Lessons learned from made-in-USA house

Mary Shanklin / Orlando Sentinel /

ORLANDO, Fla. — From the South Florida rock in its concrete slab to the roof trusses milled in Yulee, Fla., Greg and Jennifer Gent’s new house may be the only one in Central Florida built entirely with U.S.-made products.

The Gents set out earlier this year with the goal of constructing a house in Belle Isle, Fla., that would serve as a model for an industry that has long used products mined or manufactured in other countries. Their unusual undertaking became the subject of news reports across the country.

Now, about a month from completion, the three-bedroom house stands as a pioneering lesson in the challenges, costs and limitations of building a made-in-America house. The couple have cataloged their construction story at buildtheusa.us.

Two rules were imposed on the job: All products had to be made in the United States, though not necessarily by a U.S. company. And all workers had to be legal residents of the country. The point, the Gents said, was to support jobs in the United States.

In some cases, the workers were employed by companies with plants on American soil but with global headquarters elsewhere; it is a mistake, Greg Gent said, to assume that a U.S. company manufactures all its products in the States, or that companies marketing their U.S. presence actually manufacture their wares domestically.

“We started checking all the products, and then (contractor) John (Carr) did, and then John got the subs to,” he said. “No one tried to sneak anything by.”

The ashen porcelain tiles that cover the floors throughout the two-story house were made in the United States, though the supplier is a subsidiary of Italy’s Florim Ceramiche SpA. The shingles were similarly manufactured in the United States by a business owned by a French corporation.

Carr, president of Belle Isle-based JPC Construction Inc., said the biggest challenge was finding legal workers in a market abandoned by many crews after the housing slump started five or six years ago. An increase in production-home construction during the past year has left skilled workers in high demand, he added.

Difficulties finding the right workers, plus rain delays, added at least three weeks to the job. And ensuring the house was built with U.S. products, materials and labor added several more weeks.

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