Bozeman, Montana man attempts to build a house floor-to-ceiling with all-american products

September 7th, 2011

Yeah, I don’t think this will be so easy.

Anders Lewendal, a general contractor who managed to survive the housing collapse, has hit upon a plan that he thinks will revive the construction industry and help lead the nation out of the economic wilderness: build houses using only American-made materials.

He is trying to do just that with a new home here on a side street a few blocks from downtown. But it is not as easy as it sounds.

Some things are simple enough. Wood literally grows on trees, of course, especially here in forested western Montana. And no one ships cement or concrete mix any farther than needed.

After that it can get tough. In a global economy, even American-assembled appliances probably have at least some foreign made or mined components, Mr. Lewendal said.

Why stop with American products! Why not only purchase products mad in Montana! And why stop with Montana, why not support local distributors in Bozeman. Hell, why stop with Bozeman! Why doesn’t he just build all products from his household. I’ll stop the reductio now (I borrowed this line of reasoning my from law & econ class at gmu with prof. tom rusticci).

“Part of the impact of the recession has been healthy, in making people rethink what housing is for,” said Mr. Lewendal, who conceded that perfection in his goal is probably not possible. The locally made cement, he suspects, could have some imported chemicals, for example, and the recycled glass from Yellowstone National Park that he laid down as a base layer under the garage could well have contained an imported beer bottle or two. As for his workers, he said, they are all here legally.

“The point is that little things can add up,” he said. “I think we could solve this recession if everyone shifted just 5 percent of their purchases to U.S.-made products.”

In some ways, it is an old idea, echoing a hard-hat refrain from the 1970s or earlier: Buy American. In other ways, though, it is as current as the environmental message that hangs over every urban farmers’ market: Buy Local.