The Herald, Sharon, PA Published Sunday, Feb. 11, 2001
outlook 2001

MERCER COUNTY

PLS builds on the basics

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

PLS Buildersí name refers to the construction terms plumb, level and square, and technology hasnít changed those standards.

Nor has it changed the basic building philosophy of John Gump, PLSí owner.

"Fundamentally, platform framing, which was developed after the war as a way of building rapidly, hasnít changed," the Sharon man said.

But technology has changed the materials Gump uses and how he designs houses.

Based in Hermitage, PLS builds custom houses for the move-up market. The houses typically measure 2,200 to 3,200 square feet and cost $150,000 and up.

Gumpís wife, Kim, runs the office, while Gump handles design and construction.

The company is eight years old and has built more then 30 houses, primarily in Mercer County.

Gump has embraced the computer as a tool for design and research.

"What I like to do with the software is sit down with the customer and customize it for him," he said of house plans.

The software can show basic design elements such as where the rafters will be for the roof and how the second floor will sit on the first.

It also displays how the exterior of a room will look in three dimensions and allows customers to see how that would change if a window was moved or they chose a different bathroom fixture.

"The ability to visualize, whether itís the outside of a home or an interior space, that comes with experience," Gump said. "Most people do not possess that ability. Once they can see it they have a greater appreciation of how itís supposed to look."

Gump said it typically takes six meetings with three to four hours each meeting to work out a house design.

"Buy the time I start construction, I know every detail from doing it on a computer," Gump said, praising the dimensional accuracy he can achieve with the computer. "There are no surprises."

Gump also uses his computer to access the Internet and research products.

"I take it to be my responsibility to research the market and find out whatís new, whatís good," he said.

Heís responsible because there might be liability issues should products or materials be used improperly. Engineered lumber, factory-made spans made with glue and under pressure, have allowed greater spans and higher cathedral ceilings, but still have limits.

Customers usually have done some homework on their own.

"As a result, they expect that out of you," he said. "Itís part of my responsibility to have a lot of information about a lot of different products."

Gump said the more the customer knows the better they can come up with a design they like.

"Itís easier to work with somebody who knows what they want," he said.

A wide knowledge of products and materials also helps Gump advise customers on what would or would not work.

For example, heat pumps are usually very good investments, but Gump advises against using geothermal heat pumps unless the house is larger than 3,500 square feet.

"We try to help people spend the money wisely," he said.

Part of that goal is helping people think not only about cost of construction but also the cost of maintenance in choosing products and materials.

"In our market, people arenít as concerned with inexpensive construction as they are about how the money they are investing can get the most performance," he said.

Technology has made "huge" improvements in heating an air conditioning units, with efficiency ratings of 90-95 percent, better than the 50 percent available 15 years ago, he said.

Recreation and lifestyle has become a major concern in home building, much more so than in the past, he said. People want Internet access, dedicated fax lines and computer and home theater capabilities built into their houses.

Gump said itís easier to plan for that during construction, before the walls have been attached.

As the profession becomes more technical, Gump will have to obtain more licenses and certifications to keep up. He noted he is licensed to use powder actuated fasteners, which attach steel to wood, although there isnít much call for that skill.

Gump said it doesnít bother him that he has to spend a lot of time away from construction to research products and materials and learning how to work with new software.

"Iíve always enjoyed tech books," he said. "I enjoy reading the productsí tech info sheets."

The pay off is when construction starts and every detail is already worked out, and customers are more excited than apprehensive about their new homes.

Gump said he understands that people are stressed at the prospect of building and paying for a house.

"We try to make the building process as calm as possible."

PLS has a Web site -- plsbuilders.com -- showing exteriors and interiors of houses it has built and a list of materials and products Gump likes to use.



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