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Some Building Products Are Better Than Ever

November 19, 2000|ARROL GELLNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The quality of many building products has declined during the last 50 years. But other products are better today than ever. Among them are heating systems, windows and cabinetry. Here's why:

* Heating systems

Few things in the home have improved as much as heating systems. As late as the 1970s, the typical furnace had a dismal thermal efficiency of around 70%--in other words, 30 cents of every energy dollar went to waste up the chimney flue.

Then came the nationwide energy crisis of 1978. California's progressive state government responded with legislation--widely known as Title 24--that required all new homes and additions to meet a minimal standard of energy efficiency. Many other states quickly followed suit. Faced with this mandate, the heating industry developed more innovative technologies.

Hence, today's furnaces are available with efficiencies of 90% and better, and many burn so efficiently they don't require a conventional flue at all. Add to that programmable thermostats and better duct insulation, and you've got a spectacular reduction in the energy it takes to heat your home.

* Windows

Mainly because they were cheap and easy to install, aluminum windows became the standard of the building industry by the late 1950s. But they were flimsy, drafty and had little insulating value. Energy legislation worked its magic on window manufacturers as well. In a mad scramble to meet state mandates for energy efficiency, first came double-pane glass, then better weatherstripping, thermal breaks and many other measures meant to reduce heat loss.

Window manufacturers have run with the ball on their own since then. They've introduced new energy-efficient windows of clad wood, vinyl and fiberglass, not to mention a huge range of design and finish choices. The result is that U.S.-made windows can go head to head with any on the world market.

* Cabinet work

The widespread adoption of factory-made modular cabinets during the 1980s finally signaled the arrival of mass production to a trade that's been a longtime bastion of custom craftsmanship. But whereas the production line can make for sloppier products, in this case it's proved beneficial to consumers, and not just in lowering prices. Modular cabinets can also be mixed and matched, allowing homeowners to design their own kitchens and baths.

Mass production has also brought a dramatic improvement in finish quality. Today's better modular cabinets have more uniform and durable finishes than many reasonably priced cabinet shops can offer for the same price. This is not to minimize the value of custom cabinets, which will always hold the premium place on the market, but rather to point out that the mid-priced lines of modular cabinets now offer many of the benefits of high-quality custom work.

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Distributed by Inman News Features.

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