Friday, October 20, 2017

England Ready to Build Net Zero 3D Printed Homes

A team in England has created a prototype for a ‘printed’ modular housing system which can be built and be ready to occupy in just three weeks  

Atelio 1.jpg

The Atelio home has been designed in collaboration with emerging south-east London practice SAM Architects, manufacturer Tufeco and the Carbon Free Group. The shell of the house is made from recycled materials and ‘produced in a fast, automated manufacturing process’.

The team claims the dynamic digital control of production from the BIM model means it will take just five hours to ‘print’ the average house and then only four days to erect the shell.

The first mock-up of the highly adaptable zero-carbon housing system was shown off earlier this month at the Build Show for UK Construction Week in Birmingham.

SAM Architects partner Melanie Schubert said the system brought a ‘new concept to the housing market with a modern customisable design for everyone’. She added: ‘The houses and apartments focus on natural daylight with large floor-to-ceiling windows; rooms with dual aspect focused on a connection to nature. Atelio provides houses and apartments which don’t just meet the minimum standards.’

Although single units can be built, the practices believe the system would offer ‘large-scale developments an opportunity to build houses that form a neighbourhood with a distinct identity’.

The practices have worked with Norfolk-based Tufeco, a leading innovator in the manufacture and use of recycled glass structural insulated panels (SIPs).

This new-build system is a great example of British innovation and comprises a simple monolithic form that is both structural and highly thermally efficient. The same panels in Atelio are used for walls, floors and the roof and require minimal labor or specialized equipment to build with.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Maine Habitat for Humanity Chapter Embraces Modular Construction

7 Rivers Maine’s Habitat for Humanity’s first modular home arrived in the city of Topsham, Maine on Oct. 11, the start of a new trend for the group that builds affordable houses.

Transitioning to modular construction is a big change for any Habitat for Humanity chapter and hopefully this first modular home for the Topsham chapter will prove to be a positive example of what modular can do to families get into a new home faster and easier than having to build a house stick by stick at the job site.


Habitat is working with Bath-based Dirigo Custom Structures to build the modular home at 167 Middle St. The modular home was manufactured by Prestige Homes located in New Brunswick, Canada.

The daylight basement and a surface wall were already in place by the time a crane lowered two sections of the modular home into place Oct. 11.

“They popped it on and secured it, and it’s buttoned up,” said a representative of Habitat in an interview Oct. 17. “And now this Saturday we start with volunteers going in to complete the home.”

Along with finishing the basement, they will place siding on the house, build a front porch, and perform other tasks over the next eight weeks.

“We’re hoping to have the homeowner and family in before Christmas, even maybe mid-December, if possible,” Habitat said.

Habitat requires homeowners to invest “sweat equity hours” into the construction process. Although the Bath home is prefabricated, the three-member family has been helping out at Habitat’s ReStore at 126 Main St. in Topsham and will work alongside volunteers at the home site.

The home, including the basement, will have about 1,500 square feet of space.

Habitat expects to see some degree of savings from going the modular route, although how much won’t be certain until the project is complete. However construction time should also be reduced by “a number of months.

Modular homes are also likely to be built next year on two pieces of land on Federal Street in Wiscasset, Smith said. The Bath home is the 45th house built by Habitat/7 Rivers in its 25-year history.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs to Turn 800 Acres of Toronto into an ‘Internet City’

Sidewalk Labs, the smart city subsidiary of Alphabet with the stated goal of “reimagining cities from the Internet up,” now has a very big sandbox in which to conduct its high-tech experiments. The Google spinoff announced they won the deal with the city of Toronto to develop 800 acres of waterfront property into its own digital utopia.


Waterfront Toronto, a city agency tasked with overseeing the development along the shore of Lake Ontario, is teaming up with Sidewalk Labs to create a new venture called Sidewalk Toronto.

The company said it would convene a town hall on November 1st to kick off a year-long community outreach process, in an effort to head off any NIMBY blowback that could result from a project like this. Or as Sidewalk Labs puts it, because “knowing that great neighbourhoods aren’t planned from the top down...”

Modular construction is to play a big part of Waterfront Toronto project. The big question is whether Canadian and/or US modular factories will be getting most of the business or will Toronto give this project to the Chinese mega corporation, China National Building Material Company and Spanish modular specialist Barcelona Housing System like Chicago did for its US Steel waterfront project.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Controversial Modular Home Will Remain, Builder Says

A local builder is celebrating after learning he will not have to remove a modular home in Allendale after all.

On Sept. 19, Curtis Moran put up a 1,387-square-foot three-bedroom modular home at 5367 Crestfield Lane in the Springfields III development.

About a week later, Moran was told by the developer, Merwyn Koster, that the home would have to be removed after complaints by neighbors and other builders.

But on Oct. 16, Moran announced that his negotiations with the developer had proved successful.

"It is going to stay," Moran said. "It is set in stone; everything's signed off."

He did not explain why the developer changed his mind, and said he did not pay any settlement money to Koster. Koster could not be reached for comment.

Paul Seaney, who lives next door at 5353 Crestfield Lane, was unhappy about the news.

"Modular homes decrease surrounding property values and that affects all of us in the development," he said. "This house is all about a huge profit margin for (the builder) at the cost of everyone else."
Seaney, who is an electrical engineer, said he is concerned that the construction and electrical standards of the modular might not be adequate.

According to Allendale Township Zoning Administrator Kirk Scharphorn Jr., the township has no ordinance that restricts modular homes, as long as they conform to the same building standards as traditional homes.

Seaney also objected to the L-shaped design, because he said it pushes the structure back on the property and doesn't match the grading of the surrounding lots.

"I am going to have to probably hire an attorney now because they put the house up on a hill and my property will get all the drainage," he said.

Moran said the home should be completed within 30 days, and he plans to hold an open house after that.

"The proof is in the pudding," Moran said. "I think the neighbors were upset because they didn't understand it ... we want everybody to feel good about it."

Moran, who has built many houses in the area, said the modular was a speculative venture on his part. "If it works out, then we get to do a bunch more," he said. "If we can't sell it, my wife and I are going to sell our house and move there."

Three More Prefab Disruptors to Watch

For more than 2,000 years houses have been built right on the site where the family wanted to live. Sticks, steel and glass delivered first by hands pulling sleds, then moving up to horse pulled carts and finally to the lumber yards delivering materials to the jobsite. It is the only industry that hasn’t significantly changed in over 2 millennium.

Then prefabricated housing became popular with Sears delivering their now famous kit home people bought from the Sears catalog. Both the kits and the catalog have been long gone but prefab got a foothold. This led to the beginnings of both the manufactured and modular housing industry which are still strong and growing today. Well, maybe not so much for manufactured housing but it’s certainly true for modular.

Now other types of prefab construction have started to open the creaky door of housing and begun peeking in. Let me take that back. They’re not peeking in. They are busting down that door and throwing themselves full throttle into the modular and prefab arena.

These are not old guard modular folks adding something new to what they’ve always done. No, these are techies and ‘out of the box’ thinkers wanting to capture market share and prove they are the next great thing to hit housing.

They are the Disruptors!

Here are three more companies that have crashed through that door and have caught the attention of people in the modular and site built housing industry.

Unity Homes

“We have the potential to totally change the paradigm of home building. It’s possible to build HOMES THAT USE NO FOSSIL-FUELS, and are MORE AFFORDABLE. To build homes IN 30 DAYS that are around for 300 years. To build homes that easily EVOLVE AS YOUR LIFE UNFOLDS. We can build homes that do not have the defects that so many new homes do…homes that actually CHANGE THE QUALITY OF YOUR LIFE. And we can do it in a way that is MORE PREDICTABLE and LESS STRESSFUL…FOR ALL OF US.”  Tedd Benson, Founder of Unity Homes.

unity walls.jpg
These completed wall sections are soon going to be shipped to the job site from a Unity Homes factory. These same walls could just as easily be shipped to a modular home ‘Assembly Plant’ and combined with other prefab components.

Oldcastle SurePods

Using BIM and lean manufacturing technology, Oldcastle SurePods™ works with customers from design to installation to produce custom, ready-to-install bathroom pods for hotels, hospitals, military barracks and multi-unit residential projects. Replacing on-site bathroom construction, bathroom pods accelerate the construction timeline, improve overall quality and eliminate the punch list for the bathroom, the most problem-ridden part of a construction project.


View of the Oldcastle SurePod production line building bathroom pods. Soon you will see these types of bathroom built in a factory and shipped complete to a modular assembly plant. It’s coming sooner than you think.

From their website:
The Pacific Northwest understands what we do at Ichijo USA, which is why our expansion to Washington is such a natural fit.  The desire for modern design, art, cutting-edge technology and environmental respect meshes perfectly with our company values and the way we build our homes.  We are excited to now be able to share our years of experience, technology, and craftsmanship with you.

Our technology feels different.  It’s not what you would expect when you hear the words cutting-edge.  We’re not looking to add more touch-screens to your life.  We dig deeper to create homes that embrace form and function with technology at the core.  It’s technology that naturally enhances your home and life.

Since our founding, Ichijo has focused on using natural materials and providing a healthy living environment for our customers.  At many of our communities you can see this in our use of solar energy, in-floor radiant heating and sustainable building practices.  In short, we design our homes for maximum efficiency without sacrificing comfort and livability.

Being one of the largest builders in Japan has its benefits.  With over 100,000 homes built so far we’ve learned if we’re not able to find the exact materials we need, we don’t have to compromise, we make them.  Our cabinets, doors, windows and floor heating panels are all produced in our factories in The Philippines.  This means we control the building process from day one.  These components are all fabricated with care, to an exceptional level of quality, and the entire package is delivered direct to your home site.

Ichijo means “One, or first, road,” and that is how we build.  Our experience with technology and focus on craftsmanship creates sustainable homes that are energy efficient and artfully constructed.  One at a time.  It’s not just the “next thing”, it’s the right thing.


This Japanese housing company has already dipped their toe into the US housing market with their beautiful and technically savvy homes. If they reach their goals for the Northwest, look for them to move quickly to the East Coast where the product they build would also be readily accepted.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A House From Amazon - A Good or Bad Idea?

I came across a recent article touting the amazing house that you can purchase online from Amazon and it’ll only cost you $36,000 (plus about $3,700 for shipping).

The “prefab” home is a new shipping container, and it can be placed on 12-inch concrete sonotube footings or a solid concrete slab. The structure weighs 7,500 pounds according to the description found on Amazon.

This 320 sq ft shipping container “Tiny House” would at first look seem to be an inexpensive way to live off the grid or in your parents back yard. Or maybe on a Walmart parking lot as it would blend in quite well with the Motorhomes and homeless people sleeping in their cars.

Features include:
  • Tiny home—prefabricated from new shipping container. Fully finished.
  • Includes bedroom, shower, toilet, sink, kitchenette, living area.
  • Double patio doors within secure container doors.
  • Bottom sewer connection, easy side water and electrical connection.
  • Includes appliances shown. Fully insulated. Heated & air conditioned.
The home is manufactured by MODS International, a large shipping container modification factory in Appleton, WI who builds some really good looking commercial and residential stuff.

The appeal of a house delivered to your lot in the remote back woods, a tiny house community or even into a city seems like a good idea.

However there is a dark side to this that nobody seems to be talking about. First, in the majority of states, this would be an illegal structure both from a safety and a zoning viewpoint.

Next is getting this shipping container home to your lot. $40K only gets it to your lot. How do you get it off the the carrier and onto your foundation that must have the septic plumbing prepped to receive it. You can’t simply ‘slide’ it off the carrier. You’ll probably need to hire a crane to set it and a have a couple of friends there to help.

Don’t forget the well and septic need installed prior to it’s arrival plus the cost of an access road to your lot and the cost of the foundation. Add building permits, if you can even get one in most states, the cost of having the house stamped and approved for actual occupancy and the cost of the lot and suddenly you hear the continuous “Cha Ching” of the money pit.

These costs can quickly add another $100,000 or more to the cost of your new home. And God forbid that you want to put it into a state that requires a sprinkler system. Another couple thousand and maybe a costly reserve water tank if you are putting it in a rural area which is where most of these will probably go…….Cha Ching!

And what do you have for your $150,000 +/- investment? A glorified chicken coup with secured steel doors and windows? And if you ever decide to move it you will have all those extra costs again.

I can’t believe I’m saying this but maybe you should just look at getting a tiny house on wheels and pay rental for a campsite that has septic, well and electricity already there waiting for you to hook up. A nice THOW should cost you about what this steel coffin/prison cell would but if you get tired of the view you can simply pack up and leave. Or better yet, buy an RV trailer, put a tow hitch on your car and your total investment could be under $30,000.

Good Idea or Bad Idea? I think you know my opinion.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Entekra's Gerard McCaughey on the Value of Modular Construction

Entekra, a wall panel manufacturer that uses automated machinery and CNC to produce great product and also has one of the best marketing programs the construction process industry has ever seen was interviewed by Hanley Wood.

What he says to the modular housing industry is dead on point. Lack of construction labor for site built homes and commercial building is going critical and with low unemployment, why would anyone really want to work outside in weather two to three times longer when they could be working in a modular home factory where weather is not a concern.

Here is Mr McCaughey's video interview. Enjoy.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

What Awaits Tiny Houses in the East Coast States?

On Tuesday, Oct 11, the Modular Home Builders Association held their Annual meeting. Speakers for the event included the State Directors of Industrialized Housing for New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

These are the departments that control homes built in factories and shipped into their states. Without their department's approvals no prefab house can be legally allowed to enter.

Each had about an hour to speak and with the audience being mostly factory owners and GMs along with a lot of modular home builders.  The topic of tiny houses was brought up to MD’s Director.

Some states acknowledged the new modified IRC regulations for Tiny Houses but they have not seen them yet.


What was made very clear to everyone in the room is for a Tiny House to enter their state, especially Maryland, the house cannot be on wheels and must be on a permanent foundation. It must be built in a factory that has had its building process approved by a state recognized third party inspection service with each home’s plans stamped by both the third party inspection service and a PE. The foundation plan has to stamped by an engineer.

The stamped plans are then sent to the Industrialized Housing Department in the state it will be shipped to be reviewed and approved if compliant with the IRC regulations in effect in that particular state. MD for example always uses the latest IRC version while other states take a few years to review it before accepting it. If the modified tiny house IRC regs go into effect for 2018, it could still be years before every state adopts them.
This could also mean that those factories currently building Tiny Houses for permanent residency will have to abide by the same standards and codes as a modular home factory. It might possibly add thousands of dollars to the cost of each home.


Any tiny house sent to Maryland from a factory will be an illegal structure unless it meets all those requirements.

Even if all these conditions are met, very few states in the East even have approved zoning at the community or county level to allow them. In fact there doesn’t seem to be a consensus of what exactly a tiny house is in many states so zoning is being written and revised on almost a daily basis as the definition of what a tiny house is changes.

If a local zoning or planning official finds a tiny house attached to foundation with utilities hooked up in any way, the tiny house owner will probably get a cease and desist order and told to remove it even if it has all the necessary stamped state approvals.

The dream of tiny house communities for many East Coast states could be a long way into the future.

Tiny Houses on Wheels (THOW) might be another can of worms in the East. In the future they may be regulated by RV codes or worse, by HUD codes, which will force them back to be approved by the Director of Industrialized Housing. This could restrict THOW to RV campgrounds and/or Manufactured Home Communities.

It would appear that everyone loves seeing a Tiny House on TV or at a Builder Show but that love doesn’t seem to extend to having one setting next to or near the typical home owner.

For Example: If a new modular home that has met all the requirements and zoning approvals to be built in an R1 neighborhood can be ousted from that community simply because the other homeowners want only stick built homes in their area, what do you think they would do to a Tiny House.

I personally love the idea of downsizing to less than 500 sq ft. However if you are getting serious about building one or having one built in a factory, be sure you do your homework first or it could result in you not being able to live in it.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Where Have All the Shop Classes Gone?

Are we allowing everyone a fair shot at the American Dream if we remove trade programs from schools?

An article by Calvin Trumbo,  August 9, 2016 in the Momentum Innovation Group blog

So what does high school have to do with record housing prices?  

Perhaps your mind wanders to the fact that we currently have more college graduates in America than at any other time in our history. We’ve been told the more educated we are, the higher the income we’ll receive and the more stuff we can buy.  I have told my own children that in order to get a nice home, take a nice vacation, and drive a nice car that a college education is the path.  I imagine this is a common conversation in one form or another with children everywhere.  But by doing so are we actually making the American dream harder to achieve?


This summer I had the chance to spend some time on our family ranch and introduce my oldest son to the experiences I so cherished when I was his age.  I loved working long days with my hands.  And because something always broke or an unforeseen problem would arise that no one had ever seen before, I was always problem-solving.  Perhaps this is where I acquired my passion for innovation and product development.  Deep down in a place I cannot describe, perhaps I wanted something to trigger in my son where he would want to embrace his heritage.

My family heritage started with the settling of the west when only territories existed.  And unlike the glamorization of the movies, this was a very inhospitable place. Today, my family are still ranchers and farmers making a decent living and doing what they love - and not one of them has a college education.  Without them there would be no food for me to buy using the income I generate from my own college education.  It seems that in our push for everyone to be a college graduate (learning is always a noble goal, not only for four years but for your entire life) we have eliminated an element in our education that has fueled innovation and craftsmen alike - high school shop classes.

So how did this happen, seemingly, without anyone noticing?

With a push towards college-bound classes, the number of people taking shop classes began to decline in the 1970s.

For California, the decline can be attributed to the passing of Proposition 13 in 1978 - an initiative that was supposed to restructure property taxes to benefit homeowners, but resulted in a 60% drop in tax revenue. Prior to the passing of Prop 13, those revenues provided almost half of the funding for California public schools. With cutbacks being forced, shop classes were the first on the chopping block.

In 2000, New York vocational school enrollment declined by 25% in three years. Not a single shop teacher could be found in the city’s trade schools at that time and the heads of building trades began complaining about the shortage of skilled workers in plumbing and carpentry.

During the same time period in Colorado, Denver started gutting their shop classes to make room for more science, engineering and math courses that were being required (schools north of Denver up through Wyoming were less affected). More recently, Denver has been scrambling to reinstate their shop/woodworking classes because businesses in the area were complaining about the lack of skilled laborers in the trade industries.

Tucson also saw the decline in shop classes begin in the 70s due to a push towards those same college-bound courses. Fast forward to 2009 where the trade industries were pushing for those same shop classes to be reinstated due to a lack of skilled labor. A teacher in Tucson actually created a building-trades program in a local high school “at the urging of the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association.”

According to the Journal of Industrial Education in the mid-1980s, of the 48,000 shop teachers in the U.S. the average age of a teacher was 55. There were few people trained to take over those jobs once they retired.

This trend in back-and-forth makes one thing very clear: We need skilled trades people.

We can all agree technology is necessary, interesting, and inevitable. The problem we are facing is when you push the majority of the future labor into strictly technology-based fields, no one is being trained in these important trade industries. We’re so concerned about working towards making our schools technology-driven so that we can “compete” with other countries that we’re forgetting who is currently building the homes we live in.

We still need to build houses. Yes, in the future we expect to see a lot of these processes simplified into modular elements, but for now we need skilled laborers. By killing shop classes we’ve lost the chance for students to test the waters to see if they have an aptitude and desire to make a career in the trades. Instead, we have essentially told kids there’s no future in that career choice.

Every kid deserves a chance to go to college. The reality is that not every kid will be able to afford it and not every kid wants to go. What does the cancelling of shop classes say to the young people who feel working with their hands is their calling? Our schools spend a lot of time and energy investing in high school football programs where the majority of the kids involved will see no income from that as a career - do we have our priorities straight?

This quote from a NY Times article in 2000 demonstrates this idea:

“Down the hall from the plumbing shop...Hugo Cruz, a senior studying electrical installation, was finishing up a wiring job on a 220-volt control panel, his final project for the year. ‘You know how they say you have a natural-born talent?'' he asked. ''That's me. I love this job. I like to have pride in what I do. If one day I build a whole building, I'll be able to look at it and say I did that.'’

Today there are more college educated Americans than ever before but a limited number of people who are capable of building our dream homes.  The labor shortage in the construction industry is complex and there are many more variables than just the hypothesis I am proposing here. But similar to boiling a frog, the outcome was clearly defined long before the frog realized what was happening.  

The solution to this shortage may be right in front us.  As of June 2016, the current unemployment rate for those with a college education was 2.5%; 5% for high school educated, and 7.5% for those who did not graduate high school.  The Bureau of Labor statistics says this is about 5MM people. How many more of those with a high school education or less (like Hugo Cruz) missed their calling because there were no shop classes in their high school?  We have relied on the taxpayers to fund these programs in the past and it appears it will remain in the past.  It is the trade industries, builders, and manufacturers who make products but there is no one to install them and ultimately the homebuyers are the ones paying the price.

It is human nature for us to move away from pain and towards comfort.  Couldn’t the industry solve this problem on its own by sponsoring high school shop classes and create career paths for many more Americans?!