By Tim Fall
Feb. 15, 2014
Michelle and Aaron Tatum of OKC,left,
talk with a vendor about outdoor kitchens.
Not that any Oklahoman needed an excuse last week to flee the state's near-zero¬†
temperatures and spend a few days in Las Vegas, but state homebuilders had a good reason.
More than 400 builders, tradespeople and others in the residential construction business attended the International Builders Show Feb. 4-6 at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
They were among some 75,000 people from across the country who attended the show, which was held in conjunction with the Kitchen and Bath Industry Show for the first time as part of the new Design & Construction Week.
In addition to attending classes, they descended upon hundreds of thousands of square feet of product displays, workshops and demonstrations from manufacturers and suppliers from around the world.
Oklahoma's delegation to the co-located exhibitions¬†‚Ä"¬†a joint production of the National Association of Home Builders and the National Kitchen & Bath Association¬†‚Ä"¬†¬†doubled last year's, said Mike Means, executive vice president of the Oklahoma State Home Builders Association.
Walking the convention floor for three days, Means said he was "amazed" by the show's scope, covering "anything and everything that you see in your house, from windows to bricks to the tiniest little fastener."
Mike Gilles of Edmond, a builder and founder of Savannah Homes, attended not only to take in the latest products and design ideas, but also to conduct a "very well-attended" class in geothermal technology.
"It was our best show in a long time," Gilles said.
Gilles said he was impressed by a new generation of solar-powered water heaters that he found particularly applicable to Oklahoma homeowners.
"The cost of this technology has been too high" to make solar hot water feasible, Gilles said, but recent improvements make for some "great deals."
"An entire water heating system for $3,000" is practical for many homeowners, Gilles said. Combined with a 30-percent tax credit given to homeowners who install energy saving equipment, "that's like getting free hot water," he said.
Attendance at the International Builders Show reflects the shape of the homebuilding business nationally, Means said. After hitting highs of nearly 100,000 attendees at shows in the middle of the last decade, numbers fell to the low 40,000s by 2011.
"But we've recovered almost completely," Means said.
"Oklahoma builders are there looking for high-efficiency products that increase the comfort and livability of a home at a reasonable cost," Means said. "Profit margins for builders are tight, so these guys have to build smarter every year."
Gilles said he expects to build five or six custom homes in 2014, after "a very fortunate" 2013, when he was among others rebounding from a slowdown in recent years.
With several new homes under way, Gilles echoed the frustration of other Oklahoma builders dealing with a shortage of experienced construction workers.
But, Means and Gilles agreed, there's more good than bad to homebuilding now.
"Overall, everyone was very positive about housing on a nationwide scale," Gilles said.
"Riding on the bus from the hotel to the convention, talking to people everywhere, you don't hear the doom and gloom you heard a couple years back."