As a quality-focused custom home builder and remodeler, Matt Bowe’s Alair Homes Hunt Country has always sought to innovate. But, as a trend-setter, he observes that, “the construction industry undeniably lags behind all other major production industries when it comes to manufacturing productivity. We as an industry have been very slow to embrace or pursue technological advances that offer more efficient ways to build homes.”
That is, until now. Alair Homes Hunt Country continues to work with its clients to design and build high-quality, high-end, fully custom homes. The difference is that they are identifying significant portions of those homes that can be manufactured offsite and then brought to the site for accelerated assembly. That includes component manufacturing, panelized precast foundation systems, panelized framing packages and volumetric construction, also known as modular.
“With current labor shortages and material supply disruptions, we have been looking to other construction methods to address the shortcomings of site-built construction methods. This led us to look at what parts of the construction process we could outsource to a manufacturing facility to mitigate delays, labor shortages and cost fluctuations. Offsite construction methods are where we are directing our attention. With the right manufacturers, who we thoroughly vet and qualify, we can meet and exceed the results we achieve with on-site stick-built construction while better managing cost, schedule, quality, and structural soundness.”
Think of it this way – the typical way to build a home involves bringing thousands of smaller parts and pieces to a site and assembling them by hand with many different kinds of people. “It's akin to buying all the parts for your car and building it in your driveway, right? It's not that a really good mechanic couldn't do that, but it's hard to find really good mechanics or to get all those parts,” Matt explains. The construction industry is facing two major challenges. One is an unreliable supply chain and the second is a massive shortage of skilled labor. Those trends are not expected to change in the foreseeable future. With most other industries that build something so complex, he adds, “it happens in a controlled environment on a precision factory line that ensures consistency and quality and ergonomic working conditions for the employees. To try to manage all that on-site in the field is much more problematic.”
But don’t think because the processes are performed in a factory that they are anything less than premium construction. It is Alair Homes Hunt Country that establishes and approves the design, the performance requirements, and the specifications for any part of the project that will be manufactured offsite – no different than when they contract to build on-site. Matt says, “offsite construction is factory-built to our approved specifications, transported in the form of individual components, assemblies, panels or modules, and then installed quickly onsite to form a complete home. They are fully customizable just like traditional on-site construction methods and easily match or exceed the luxury amenities, finishes and quality available with on-site construction.”
When speaking specifically about volumetric (modular) homes, as illustrated by our photos, Matt says, “Modular homes readily accommodate high-end finishes, Smart Home Technology, energy-saving appliances, and high-end cabinetry, millwork and trim. These homes allow for any architectural style or layout, giving the homeowner complete control.”
But there are even more benefits. “In addition to the luxury amenities, state-of-the-art construction techniques and quality control measures mean that luxury modular homes can be built faster than traditional construction methods while ensuring top-quality standards.” According to Matt, modular construction, “probably knocks two to three months off our typical schedule. You could receive a home up to 80% finished the day it’s delivered. More often, it’s about half finished but you are at least assured of a less volatile schedule because their production schedules are very tight and reliable, vs. the extended material and labor delays currently experienced with onsite construction. Offsite manufactured components also benefit from strict quality control and eliminate the need for extra materials and personnel on-site, he adds.
After Hurricane Sandy, residential construction in the coastal regions of the Northeast made a massive shift to volumetric construction – partly because it was a faster path to replacing structures destroyed in the storm but also because the components were better engineered. “There’s no denying it. It is a much stronger, rigid, more robust building. It holds up way, way, way better to hurricanes and other wind events,” Matt says.
“My big thing is that we are able to deliver a home that is fundamentally and demonstrably a more structurally sound, more robust house. Now, if we customize it a lot in the field, costs are going to be relatively comparable to stick building except that it'll be built faster, be stronger, and it’s less likely for the project costs to increase during construction because so much of that is locked in when we sign a contract with the manufacturer.... There's typically a 10% deposit to get your spot on the manufacturer’s line and for them to order all the materials and build the house, but you don't pay another dime until it's delivered,” Matt adds. “It’s a great way to give my clients a superior home, in a shorter time frame.”
Matt boils a half dozen advantages of this approach into the following:
1. Cost-Effectiveness: Offsite construction offers an attractive benefit of ensuring a shorter construction schedule and a reduction in costs.
2. Diversity: Offsite construction methods offer total flexibility with regard to architectural design, size, materials and finishes.
3. Speed: Offsite construction is a faster construction process due to the efficiencies of a large-scale manufacturing process and reduced labor time, as well as the superior structural advantages it has over traditional on-site construction methods.
4. Quality: Because construction occurs under-roof in a climate-controlled production facility, using more mechanization and more ergonomic workstations for the tradesmen, offsite construction assures consistently higher quality. Additionally, air-sealing and insulation details are more robust compared with typical on-site construction methods.
5. Sustainable Construction: Improved material allocation, waste reduction, and cost-effectiveness, all give offsite construction greater environmental advantages compared with traditional on-site construction methods.
6. Durability and Quality: Offsite construction produces highly durable and reliable components. The improved quality control in a factory setting allows for a higher standard of quality that can easily exceed site-built construction, particularly with the current dearth of qualified tradespeople.
"State-of-the-art construction techniques and quality control measures mean that luxury modular homes can be built faster than traditional construction methods while ensuring top-quality standards." Matt Bowe