Lifetime Products Inc., which claims to be the world's largest maker of blow molded high density polyethylene folding tables, picnic tables and chairs, is hoping that a visit to its China factory by U.S. Ambassador Jon Huntsman Jr. will help launch a line of mass-produced housing for low-income and disaster-stricken regions.
Lifetime, based in Clearfield, Utah, gave Huntsman a sneak peak at its new EcoHouse, a plastic and steel-framed structure with built-in solar panels for power, during a Jan. 22 tour of its factory in Xiamen, China.
We think this is a good solution for a very large global need, said Lifetime President Richard Hendrickson in a Jan. 25 telephone interview. It's a good solution for low-income areas, [and] any country with remote areas needing good, safe, free-standing housing.
The EcoHouse is a new product line for the company, but builds on expertise in making blow molded plastic and steel sheds, an area where the company has a strong global position, Hendrickson said.
The house comes ready to function, with solar panels to provide electric power, water heaters, areas to collect rain water and a small septic system, he said. The 377-square-foot, four-room structure comes with 12 polycarbonate windows, and can be manually assembled in about 72 hours.
Besides the EcoHouse, Lifetime also is developing a smaller, simpler version for disaster-stricken areas or refugee camps. A few EcoHouses are being used in Mexico now, and the disaster-relief house is in final design, he said.
Hendrickson said it's hard to tell how the products will be received or if they will become a significant part of its business since marketing efforts are just beginning, but the company is hopeful.
The company was approached in early 2009 with the idea by a Mexican organization, EcoReaccion, which specializes in affordable housing. EcoReaccion saw Lifetime's sheds in a Sam's Club store in Mexico, and the two sides worked to develop the idea, Lifetime said.
Plans are under way for a pilot project in the state of Morelos, Mexico.
Lifetime asked Huntsman for help in getting the attention of appropriate charitable groups and government agencies, including the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency, Hendrickson said.
We have a lot of work ahead of us in getting in front of the right people, he said. I have high hopes. There is great need but we're in the initial stage.
He said Huntsman had previously visited Lifetime's headquarters factory in Utah, when Huntsman was governor of that state. Huntsman also is a former executive at plastics maker Huntsman Corp., which was owned by his family.
The new houses will be made at the company's factory in Utah, although a model was shipped to China for the Huntsman visit, Hendrickson said.
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