But for Lewendal, less time working means more time for ideas.

Inspired by the recession

He got to thinking about 2009’s American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which aimed to lift the U.S. economy out of despair. The act required least 51 percent of a product’s components to be made domestically for it to be considered “made in America.”

He studied reports from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics and concluded that if every contractor in America increased their use of domestically-made products by 5 percent, the country’s economy could grow by more than 100,000 jobs.

He didn’t stop there. Figuring that if families followed suit and bought 5 percent more domestic products for use in their daily life, the recession could be over.

There’s made in America and there’s all-American: Lewendal got to thinking more – why stop at 51 percent when you can do 100?

He got excited about the idea. He pitched the 100 percent, all-American home to the Easts in February – a month before they were to break ground. The East house will serve as a model to market Lewendal’s buy American campaign – not everyone needs to buy 100 percent domestic products all the time, but Lewendal wants to prove that they can.

“It’s bipartisan,” Lewendal said – neither left-wing nor right-wing, nor an effort at nationalism, nor an attempt to curb carbon footprints. It’s an economic stimulus plan.

When he puts it that way, people usually see the logic, Lewendal said.

“They just never thought about it.”

Now he wants to market the idea.

the end of the week, Lewendal will launch a website and Facebook page to promote his 5 percent proposal. He wants contractors, politicians and homeowners to work together to make it an industry standard.

Keeping score

The project requires scrupulous record-keeping. A spreadsheet on Lewendal’s computer confirms that every component, down to the nail, is predominantly American. He’ll hand it over if someone tries to call his bluff.

Until he’s accounted for every piece of the house, Lewendal can’t say whether building All-American is much more expensive than the alternative. Provided he plans ahead, he really doesn’t think it will be.

He used nails as an example. The American nails he bought cost about $5 more per box than their foreign counterparts. But the foreign-made nails often jam his nail guns, causing hangups on the job.

“What we’re looking for is the best value,” he said. “They cost $5 more, but they save you $10 in labor.”

Not planning ahead is more expensive, Lewendal said. Recently, he lost about $200 when a contractor forgot to verify the origins of some of the house’s foundation bolts.

Lewendal couldn’t find American-made bolts on short notice, so he ordered domestic steel and had a Bozeman metal fabricator turn them into what he needed – some might call it American ingenuity.

Broader benefits

Aside from economic benefits, buying American has social and environmental perks, Lewendal explained.

If Americans stop buying products from countries with low labor and environmental standards, those countries could be forced to rethink their policies, he said, adding that buying domestic products also saves money in the transportation of raw materials and finished goods.

“If we start doing this now, other countries will pay attention and clean up their act,” Lewendal said.

The East family of four is excited to move into their all-American home.

“Originally, we were just looking for the most eco-friendly,” Kat East said. Buying local products made sense to them – it meant less use of fossil fuels and less chemicals in products that would be harmful to their 5-year-old daughter with cystic fibrosis.

“I knew the options would be more limited,” East said, adding that having a door or a light fixture that wasn’t exactly the one she wanted was worth it in the end to save the resources.