Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Creating Greater Efficiency in Off-site Construction

Contributed By Heather Wallace

The emergence of many of the energy efficiency programs in the 80’s and 90’s were a direct result of the energy crisis in the 70’s. Policymakers in Washington were motivated by a new level of environmentalism as efforts were made to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels.

A specific challenge drove the industry to work towards solutions.

And even with the strides that have been made in the energy efficiency sector, it still remains far from perfect. But progress should be about solid, incremental changes, and constantly pushing the bar higher.

The most dire challenge currently facing the U.S. (and other countries around the world) is housing affordability. Both in our inability to create it fast enough, and the inability to create it at an attainable cost for average income earners. Alarming, over 11 million Americans pay more than half their salaries for monthly rent.1 This is an increase of more than 30% over the last five years.2

When you have a monthly housing budget that comes with an inconsistent energy bill, it can be unnerving. Applying practical, energy efficiency standards helps make housing more attainable, but alone, isn’t enough to deal with the affordability growing gap.

Off-site construction methods (volumetric, panelized, etc.) has increasingly come into sharper focus as a viable solution for the housing attainability crisis. But with that, we need to take what we’ve learned over the last 40 years in the energy efficiency sector and figure out how to utilize factory methods to make off-site constructed housing as efficient as possible. And we need not stop at energy efficiency. With factory methods, we have an opportunity to utilize technology, and its data, in a way that has never been done before. For the foreseeable future, builders will be looking at HOW they build (off-site) relative to WHAT we build (energy efficient and sustainable products). Off-site construction affords an opportunity to rethink energy efficiency.

The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) recently announced a 3-year project where they will be partnering with Factory OS (Mare Island, CA), Vaughan Buckley Construction (Philadelphia, PA), and Full Stack Modular (New York) to look at how to maximize energy efficiency in the factory process.

“As the emerging off-site modular sector continues to expand, we are seeking to embed energy efficiency and grid-interactive building concepts into the factory design, construction and assembly process,” says Shanti Pless, Senior Research Engineer at NREL. “We see a big opportunity to meet the challenges of affordability and low energy costs in the multifamily sector through the integration of high performance building strategies into the advanced building manufacturing industry.”

In addition to partner-factories, the project is also forming an Advisory Board whose purpose will be to provide guidance and technical support for the project as well insight and support for the development of modular industrialization standards that will be shared with other industry players. Members of the Advisory Board will include players from technology integration, data/software, systems, building envelope, site assembly, automation/advanced manufacturing, codes, and standards.

If you’re interested in learning more about the project or the Advisory Board, contact heather@brandhmarketing.com or colby@miginnovation.com.

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