Wednesday, August 30, 2017

King Housing is Dead Long Live King Housing

A recent article on treehugger titled It's time to change the way we talk about prefab tells us about the wonderful changes coming to housing by showcasing the Deep Performance Dwelling being built for the Solar Decathlon China 2018.

Scott Hedges, of Bygghouse -- “a building technology company focused on commercializing Scandinavian approaches to energy performance in buildings” explains that housing is going through a unique change led by more automated and energy efficient panelized systems that have been used in Sweden for years.


King Housing in the US has had a wonderful ride but there is a new King on the horizon trying to take over. That new King may find it harder to dethrone the old King for a variety of reasons though.

Putting the benefits of energy savings and better wall, floor and roof systems aside for a moment, let’s look at what old King Housing has put in place over the past 80 years.

First there were site builders that ordered sticks, steel and glass from the lumber yard. These builders have transformed themselves into today’s builder by using prefab windows, doors and other components. Sounds like a great way to build a house but there is an ugly reality to this segment. Most of these ‘site’ builders are either reaching retirement, went out of business during the housing recession or died and there is nobody stepping up to fill the gap. Ouch!

We also have manufactured housing that started out building cheaply made mobile homes and sold them by the hundred of thousands every year. Today’s manufactured homes are built better than ever using many of the same energy saving systems installed that other homes and all built to a tougher HUD code. However their output has dropped to the tens of thousands a year recently.

In the 60’s and 70’s a new type of home emerged from those manufactured housing people called modular. These homes are built to the even tougher IRC standards and today are equal or better than most site built homes. Their numbers declined during the housing recession with many factories closing their doors.

However we are seeing the number of IRC modular homes once again rising and if things continue as they currently are, modular will become an even more acceptable way to build a home.

All the rest of ways to build a home such as log, concrete, 3D printing, etc currently represent a very small % of new homes in the US.

Where the old King is strongest is in the world of tract building. Large conglomerates with massive amounts of land and money building single family and multifamily housing dominate the US housing market.

I live at the outer reaches, 70+ miles, of DC and Baltimore and tract builders are putting in developments faster than ever as my area is rapidly becoming an affordable bedroom community for these cities.

And guess what these tract builders use to build their homes? Prebuilt 2 x 6 bare studded panelized walls and roof trusses. The tract builders are building homes so fast that their cost to produce houses is low simply because they build a couple of hundred within a small tract of land and then move on to another.

The New King is trying hard to introduce his new composite building systems to the US but can the manufactured housing and the tract builder afford to use them?

The new guy is also facing another problem shared by the old King. A labor shortage that will spell trouble for all types of home building for years to come.

Yes Scott and treehugger, like you I am anxious to see these new systems put into play in the US. The sooner the better.

At least for the foreseeable future however, the King will fight tooth and nail to hang onto his throne while the new King builds his army of new ideas and construction methods and hopefully a lot of new modern factories.

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