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Why Habitat for Humanity Is Using Concrete

In this episode of Concrete Credentials, NRMCA’s Gregg Lewis is joined by Keith Meier, Executive Director of Habitat for Humanity of Teller County. Keith is a registered architect with over 35 years of experience and a licensed General Contractor for more than 25 years. For the season 2 premiere, Gregg and Keith discuss the use of ICFs (insulated concrete forms) for new homes being built by Habitat for Humanity of Teller County in partnership with NRMCA.

Here is the transcript, in its entirety:

Gregg Lewis:
Hello, and welcome today’s installment of Concrete Credentials. I’m Gregg Lewis, executive vice-president with the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association. And our guest today is Keith Meier. Keith is the executive director of Habitat for Humanity, Teller County in Southern Colorado. He is an architect, and his team and Teller County is building an 18-unit development of concrete and ICF Habitat townhomes, which is under construction as we speak. This is a first for Habitat in that not only is Keith’s group building a development of concrete Habitat homes, they are doing it with building performance, resilience, safety, and sustainability front of mind.

Keith is a graduate of Kansas State University’s architecture program, graduated in 1984 and has been practicing architecture for 37 years. He also became a licensed general contractor in 1992 and started building large custom homes at that time. And from then up until the present, he’s also gotten involved as an owner and partner in several development projects for both residential and mixed use efforts. So ultimately, Keith, who is also a dad and obviously a proponent of affordable housing, is, I think, probably the perfect person to begin to talk with us about issues related to affordable housing and tying in things like resilience, affordability, and sustainability.

Keith, welcome to Concrete Credentials.

Keith Meier:
Glad to be here.

Gregg Lewis:
From my vantage point, it’s great to have you on as our first guest for season two of the Concrete Credentials Podcast. I think the first thing I’d like to do is to ask you, how did you, as an architect, find your way to leading a Habitat affiliate in Colorado?

Keith Meier:
Well, it’s been an interesting journey over the last 37 years. As you said, I was an architect by trade and also became a general contractor. With that experience, I was involved in a lot of large custom homes and high-end developments and banks, libraries, all kinds of high-end buildings and stuff like that. But in 2015, I started another nonprofit to build a tax credit, low income rental properties for workforce. And after getting involved in that, we started working with Habitats in different locations to see if we could partner and look at a low to moderate income housing for workforce.

Ironically, the Habitat locally here we were working with, the executive director that I replaced decided to move out of state and the job came open, and I, on a whim, decided that this was a great opportunity for me to, not only further my goals of workforce and attainable housing, but to use the Habitat base to really pursue some of my goals.

Gregg Lewis:
It’s fantastic. And I think as I’ve looked at what you’ve started to do up there in Southern Colorado, from my point of view, they’re lucky to have you. I think the work that you are taking on there and the leadership that you’re showing is obviously going to benefit, not only the families that ultimately are going to live in those houses, but Habitat as a whole, to hopefully learn from the way that you’re doing this based on your own experience prior to joining Habitat. So I think that’s great.

And I do want to point out, I guess you know obviously, National Ready Mixed Concrete Association and its Build With Strength program is partnering with Habitat, not only working with you there in Teller County, but with Habitat for Humanity International. And we’re in the process of building, we’re getting ready to build 15 additional concrete and ICF Habitat houses above and beyond your work there in Southern Colorado. But your project is leading the way on this front, and I think it will be important for our listeners to understand how you came to your decision on this project to build it with concrete and ICFs.

Keith Meier:
That’s a very interesting question because when I became executive director here at Habitat, like I said, I’d already been involved in low income or affordable housing at some level. We did a housing study in 2015 that showed that Woodland Park alone needed almost 1,000 homes that were either affordable or attainable, mainly for our workforce and our frontline workers and people like that. When I took over as Habitat’s executive director, in the past, most small rural Habitats build maybe one or two houses a year and just do small projects as they fundraise and do stuff like that. And I came in with my background as a developer, builder, architect, and took a different look at the problem.

And I was like, “Why couldn’t we as a Habitat start building neighborhoods instead of just houses? And why can’t we start building 10, 15, 20, 30 homes a year? Whatever the number needs to be, we can accomplish.” So that’s the approach I took, good or bad. And it was really interesting that we actually got local banks and other people very interested in the process and the project and the idea. And we found a piece of ground and allowed 18 town homes or 18 units, and then we started down that road. And it’s all really come together over the last year. And our mantra right now is, let’s build neighborhoods, not just houses.

Gregg Lewis:
I think it’s exactly the right thing. It’s not just Woodland Park, obviously, the demand, the need for workforce and affordable housing across the country, there has never been greater needs, I think at least that’s my own perspective on that. But one of the things, obviously, that Habitat has to be very sensitive to, and it’s not only affecting Habitat, but builders across the country and that is cost. And cost of lumber specifically seems to be putting a real squeeze on budgets for home builders and multifamily developers. But really, even before these historic escalations in wood prices, you found, if I understand it correctly, that the concrete and ICFs were going to be cost-effective even before those escalations started.

And I guess what I’d like to know is, what are the components of that cost comparison for you? And when did you realize that you had a chance to build these townhomes with something other than stick frame?

Keith Meier:
Well, like I said, it was a very interesting process when we acquired the property that allowed us to build 18 units. We’ve just basically started from ground zero. As an architect and a planner, I thought, “Why don’t we redefine the problem and see if there is a new solution?” In many aspects, the construction industry hasn’t reinvented itself for 50, 60, 70 years. And it just seemed like that would be a better solution to the problem. So we started from ground zero, we designed a neighborhood concept. And then from that, we started talking about, “What are we going to build?” And we went through an entire process of looking at stick-built, we looked at panelization, we looked at modular homes, we looked at container homes. We looked at everything.

We do have a contractor here locally that’s been in the ICF construction business for over 20 years now, and we started talking to them and we started realizing some of the major benefits of ICF in what we wanted to accomplish. And from that, we started looking at partnerships with, not only ICF distributors and vendors, and also the concrete obviously was an important factor in the cost because we did use a lot of concrete in this type of construction. And we found pretty quickly that people and vendors and suppliers were very interested in our decision to go this way, and we formulated some really good partnerships.

And the pricing, even before the escalation of lumber, we were finding that we were going to be able to build these things with ICF and concrete for about the same cost at the time as lumber. And obviously, as you know now, we’re looking like geniuses almost because lumber has gone through the roof and a piece of plywood is anywhere from 50 to $100, depending on what you’re buying. A two-by-four is eight bucks a piece. We didn’t know that was coming, but the fact that it is here, we’re not being impacted nearly as much as some of the other builders out there because of our decision to go with ICF and concrete and the partnerships that we developed.

Gregg Lewis:
It’s making you look smarter and smarter every day, I think, because the futures, at least as I understand it, on wood pricing are suggesting that they’re just going to keep going up through the rest of this year. And I’m sure that there are a lot of deals that are going to be delayed or postponed or maybe canceled altogether as a result of this. And I think it’s unfortunate that there aren’t more folks out there are willing to look at alternatives rather than just throwing up their hands and saying, “Well, wood’s too expensive, I can’t do this project.” And so I think it’s a hat tip to you for making a decision early on to do this, and I think it’s going to pay dividends. My impression is it’ll pay dividends for you guys there and your families for years to come.

We do though have wood prices continuing to go up and looking like they’re going to go up even further. They’ve doubled since you made your decision to build with concrete and ICFs. You’re obviously happy, maybe even happier than you were when you initially made that choice. And affordability obviously, is central to the approach that Habitat for Humanity takes when it looks at developing new homes for your families. There are some thousand, I think, affiliates, Habitat affiliates, serving their communities across the US. What is your advice to your peers as they face this unprecedented escalation in cost of lumber?

Keith Meier:
Well, the number one thing is to start looking at different methods of construction. I’m hearing that they’re going to actually start putting quotas on lumber supplies too. Not only pricing is out of control, but the availability may start disappearing also. So my first advice is start looking at stuff like ICF. Now, as Habitat, we have really found that going ICF has benefited us more than just affordability. We are a volunteer organization. The majority of our projects are built by volunteers and volunteer hours. And our homeowners are required to put in, in our case, 400 hours of sweat equity in their homes.

So we found that working with ICF and concrete is a much safer and actually easier than doing stick-built. And we’ve had seen a lot of benefits just with the volunteer side of this very unskilled laborers really learning how to do this very quickly and efficiently. There’s a lot of benefits to going ICF and concrete construction, especially for things like Habitat and other affordable, attainable housing. It’s an easy construction method, and it’s easy to learn, and it’s very safe. It’s lightweight, not of lifting heavy objects or lumber. So we’re seeing a lot of benefits to it, actually.

Gregg Lewis:
All of those points that you just made I think deserve a little bit of additional discussion, and so I think we can get into that during our time here today. But for any developer builder, looking to construct a residential multifamily project, not just in the affordable housing sector, the cost of construction often, or maybe always, is a primary consideration when selecting building materials. For you, that was obviously important as well, but it wasn’t just the cost, as you’ve pointed out. And I guess another line of thinking here, and part of this discussion would be, you’re working with our partners at the Colorado Ready-Mix Concrete Association and some of their members and hours like Martin Marietta in Action Ready-Mix.

You’ve seen that concrete is the answer when you were looking for cost-effective solution for these homes, but you’ve also seen, as you pointed out, there are ways to further improve the way you’re building these town homes with the use of concrete. One of those ways is, and I want to talk a little bit about the decision to use a concrete roof tile, and Boral Roofing is one of the vendors that’s come to the table to offer you their concrete roof tiles. With the continued threat there, Keith, of wildfires in Colorado, these concrete roof tiles are part of your non-combustible construction solution, as I understand it, and they’re allowing you to deliver the safest possible homes for your families.

Keith Meier:
Yeah, that is correct. Over the last 15, 20 years, we’ve had three major forest fires in our area, two of the largest fires in Colorado history. And Woodland Park is really an island surrounded by national forest. We’re just north of Pike’s Peak at 8,500 feet in elevation, so fire protection is crucial to any decisions that we make. Also, our insurance rates have increased dramatically because of those forest fires. And so anytime we can incorporate fire resistant materials or fire-proof materials, it not only helps the sustainability of the structure, but it also helps on the insurance and the cost.

And so that was a very important part of our decision-making in using this type of construction. It was the durability to sustainability in a fire resistant constructive nature of this type of construction.

Gregg Lewis:
I think you and I have talked about this before, but we’re partnering with the Habitat for Humanity of Butte County, that services that Chico, California and Paradise, California market. And we’re going to build three concrete homes in Paradise. And obviously, Paradise has been affected by wildfires in a devastating… A couple of fires back in 2018 and even more recently. And so it’s a consideration there obviously as well. And so seeing this as an alternative, a cost-effective alternative and talking about things like insurance costs as well, not to mention the safety of your families there in Colorado, but all of Habitat’s families that are going to move into a new home ,safety obviously has to be first and foremost.

And so the families, and you mentioned this briefly, but I want to talk a little bit more about this, the families themselves. Through the Habitat program, they have to work and invest a good deal of their time on the construction of their own homes. And this approach has been a success, I think, in terms of getting the cost of these homes to be more affordable for the families that are going to ultimately buy them. But the process of building is new to many of these families too. And I’m wondering how your families and the other volunteers are taken to the process of building with concrete and ICFs.

Keith Meier:
We did an interesting thing when we first started the project. We have a building here in town that’s an old gymnasium that we renovated into what we call a cultural center. And we actually got our home owners and other people that are volunteering for Habitat and we took a whole bunch of block over to our cultural center. And we did a day-long training session where we actually laid out their house on the floor of the cultural center, and we cut the block and everything. And we obviously numbered the blocks, we disassembled it, but we actually built a full-scale model of the first few courses of their home on the floor inside the cultural center.

We just happened to be having a major snowstorm at the time too, which was very nice to be indoors. But yeah, we went through an entire day-long process of explaining how the whole construction methods and mythology and works with the ICF and concrete, how we do all the connections and the corners and the bracing and the reinforcing. And we just went through the whole thing in one day. And then we hit the site a couple of weeks later once the floorings were poured in, we were off and running. They really picked it up fast. If you think about it, if you’ve ever played with Legos, and I don’t know anybody here that’s never played with Lego, you can understand this method pretty quickly. It really is as simple as stacking Legos.

And the homeowners really bought into it. And then when we explained to them not only the sound quality and the fire resistant quality, the sustainability, the strength and all that, they really bought into the idea and the program, and the excitement has just been overwhelming really with, not only the homeowners, but even though some of our volunteer organizations in the community and stuff like that. So it’s been a very fun process already. We’re getting ready to stack the second level of the first duplex next week and top off. Somewhere around in two weeks or something like that, we’ll have our first structure up to the bottom of the trusses.

Gregg Lewis:
It’s fantastic. I’m hoping that at some point here, I’m going to get a chance to come out and see the work and maybe get my hands dirty a little bit. I’d look forward to that opportunity. You and I and your team talked a while ago about other ways that we could potentially make that construction move more seamlessly. And Helix Steel has a product that you’re also using, I believe, in these houses. Can you tell us a little bit about how that is working for you?

Keith Meier:
Yeah. It was my first exposure to Helix also, and I think it’s a fairly new product. I don’t even know how we found out about it. I don’t know if it was Martin Marietta or your association informed us about it, but we struck up a conversation with Helix Corporation and they got on board very quickly, gave us some really good pricing and they couldn’t donate because apparently, I think they’re a fairly small company at this point, but they gave us pricing that was better than what we were even getting on rebar at better reduced cost. So the beauty of helix is that we’re not handling nearly as much rebar as we normally would. And rebar with volunteers, it can be a little bit scary at times and hard to deal with and heavy and stuff like that. So the helix I’m really impressed with that.

We bought enough helix for the first couple of buildings and we just take it down to the ready-mix company and they throw it in the truck and come up and pour it. And we’re handing a lot less rebar. And obviously, the safety goes up when you’re doing that because that’s one of those items that can be a little bit difficult to handle at times.

Gregg Lewis:
For the families that you have involved there that participate in the build projects for Habitat for Humanity and on your projects in particular, in this case, the ease of construction obviously is critically important. And I know that you all made a decision as a team to incorporate helix into the build as well. Helix steel is a steel micro rebar, reinforcing fiber. I’m curious about how the use of that has helped your construction process.

Keith Meier:
It’s done a couple of things for us. First of all, it’s a very unique product and it’s really been very interesting to me, I’ve never used it before myself in any of my projects. The helix reinforcing did a couple of things. One, it eliminated a lot of rebar and handling of rebar throughout the construction of the block assemblies and stuff like that, which can be a safety issue sometimes handling rebar, bending rebar, [inaudible 00:17:47] it’s heavy and stuff like that. And using non-skilled labors, that’s one of the items that we particularly pay attention to them when we are handling rebar. So the helix not only has made a much safer job site because you’re actually just mixing and reinforcing into the concrete, it’s eliminated even some of the time involved in getting to the next pour, because now we’re really just stacking a lot of block and put in minimal rebar, and then most of the reinforcing is coming when we do the pour. So it’s not only helped with the safety, but it’s also helped with the schedule.

Gregg Lewis:
The safety piece of it obviously is critical. The construction industry in general pays a lot of attention to job site safety, to keep their people safe, and Habitat is no exception. Obviously, you have very rigorous safety protocols, I’m curious though, from your perspective and on this build, maybe as an ICF build, which is different from what you’ve done and most other Habitat affiliates have done, how that informs or ultimately affects the job site safety for the volunteers and others that are out there working with it?

Keith Meier:
Number one, ICF itself is a very lightweight material. It’s very easy to handle and manipulate and lift, it weights practically nothing. So even when you’re working overhead, you’re not lifting up heavy objects and stuff like that to build the walls, or you’re not building walls where you have to lift the walls from the floor platform once you got them framed. It eliminates a lot of lifting and the heavy lift. So that increases the safety and just makes it much easier even for unskilled laborers, which we have a lot of with our volunteers. It’s a much easier product, not only to handle, but to assemble and to put together and create and build a wall. And you see a lot of progress very fast.

So that’s another thing, the volunteers like seeing progress when they’re doing the work. And so it’s been, I think this is one of the smartest things we did when ICF was just back when we were a volunteer organization, and it’s really increased not only the safety, but it’s also increased our ability to erect the structures much more quickly with volunteers.

Gregg Lewis:
Yeah. We’re hoping to actually in Paradise, I’m glad you mentioned that speed of construction, I don’t think I had it on the list of things I wanted to talk to you about, but the speed of construction, we’re hoping in Paradise, we’re actually going to build the exterior walls of three houses simultaneously in a week’s time. They’re smaller than the ones you’re doing, obviously they’re single story, no basement, but we think that we can achieve that. And so the ICFs are doing multiple things for them as they are obviously for you. The other question that I had for you here, and you talked about training a little bit, and I’d like to just talk about it a little bit more, obviously, to get this right, you need to make sure the folks you’re going to have on that job site are at least a little bit up to date on how to build with ICFs even if they’ve had wood-frame experience in the past.

And so you did the training, you talked about laying out that first couple of courses of block for the actual house as it’s currently designed. Was there anything about that training as you went into it from your own vantage point that you found to be surprising?

Keith Meier:
Well, yeah, there was several things. One, it was not only the ease of how fast they were able to pick it up and understand it and learn it, but there’s other people in our community asked to be part of that training too that weren’t even involved in our project because the word’s getting out of what we were doing. And the block’s actually been on site for several weeks now, because we pre-ordered the first house and people saw the block out there. And then when they heard about not only our training, but the project starting there, we had people come to us and ask if they could even participate in the training because they were thinking about doing their homes out of this stuff.

And a lot of people don’t have the tools even to build stick-built, but when you can stack Legos, you can stack blocks. So it was an interesting training day because we had even more people than just our Habitat family involved, and we filmed it so we could create our own training videos moving forward with our future home buyers as they come on board. And it was just really good day for us to really get people to understand not only a different method of construction, but just how easy and quick and everything about it, that schedule and safety and everything else. So it was a really good day for us.

Gregg Lewis:
That’s fantastic. The timing of all of this, frankly, I don’t know how you do this. I think you told me the other day that the community is up at like 8,000 feet, and so you’ve had a couple of snow storms, the front end of this process, which I’m not sure how you all deal with that up there, but every Habitat affiliate has some a unique local condition that they’ve got to deal with. Yours happens to be weather and wind and those kinds of things in terms of late spring, snow storms, what are some of the other conditions though you have to deal with when you’re building in the mountains of Southern Colorado?

Keith Meier:
Well, obviously the mountain’s green, our own weather, a lot of times. Part of what you just said was the day we poured our first lift of the crawlspace up past the first floor, we had the fourth largest snow storm in Colorado history. I think we got 37 inches overnight, but we’d already poured the day before. And the beauty of ICF is it creates its own installation. And we did cover the tops of the walls with some blankets and stuff. So it really didn’t slow us down other than we had to shovel a lot of snow the next couple of days. And then last night, we got another four inches zone, we poured two days ago. So it’s interesting how ICF is actually in a lot of respects during the winter, easier for us to deal with because we’re not having to insulate and heat or do a stuff like that, even when we’re pouring concrete.

And as far as other weather, we do get a lot of afternoon thunderstorms build up in the mountains and then go out across the plains and we’re on the Western or the Eastern slope of the mountains here. So we get winds, we get a lot of hail, we’re second only to Florida I think with hail and stuff like that. So we’re constantly dealing with weather, but it’s been an interesting process to me working with ICF that it’s actually been probably easier than dealing with some of the other types of construction. I remember I built custom homes, I spent a lot of time shoveling snow just so we can start framing again by mid-day. And with this stuff, it’s not even like I said, we can pour and not worry about the snow because it’s self-insulate.

Gregg Lewis:
Yeah. It was explained to me at one point, I can’t remember who told me this, but at the ICFs, I think it was one of our concrete folks that mentioned this to me, that an ICF wall is an ideal curing environment for already mixed concrete products. And they’re using it in Canada and other places even further north where they’re able to do this in the winter, in some cases, regardless of the temperature. So just another advantage. I was talking to one of our members the other day who’s partnering with you on this project up there, and they were saying that getting the products up the mountain can be a challenge. Obviously, if you got a 37 inch snow storm, it’s going to be particularly challenging, but just getting up into the mountains is going to be a challenge regardless.

And you’ve set a goal for the construction of these homes to achieve environmental standards. And one of the biggest impacts, carbon impacts of construction materials is the transportation of those products. And so if you’re trying to drive an environmental performance on these projects, obviously local materials are going to make that easier, but from your vantage point, going for a lead platinum certification, how has the local nature of concrete played into your own approach on this project as it relates to sustainability?

Keith Meier:
We are a little bit fortunate that we are a rule affiliate, but we’re only 20, 30 miles from a major metropolitan city. So we have several concrete vendors located in Colorado Springs that we can partner with and stuff like that. Now, we are over 2,000 feet higher than Colorado Springs, so when they drive those trucks up that hill, it’s a pretty slow pole. So they burn a little bit of diesel coming up hill when they’re full of concrete, but we’re close enough that we do have access to really good supply and vendors of concrete and stuff. It block itself, waste nothing, you can put that into any trailer or pickup or anything and bring it up. It’s so lightweight. That’s not an issue.

And we’re lucky to have an extrusion plant in Colorado Springs that actually makes a block. And they make a lot of block for different vendors. Our partner Fox Blocks, a lot of their block is made right here in Colorado Springs. So when you’re starting to go for lead platinum or evenly gold or any type of lead certification, one of the big criteria is local sourcing of materials. And then we’re working diligently on that. The other thing about using ICF and concrete, you have a little waste, where with lumber construction, you always got all your cuts and all your lumber cuts, you apply with cuts and all that stuff, you’ve got a lot more waste to deal with.

And we’re finding with the ICF, you can pretty much almost order exactly what you need other than a few cuts here and there around windows, the waste is minimal, and obviously, we’re not having any concrete waste because you pour everything you got into the walls. So that’s been another real big benefit, not only to local sourcing, but we’ve really eliminated a lot of waste. I don’t think we’ve even had the first dumpster hauled off yet. And we’ve got a pretty big recycling program going on with all our material too, recycling everything from cardboard to plastic, to everything.

And in fact, because we’re so close to our manufacturer of the foam block, they’re actually taking the styrofoam that we are cutting off, they’re reusing it. So that’s another really big benefit, especially for rural or small area, you eliminate a lot of waste.

Gregg Lewis:
Yeah. It’s interesting people think of here and they express some concern about the product, but it is 100% recyclable. And I think in your instance, obviously having that facility that’s producing the block so nearby, it’s going to make it much easier for that to supply chain to be circular, to take whatever waste there is, and it is minimal and put it right back into new product. So I think from a sustainability standpoint, obviously, Colorado is one of the leading states, I believe, around the country on sustainability issues anyway, but to be able to have that closed loop of that product is, I think, another benefit overall to using ICFs free all there in Teller.

We talked about the families that are going to live in these homes and own these homes, ultimately are going to have a number of benefits, I think, to their own quality of life as it relates to the fact that these are built with ICFs. And one of those things, things like improved air quality, reduced noise, they’re very quiet homes to live in. Those things don’t typically enter into a design process for an architect, at least that’s been my experience. And when you’re selecting construction materials, how was your decision and did your decision ultimately to use concrete and ICFs tied to those kinds of impacts on your families?

Keith Meier:
Absolutely. The first and foremost, these are duplexes. So we have two units tied together with a common wall, and sometimes the common walls can be very difficult to have sound isolation or separation between you and us, but with concrete and ICF, you’ve got built-in sound barriers, and you got a mask there that deadens the sound. It was a very easy decision for two reasons for the common walls, not only to get the sound deadening, but we get the fireproofing separation between units. So that’s a huge benefit going with ICF and concrete. The other part of it is when we started looking at ICF, we realized very quickly the energy savings and quality of this type of construction to not only the installation, but thermal mass.

And we went down the route of why not make these houses as near net-zero energy as possible. And so we designed our homes not only to be highly insulative and stuff like that, but we designed our roofs that every unit could be adapted to solar. And our mechanical systems, our boiler systems with in-floor heat, and just a couple of changes to some controllers and stuff, and the homeowner can put solar panels on the roof. And now they have a not only highly energy efficient home, but they could have a solar home that in some respects, in some cases, they may get a check from the utility company versus having to pay utility bill.

So we fell into that whole energy stuff after deciding that we’re to go ICF from more of a cost attraction methodology decision, when we’re realized just the level of energy efficiencies, and what we were going to gain, we went to the next level of that. And we’re actually getting not only at least legal, but we’re only a few points away from leap platinum on these, which I’m not sure if any Habitats ever built a lead platinum structure, but we’re also getting five other certifications that are related to energy savings. So we’ll have a total of five certifications related and our lead certification on these structures, which to me as an architect, a year ago, even I wouldn’t have thought possible and still keep it affordable and attainable now.

So from the sustainability and attainability aspect to provide homeowners with highly energy efficient structures that are going to have very low utility bills. And the cost of housing, a big chunk of it is obviously the cost of the house itself, but the next one is utility costs. And if we can eliminate utility costs for a lot of our homeowners or rightly reduce them, that just frees up more of their income for food and clothes and other things, is just the right thing to do, I don’t know how else better to phrase it, but this whole ICF decision is really just mushroom into a lot more than just a way to build houses.

Gregg Lewis:
Yeah, I get that. I think the more people that once they’ve had a chance to use ICF, I think they start to learn that there are a whole host of other benefits that they maybe didn’t understand would be factoring into the process, and the local nature of the production, having the production facility for those blocks so close by that Fox Blocks is supplying is obviously also advantageous. Part of the deal here, I think I talked about the local nature of sustainability, the more of these products that are coming out of the local community, the better ultimately the money stays in your community, supports local jobs in the local economy is likely to benefit from that as well.

In the concrete industry, one of the things that I’ve learned since I’ve been in the ready-mix industry through the NRMCA is that the concrete industry, I think, as a whole takes their responsibility very seriously as it relates to community service and community reinvestment, a lot of great work being done around the country, not just with Habitat for Humanity by members of NRMCA and others, but ultimately, that idea of a local community and supporting a local community is critically important to the producer members, it’s obviously a huge component of what you all do at Habitat for Humanity as well.

I was talking to somebody the other day, I said, “Virtually, every Habitat for Humanity house that’s ever been built is sitting on a concrete foundation that a local concrete ready-mix producer has provided the concrete for.” And in a lot of cases, I think in years past that material is being either donated or provided at a very low cost for the Habitat affiliate to help them with their budgeting. And I think that obviously some of that plays into your ability to make the numbers work on your projects there, but I’m curious about how you viewed your own experience at this point, and working with the concrete industry overall, and if there’s been anything about that surprised you as a long time architect and builder?

Keith Meier:
Yeah. I started out in high school building foundations and pouring concrete back in the day when you used big plywood forms and oil and stuff like that, and I guarantee, that was a motivator for me to go to college and get a college degree building with that back in the day. And back then, I would never guessed I would be right back in the middle of building stuff out of concrete, back in Woodstock, Kansas, where it was 100 degrees every day and stuff like that. So to get back to this point in my journey, I guess, building entire structures out of concrete, it’s been full circle for me.

And working with the local vendors and the local concrete company is like Martin Marietta and Action Ready Mix and others, and just their overall excitement and buy-in on what we’re trying to do, not only as Habitat, but just building affordable, attainable structures, that allows raise great grandkids. You’re going to be around here a lot longer than the rest of us. And in the past, a lot of people built a lot of inexpensive homes that were cheaply built and we’re building affordable homes that are quality built and highly sustainable. And the concrete companies and the ICF suppliers and manufacturers, and then even the rebar and helix and stuff like that, just the overall buy-in, it’s just been very rewarding for me as an architect and a builder, just to see the industry coming together for a common cause.

And you realize a few years ago when I started that other non-profit to build tax credit projects, that there’s programs for homeless and there’s programs for low income, but then there’s people that can afford a house, but there’s a whole demographic in the middle that doesn’t qualify for any of those programs, but they never get enough down payment or whatever to actually own a home, and are typically our teachers and our nurses and everybody else. So it’s the missing middle is what they call it.

And to actually come up with a solution to start to peel away that issue of providing housing in our community for our teachers and our policemen, our firemen, our small business owners, even our senior citizens on fixed income to get concrete vendors and all the other manufacturers and suppliers excited about what we’re doing and trying to do and get involved and really partnering with us has been one, actually has been more rewarding than building a large custom home in the Broadmoor.

Yeah, it was a lot of fun, but part of it has been a much greater building for people like the policemen and firemen and nurses and everybody else. And for everybody to get involved in that program, it’s been a joy.

Gregg Lewis:
I’m glad you mentioned that. I think the way that you frame that affordability question and housing issues as it relates to the affordable market, but also workforce housing for folks that are working in a community but in too many cases across the country aren’t able to live in the community where they work, it’s one of the things that has appealed to me about the work that Habitat does for a very long time. And it’s great to hear you talk about it, obviously as a Habitat affiliate executive director, you see it every single day.

And I know our folks at NRMCA and at the Colorado Ready Mixed Concrete Association are delighted to have a chance to work with you on this, in whatever variety of ways we’ve been doing so far and look forward to continuing to do that. We’re looking forward to following the progress. Obviously, as I mentioned, I’d love to come out there at some point and get involved on the site if things work out for that to happen. And I’m curious, what are the things that are coming up in this schedule for you that you’re starting to get excited about?

Keith Meier:
Well, first of all, we’re only a week or two away from topping off the first duplex, and they’re two stories. So with the crawlspace into the stories and our walls are about 24 speed power sensor, they stand out a little bit. So the next couple of weeks, we’re going to see us topping out our first structure and to actually beginning our second structure. And we did get contacted by Colorado Ready Mixed Concrete Association and ICF people. And they’re going to do a Builder Blitz Day with us on our second building on June 7th, where they’re going to attempt to build an entire level in one day and poured.

So that’s going to be interesting to see if we can pull that off, where we completely build the entire level of walls, put all the window openings and door openings in and everything else then put concrete before the day’s over. So I’m really excited to see how that goes. If we can build entire levels of one day, we can start building a lot of houses.

Gregg Lewis:
Absolutely. I know, it’s cool. You guys are doing a little drone videography up there as well. And so some of that will be available and I’m sure will continue to be available on social media. We’ll be on the lookout for that, Habitat for Humanity, Teller County. I believe you all have a Facebook page that they could go to see some of that?

Keith Meier:
We got to rebuilding our website and our Facebook and our Instagram page, and are up and running now. And we’re starting to post some of those videos and some of the time-lapse photography we’re doing. We have an onsite camera that could do supine lapse also, and we’re flying a drone every time we have a day where we’re doing something substantial. And we’ll be posting all those videos and obviously, we’ll make any, and all of that available to your association for your use also with this partnership we’ve got going on with you guys. We’re creating a lot of material for video and with photography, and we’re doing some additional press releases and news articles and stuff like that on it too.

When we first started this process and this idea, I thought we’d get some local attention and maybe a little bit of regional, but I never thought it would get to the level that it’s gotten. And then I’m glad to be part of that. And I really hope it opens up the eyes of a lot of people across the country of what’s possible and what the benefits are for what we’re doing, but also what ICF and concrete and some of this other stuff that we’re doing to provide, it’s exciting. Like I said, I’ve been an architect for 37 years and I’m getting probably more satisfaction out of this than I did in some of the other stuff I did.

Gregg Lewis:
I’m not surprised to hear that. It’s fun to hear you talk about it. You’re obviously very passionate about it and getting a real kick out of working on those projects. And you said, you hope at some point, you have an impact on some other folks in the way that they’re doing their work. And I think that it already has. So again, I tip my hat to you for your leadership and your vision on taking this on the way that you have. And I suspect that the rewards not only to the families, but to the whole community there will be significant. What I’ve done during last season’s podcast episodes has given the guests an opportunity to just talk a little bit about what they would like to make sure that listeners get for a takeaway.

What’s the key message that you’d like to share with the listeners? We’ve got listeners who are architects, contractors, concrete producers, and folks in all parts of the industry, building and design communities, what’s the takeaway for them do you think?

Keith Meier:
Well, first and foremost, Gregg, is that we can build high quality, sustainable structures that are attainable to, like I say, our workforce or average income earners. And we don’t have to build cheap housing and stuff like that to accomplish that. But the first takeaway is just redefine the problem, redefine the issues, not only from affordability, but sustainability, energy use, and for us, the obvious solution became ICF. And it’s really working out very well for us. And I hope some of the stuff that we’re doing, like I say, is something that could be learned from, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel once you really developed a concept.

And I guess my number one thing is I just really hope this has a much bigger impact on the industry and portable housing and easibility of construction, but also high quality and energy efficiencies and stuff like that. So that would be my number one, hope that gets taken away from this is that we can build highly energy efficient, very high quality homes for our hardworking people out there in our communities. It’s become a really enjoyable and rewarding process, and the level of people and participation that we’re seeing, this has been a lot of fun. And I think we are making an impact not only on for our families, but in our community, and redefining the problem and the solutions.

And there’s new ways of doing things and better ways of doing things. And in the end, you have homes that’ll last forever and cost very little to maintain and will be highly energy efficient and reduce the utility costs, and who doesn’t want that? I don’t care who you are. It’s as good for not only us, but the community and the environment. And there’s no downside to this that I’ve found so far. It’s been interesting how usually there’s, like we talk about stick building and the waste and some of the other downsides of that and a heavy lift and everything else, I haven’t seen that much downside of this from a Habitat standpoint and going this route and all the benefits that we’re getting out of the end.

Gregg Lewis:
It’s eye opening. I appreciate your sharing that as a closing message. And I want to thank you most importantly for taking time out. I know you’re probably anxious to get back out there and make sure everything’s going okay on the site, but I appreciate, we all appreciate your taking time out to join us today. Thank you, Keith.

Keith Meier:
Well, I really appreciate your National Ready Mixed Concrete Association and Colorado Ready Mixed and everything. You’re getting involved and really buying into what our concepts and our goals are. And becoming a very key partner in us achieving those goals. And Gregg, I can’t thank you guys enough for all of that. So you really helped, pushed the project along, but opened our eyes to other partnerships and other opportunities too, with related industries and stuff like that. And then once people find out about what we’re doing, even other industries are saying, we want to be part of that project. So it’s really mushroomed into a really fun and unique solution to affordable housing for us.

Gregg Lewis:
Awesome. Well, we’ll be in touch obviously, look forward to seeing some of that drone footage on your website and your Facebook page, and keeping tabs on it, and I look forward to continuing our partnership with not only you, but the other Habitat affiliates around the country and Habitat for Humanity International. We’d also like to take this opportunity to thank our Concrete Credentials Podcast listeners, that’s you. Please remember to subscribe to Concrete Credentials, which is available wherever you get your podcasts. We also strongly encourage your participation in this important conversation.

Please reach out to us with your thoughts and feedback, as well as your suggestions for future content. You can do that by emailing concretecredentials@nrmca.org. Thanks very much. And we’ll see you in a couple of weeks.