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Monday, November 6, 2017

Hot Trends: Outdoor Fire Pits

There might not be anything more popular in outdoor construction than a fire pit or outdoor fireplace.  And why not? Who doesn’t love a fire on a cool evening? The crackle and smell of a wood burning fire can ease the stress of a long work week, or serve as the background for the neighborhood block party.  Fire pits and outdoor fireplaces can be functional too. With the right design they can serve as additional seating area for your guests or be used for cooking if equipped with a metal grate on top. Even if not, toasted marshmallows, smores, and hot dogs are always fan favorites when cooked over an open fire.

As with any other design element, there are literally hundreds of design and material choices for your outdoor fire place. Some of the popular choices are small metal bowls, circular rings and chimeneas, which you can likely find in your local hardware shop. A more permanent option is a fire pit dug into the ground and lined with brick or stone. You can also build a permanent fixture extending up off the ground that can provide that seating area, cooking surface, or beautiful focal point to your outdoor space.

There’s also the question of what fuel to use. Wood burning offers a simple design and may be the most sentimental, but it requires a good bit more work for homeowners. There’s also more maintenance with a wood fire, as you’ll have to make sure the ashes are cleaned out periodically.  Gas fire pits and fireplaces are much less maintenance. There is less cleaning, no wood storage, and they can be safer than wood fires.  Although they offer an instant fire rather than relying on your fire building skills, gas fires offer less heat than wood burning fires and they are more expensive to install. While maybe not as sentimental as a real wood fire, gas fires can serve as a very nice compromise for many people.

Safety should always be considered when designing an outdoor fire pit or fireplace.  While portable metal basins are easy to obtain and install, a permanent structure is a safer alternative.  Typical brick or cinder blocks are not recommended because they don’t stand up to high heat and could expand, crack, pop, or explode. Firebrick and mortar should always be used because they are designed to withstand heat over long periods of time.  Spacing around and above outdoor fire pits should be considered as well.  Low hanging limbs and other obstacles can be a serious fire hazard. Local ordinances may also dictate how close to a neighbor’s property, as well as your own structure, an outdoor fire can be.

Since the design choices for fire pits and outdoor fireplaces are numerous and there’s also building materials, specifications, and safety aspects to consider as well as permits, regulations, and local ordinances, letting a professional like Inselmini Construction Company take care of all of these details can be the best way to tackle your outdoor fireplace project.  Inselmini Construction Company can match or complement existing construction, as well as build in additional fixtures that might complete your backyard oasis. Maybe some accent lighting would add a little more ambiance or functionality. Perhaps adding an outdoor kitchen to the area will enhance the outdoor entertaining experience.  By letting us help you make these decisions and design your perfect outdoor space, you’re not only ensuring that your fire pit or outdoor fireplace will last and be safe, you’re also going to maximize your enjoyment of the space.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Where Have the Skilled Craftsmen Gone?

Summer is just a few months away, and that typically means a busy season for construction in the USA, especially here in the East. However, there is a systematic problem brewing that could change that cycle for construction companies across the country. Job openings in the construction industry have risen since the housing crash of the early 2000’s.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the construction sector is expected to grow by 13% in the next five years which could create 180,000 new jobs.

Sounds great, right? If the supply of workers could keep up with the demand of the business, yes, it would be one of the strongest business sectors in the country. However, that’s not what the construction sector is currently experiencing.  The labor market is shrinking and the demand is growing.  That’s important because estimates suggest that by 2020, 70% of jobs will be in the trades, while 30% will require a college degree.

Vocational and technical educations have been on a decline for a number of years with students more focused on college programs.  Compounding the issue, funding for educational programs has not risen to keep pace with inflation.  During the recent recession, laid-off workers began exploring different career paths.  Baby boomers (which made up a significant part of the skilled construction workforce) are retiring faster than young workers can replace them.  This shortage of skilled labor in the construction trades is creating a significant impact on consumers in the form of longer construction times and increased costs to build.

So what can be done to improve the existing shortage? Our thoughts on education need to change.  Emphasis needs to be re-focused on vocational and technical programs.  Employers who are eager to find students with the basic skills needed to enter the workforce, must continue to develop relationships with schools and programs that recruit students into the trades.  Let’s bring shop teachers and mechanical drafting teachers back into the high schools to engage students.  Guidance counselors should make both parents and students aware of the potential career path for all workers in the trades.  Carpenters, electricians, plumbers, and welders can earn up to $75,000 a year, often with significantly less debt than college and advanced degree programs.  Unions can ensure apprenticeship programs are back up and running at full capacity.  Career counseling in high school can become more tuned into the needs of the construction industry and find students who want to work with their hands.

The solutions will take time.  Meanwhile, construction businesses all over will feel the impact of higher demand than what they can keep up with. This means you might just have to wait a bit longer to get a quality contractor for your next project.