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Industry Trends5 min

Why does the U.S. lag behind in off-site construction?

What will the tipping point be for homebuilders to enthusiastically embrace off-site construction? When the labor force constricts even tighter and wages rise even more? Will it take more weather woes or neighborhood noise ordinances that further reduce the number of workable daylight hours? The number of progressive homebuilders using off-site construction methods are rising, but the industry in the U.S. as a whole continues to trail behind other countries.

Gerard McCaughey, CEO for Entekra, one of the nation's leading off-site homebuilders, believes the tipping point will be an intolerance for construction waste—wasted time and operational efficiencies. A recent study indicated up to 177 $.5 billion ­in labor costs are attributed to time spent fixing mistakes, looking for project data and managing project changes.

"Off-site construction is about changing the process," said McCaughey. "We look at building houses in the most efficient way using the most modern technology. The process begins with everybody involved coming together-plumbers, HVAC, electricians, roofers, site conditions, architects-to design and plan the house. We use 3D modeling to look at the house from all angles, so we know it's the most efficient plan we can build."

While off-site construction builds components off site, it's often used interchangeably with prefabrication and modular construction. Off-site construction is the process of planning, designing, fabrication and assembly of building elements at a location other than the final homesite-and it offers tremendous benefits to homebuilders that should inspire increase adoption of the practice.

Benefits of off-site construction

Challenges are identified—and solved—early. “We build buildings twice,” said McCaughey. “We build the building once as a full 3D model. And then we build it again on the building site. The benefit is we can work out any kinks on the sophisticated 3D model and it saves tens of thousands of dollars compared to fixing problems onsite.”

While the U.S. lags in the adoption of 3D modeling, European homebuilders have used this technology for the past 25 years. 3D modeling offers tremendous efficiencies in all areas of preconstruction, including design and planning.

Workforce shortages are reduced. “Residential home construction has a workforce crisis,” said McCaughey. “Our system can deliver approximately 500 percent increase in productivity on the worksite in regard to framing.”

Build cycles are shortened. With pre-construction components ready within three days, most homebuilders save up to 10 days on framing. Four men and one crane can put together pre-construction components and have the structure ready for tradespeople in about three days.

Work outputs are better. Rather than fixing errors and squaring corners, the trades spend more time making fewer cuts and doing their best work. Overall, tilers, painters, cabinet makers and countertop installers are able to operate more efficiently.

"Much of our solution uses the 80/20 rule. Most people just see the components installed at the homesite," said McCaughey. "But 80 percent is the process which you can't see, but the homebuilders sure do. The penny is starting to drop. It's hard to get homebuilders to take the first step, but when they do, they see the benefits of off-site construction."

The Entekra website offers videos to help homebuilders gain a better understanding of how off-site construction is faster, safer and more sustainable.

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