Monthly Archives: September 2010

2.2 million circuit breakers recalled

About 2.2 million circuit breakers made in Mexico by Siemens and Murray are being recalled because they can catch on fire and possibly cause personal injury. The units have a spring clip that can break during use, which can lead to excessive temperatures, arcing or thermal damage at the connection point.

Date codes are on the side of the circuit breakers.

The faulty devices were sold from June through August at Home Depot, Lowes and other hardware and building supply stores across the country.

The recall involves 15- through 50-amp single- and double-pole breakers, load centers and meter combos. The affected circuit breakers have the date codes 0610 and 0710 on them, while the load centers and meter combos were made between June 23 and Aug. 25 of this year. Date codes can be found on a label on the side of the circuit breakers and inside the metal boxes of the load centers and meter combos.

If you have these products, you should call Siemens at (800) 756-6996 between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET during the week, or go online. Siemens is offering a free inspection by an electrician and replacement products.

NAIOP Creates Another Amazing Makeover

It’s amazing what can be accomplished in a few hours – if it is the culmination of months of planning, organizing, coordinating and fund raising. The NAIOP Commercial Real Estate Development Association’s Community Enhancement Committee (CEC) performed another miracle last Saturday (September 25). This year’s Community Enhancement Day project was the rehabilitation of the building and grounds at the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center at Discovery Park in Seattle. The center is the headquarters for the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation, which this year celebrates its 40th anniversary of providing a myriad of services for tribal members from Head Start to elder services.
NAIOP members invested over $200,000 in donated labor and materials. The center building was showing its age (over 30 years) and with the foundation suffering the same cut backs everyone else is faced with, there was no way for the center’s leadership to make much-needed repairs and upgrades. That’s where NAIOP stepped in.
The list of what was accomplished this year is long, from pressure washing, painting and staining the building, expanding the deck area, installing new lighting, replacing crumbling and unsafe stairs to making major improvements to the grounds and trails. The Native Americans have significantly upgraded ceremonial areas. Some of the massive wood buttresses and hand rails had rotted over the years. With the ingenuity and persistence of a few people, all these were replaced. Part of the project was the creation of an enormous mural painted on the building by renowned Native American artist Andrew Morrison to honor UIATF’s founder, Bernie Whitebear. Bernie’s nearby grave has new benches and a new sense of reverence. There is more…
The NAIOP Community Enhancement Committee is a group of dedicated professionals in the greater real estate community, including developers, brokers, architects, engineers, bankers, lawyers, accountants and contractors. The committee selects a project each year from a list of applicants. Then the committee goes to work, defining the scope of the project, raising the money, assigning team leads for each piece of the project, getting materials and equipment donated, and soliciting hundreds of volunteers. It takes a year and untold hours. Untold because no one keeps track or even talks about them – they just do what it takes.
I work at the registration and dispatch “desk.”  There were 300+ people of every size, age and capability. At an event like this you expect to see skilled craftsman; and plenty showed up. But I also saw families with young kids who come to pick weeds and the dad of one of the kids who goes to pre-school there who worked all day just to give back. Two young girls whose fathers were working on projects; they were there long hours helping out by handing muffins and brooming sand into the new pavers. The two young professionals — maybe accountants? –who came back four times for new assignments. The group of engineers and their kids who painted and stained non-stop. The wife of one of the committee members who checked in tools and hauled trash until nearly dark. The brother of one of the carpenters who sat in his wheel chair in the woods expertly cutting lumber to the right length for the sweat lodge blanket shed.
One of my favorite sayings is, “You can get a lot done if you don’t care who gets the credit.” The NAIOP CEC is the epitome of that sentiment. A lot got done. No one is looking for the credit. But a lot of credit is due to an amazing group of people. Proud to know ya. (And you know who you are!)

School Transformed into Hospice Facility

The new Whatcom County Hospice House (photo by Edye Colello-Morton)

Kudos to the construction and related firms in Whatcom County that recently helped Whatcom County Hospice Foundation fund and build the area’s first hospice house. An open house for the new facility was held Aug. 21, and patients are now being admitted.

Dawson Construction served as general contractor for the Hospice House Construction Team which also included Mills Electric Co., Diamond B Constructors, Ram Construction, Birch Equipment Rental and Sales, Zervas Group Architects, Diana Fewing, Biermann Design, Inc., and Kingworks Consulting Engineers.

The nearly $6 million project was made possible through generous support of Whatcom Hospice Foundation (WHF) donors, construction community partners and the WHF Board of Directors. Mike Hammes (Ram Construction), John Huntley (Mills Electric) and Sarah Rothenbuhler (Birch Equipment) are members of the WHF Board. AGC of Washington made a $5000 donation to the project.

These pros took an aging structure that housed a school and transformed it into a state-of-the-art hospice facility that will provide the kind of compassionate end of life care in a warm, home-like setting that every hospice patient deserves.

The building has been completely reconfigured into 12 private patient rooms with large windows and doors that offer patients and their families beautiful and restful views of Chuckanut Mountain. A large open space became a cozy living room, welcoming families, friends and loved ones who can visit as often and long as they desire. Large dormer windows fill the interior with light and soft colors and fabrics provide patients and visitors alike a comfortable home-like place in which to spend quality time with one another.

The new Whatcom Hospice House is an extension of the Whatcom Hospice program, which has been caring for patients in their homes or other community settings since the 1980s. Whatcom Hospice House is a service of PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center. Each year, more than 200 people are admitted to PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center for end-of-life comfort care. Whatcom Hospice House will provide a more comfortable and family-centered place to receive this care. Additionally, hospice patients may move to Whatcom Hospice House for a short stay if their symptoms require frequent nursing intervention or cannot be adequately managed by current caregivers.

Karen Ssebanakitta, Director of Hospice Services; Mike Hammes, President of Ram Construction; and Mike Kirkland, Executive Director of Whatcom Hospice Foundation, celebrate at the open house for Whatcom County Hospice House. (photo by Edye Colello-Morton)

Free tour Friday at Port of Tacoma

Port of Tacoma photo

The Port of Tacoma will be showing off some of its huge cargo-moving machines during a free bus tour on Friday morning.

The tour has limited space and reservations must be made by calling (253) 383-9463 or e-mailing

Kids age 6 and older can attend. Those older than 16 years will need to bring photo ID.

Meet at 10:30 a.m. at Fabulich Center, 3600 Port of Tacoma Road. The tour should wrap up around noon.

Bad Recipe: Input Costs Up, Finished Prices Flat

“If you’re in the industry now, if you’ve survived to this point, you have great career prospects.  The construction industry will get back to average levels, and you’ll be in a great position.”

National AGC Economist Ken Simonson gave that positive assessment to a group of early and mid-career construction professionals who make up AGC’s Future Leadership Forum.  That positive note was perhaps the only bright spot in the gloomy assessment that Ken provided about the current and near future of the construction industry.

One of the more alarming trends Ken cited was this:  Over the last year the cost of the inputs of construction is up 4.5 percent, but the price of finished products/buildings is flat, even slightly down for segments like new office buildings and warehouses.  “This is a recipe for driving contractors out of business,” Ken noted.

Some of his bottom line predictions:

2010 will conclude with non-residential construction spending down 15-20 percent.  More stimulus money is being put in place, and maybe small gains in retail, higher ed, and hospitals, but that’s about it.

2011 is the year the industry bottoms out, Ken said.  But, having reached the bottom, it’ll then be up (oh so slowly).  Next year non-residential construction spending should range from flat to 5 percent.  There will be less stimulus spending and state and local government spending will be weak, but some increases in retail, hotel, higher ed and hospitals.

This relative optimism for next year stems from several months’ worth of small but consistent increases in GDP and recent steady growth in private sector employment.

For now we should look for “pinpricks” of growth on the map – small geographic areas with their idiosyncratic causes of growth, like being net winners in the military’s base realignment efforts or being home to alternative energy efforts.

AGC National Economist Ken Simonson, center, with AGC Future Leaders (photo by Sarah Teague)

When Will Infrastructure Become a Priority of Government?

This old bridge over the Sauk River was only recently replaced by Snohomish County.

I keep a running log of articles that might serve as inspiration for my blog posting. In reading through this week’s list, they are all about money or rather the lack of it. Most deal with the economy. Washington State’s economist had only gloomy news this week, the hole just gets deeper. The legislature will have more than its work cut out for it in the 2011 legislative session. We are simply spending way more than we take in, and very difficult decisions lay ahead. Local governments are pretty much in the same boat.

These budget crises affect not only education and social services, they have a huge impact on public capital budgets – and therefore the design and construction communities. Since there is a scarcity of money in the private sector, many contractors have turned to public works – and now that is in scarce supply. And likely to get scarcer going forward. (The good news is that bids are coming in under engineer’s estimates so we might get more for our tax dollars, just hoping the contractor doesn’t lose money in the process.)

As the money available for infrastructure evaporates, roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, schools, parks, and sea walls are failing as they surpass their intended useful life. Governments have not been maintaining these for decades and now, when we can least afford it, there is news daily about what’s falling apart in some part of the country. Infrastructure isn’t sexy or cute. Advocates for infrastructure investment don’t rally with signs around city hall and get headlines. But the development and maintenance of infrastructure is a primary function of government, from a small rural library to the viaduct and 520. Remember former Gov. Gary Locke’s Priorities of Government? Infrastructure, education and public safety should be at the top. We hear about teachers and fire/police – not so much about engineers and construction workers. Keep in mind that a modern, well maintained infrastructure is a key component for economic growth in the long run, positively affecting every citizen.

With some bridge or water main failing daily, could it be that we have finally reached a critical mass of crumbling roads and schools that legislators will display some Priorities of Government leadership and make infrastructure investment a major concern? Sadly, I doubt it. Again, not sexy or cute, no sign waving advocates or sad tales of woe at the city council open forum mike. We are the folks who build America and happy to do that, but we can’t do it unless our elected officials make it a priority and fund it. As a priority, not as an afterthought or only after the bridge collapses.

Beware of lacerating sanders

It reads like the latest slasher film from Wes Craven, but this one’s real. About 192,000 random orbit sanders made by Black & Decker can fly apart during use and possibly cut the operator. The company has received 73 reports of incidents stemming from the sanders’ black plastic platen discs breaking apart. Fifteen operators were injured.

B&D is doing a voluntary recall in cooperation with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The orange and black sanders are model numbers RO400, RO400G, RO410, RO410K, RO410LW and FS3000ROS, with date codes between 200701 and 200929. They were sold at home centers, hardware and discount stores nationwide from January 2007 to July 2009 for about 40 bucks.

Consumers should stop using the Chinese-made sanders and contact B&D for a replacement platen. B&D can be reached at (866) 220-1767 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. ET Monday through Friday; or on the Web at

Workers star in L&I calendar

The state Department of Labor & Industries has come out with its 2011 workplace calendar called “Keep Washington Safe and Working.”

The calendar profiles workers doing their daily jobs — whether it’s climbing into a wine vat in Pasco or adjusting valves at a cogeneration plant in Ferndale. But, it’s not just for planning the days ahead, it also serves to promote workplace safety and health.
“We want employers to see real-world examples of Washington businesses handling typical workplace hazards effectively and in a way that any company can replicate,” said Bruce Zeller, education and outreach services manager for L&I’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, in a press release.
Some of the safety and health issues addressed include workplace violence, fall protection, flagging, bloodborne pathogens, respirator use and outdoor heat exposure. The calendar also suggests topics for the safety and health meetings that businesses are required to hold with employees.
The calendars are free to Washington state businesses while supplies last. To get one, send an email with your name, company name, mailing address and telephone number to To order by phone, call (800) 574-9881. Limited quantities will be available in local L&I offices after Sept. 30.

More information is available online.

Construction costs mixed across the U.S.

Property and construction consultant Rider Levett Bucknall recently released its quarterly Construction Cost Report, which shows a slight rise in the national average of construction costs but declines in four markets it covers – including Seattle and Portland.

Rider attributes the slight national uptick to increased materials prices as “some suppliers are unable to continue to operate at rock-bottom profit levels and are having to slightly increase their margins to stay afloat.”

“After eighteen months of economic turmoil the American economy finally appears to be moving ahead again, slowly,” said Rider President Julian Anderson in a statement. “The outlook for the construction industry, however, remains bleak.”

Rider says, despite the fact that the year-over-year decline in national construction activity is slowing, in part due to increased federal stimulus funds, construction spending is still declining. From May 2009 to May 2010, construction put in place decreased by 8 percent.

It adds that even though stimulus funding is now moving through state budgets, states are still facing revenue shortfalls across all categories, leading to inevitable downward pressure on public construction spending.

Anderson said that “by the start of the 2011 fiscal year, many states will face a real gap between their available capital and their capital needs.”

“The biggest concerns for construction in 2010 remain the glacial pace of job recovery, the speed of healing in the credit markets and whether the specter of a double-dip recession will emerge,” he said.

The effect of the current recession on construction costs can be seen in this graph, where the y-axis represents the cost index.

The effect of the current recession on construction costs can be seen in this graph, where the y-axis represents the cost index.

Image courtesy of Rider Levett Bucknall

Don’t let your construction site be a washout

Photo courtesy of WaterTectonics

Today’s Environmental Outlook special section has a few pointers for contractors dealing with stormwater runoff on their construction sites.

One article — Here comes a flood of stricter stormwater rules — addresses what is going to replace the state Department of Ecology’s construction site stormwater rules when they expire in December.

The other — Treating construction site runoff with electrocoagulation — explores how construction site runoff can be handled with electrocoagulation instead of chemicals.