Thursday, November 29, 2007

New construction techniques to be examined in Chicago

I do not get out to the country too often. Travelling west of Sacramento (the street - for out-of-town readers) seems like a cross-country journey to me. But last weekend, your guide had the opportunity to visit old friends in Iowa City, Iowa, for a birthday celebration.

One friend recently moved into a new construction home that was completed approximately a year ago. While stumbling around the lower-level searching for a bathroom, I came upon a couple of the utility closets containing the electrical junction boxes, the gas main into the house, and the water distribution for the house. I was nearly floored when I saw the water distribution connections.

The water enters the house through copper pipe, and runs into and out of the water heater through copper, but then is fed to a series of plastic pipes that run to all the plumbing fixtures throughout the house.

After my initial shock, I though this was a brilliant invention. Can you imagine how much more quickly and easily plumbing can be run through walls and floors of a new home? The cost of the materials are dramatically more efficient compared to copper - nothwithstanding the enormous labor involved with installing copper plumbing by hand with soldering and torches. The old way almosts seems primitive after reading about the new techniques.

Copper Prices Put Plastic Water Piping on the Rise

The next photo shows both electrical distribution and gas distribution. Electrical wiring not installed inside metal conduit has been common outside Chicago for many years, but check out the flexible gas pipe running along with the electrical wiring.

The stuff is called Corrugated Stainless Steel Tubing (CSST) for Gas Distribution. Again, this would appear to be a milestone invention affording greater efficiency in constructing new homes.

The Chicago Association of Realtors is planning to address the adoption of modern building materials and techniques with the City of Chicago. Your guides wish them the best of luck. Many building codes date back to shortly after the Great Chicago Fire and have been solidified by patronage armies of unionized tradesmen who weild considerable clout in Chicago.

Here in Chicago, despite the adoption by the international building code, using modern flexible wiring for electrical systems is strictly prohibited and old-fashioned wire must be installed inside rigid conduit. Water supply plumbing must be copper pipe. Only two and three story buildings can have waste plumbing made from PVC pipe. Taller structures must use cast iron waste pipe. And gas distribution throughout the walls of a building must be black iron pipe. The only flexible pipe allowed is the part that connects an appliance to the wall.

The reduction in construction costs is a high priority here in Chicago as the minimum price for construction before land aquisition has climbed to around $125 per square foot and has not budged downward in ten years. Reducing this cost is perceived to be a major avenue for invigorating the market that provides new yet affordable housing for Chicagoans.