Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Will European Style Modular Housing find a Home in the US?

Nobody has a crystal ball about the future of the modular housing industry in the US but there are some signs that modular is going to become a lot bigger part of housing and commercial construction than ever.

Typical buildings produced by Lindb├Ącks Bygg

Recently I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about how the US should adopt the German, Polish, British and Swedish modular mentality. It might work but probably not as well as you might think.

The reason the European modular industry is growing so rapidly is consistency in design and production. Customization and individuality are generally not in their modular factory’s tool box.

Modular housing in Europe means cranking out hundreds of the same modules, loaded onto trucks and set in neighborhoods where one living unit looks like the next.

Sweden is a world leader in prefabricated building where as much as 84 percent of Swedish detached homes, apartments and condos have modular elements, compared with about 15 percent in Japan and 4 percent in the U.S. Modular home-builders in Sweden have pioneered off-site construction and have figured out how to make it successful on a scale that few other places can match.

When Sweden’s government makes codes and regulations for modular housing it is effective for the entire country and every manufacturer follows them.

Lindb├Ącks Bygg is Sweden’s premier modular home manufacturer. Its assembly lines have revolutionized the notoriously slow-moving construction industry in its home country, with enormous potential to translate that success abroad. 

It's new factory produces more than 25,000 square feet of turnkey housing per week which is the equivalent of 30 average size New York City apartments a week each looking just like the other.

Taking a closer look at the US modular housing market reveals a couple of unique situations that affect how, where and when modular homes can be built.

Each country in Europe is comparable to one of the states in the US in size and demographics. People in Iowa live, work and play differently than people in California or Massachusetts. People in England live. work and play differently than people in Poland.

Along with those differences comes each state’s codes and rules regulating the modular housing industry. A modular home built in Pennsylvania for the Vermont market needs to meet different standards for New York. Some states have modular housing regulations overseen by the same department that oversees amusement rides.

A few states in the Midwest are so lax in home construction that requiring a building permit can actually happen after the home is set but in Maryland and New York the process of just getting modular plans approved and stamped by their modular housing commission could takes months.

California will soon be requiring all new homes to be Net Zero while a couple of their neighboring states don’t even have it on their radar. Connecticut imposes tight travel restrictions on when and how many modules can be shipped through their state each day. New Jersey’s tourist areas go as far as not allowing modules to travel in some areas during the height of tourist season.

The list goes on and on. Even though the states agree to use the IRC code for modular housing, they can’t agree on which version to use and local code offices can ‘add’ restrictions to IRC regs making it even harder to build a modular home.

For example, until recently Maryland required all modular homes shipped into the state to be sprinkled but let each county decide if site built houses would be required to add it. Deliveries into Maryland dropped 95%. Today all houses are required to have fire sprinklers and modular is once again making a slight comeback.

People in the US still seem to equate modular with their HUD siblings forcing legally allowed modular housing out of some towns by making laws specifically excluding them.

Then we have America’s desire to design and build their own unique home. People in the urban parts of cities can’t really do that. Their choices of domicile are limited to tract housing or homogenized apartment living. However moving into open space areas means individually rules the day.

Selling the US on European style housing will happen and then and only then will modular become the dominant way to build it.

The real questions are “Who will build these new automated factories?” and “Will custom home factories continue to play a major role in modular?”

Saturday, September 22, 2018

This is Now My Favorite Construction Video

Champion Hits a Home Run out of Former Tiger Stadium

When the Larson Realty Group with headquarters just north of the former Tiger Stadium in Detroit, Michigan, wanted to build a multistory mixed use project at the site of the former stadium they turned to Champion to provide modules for the job.

The four story modular building housing stores and apartments is a first for Detroit but it certainly won’t be the last.

The first of the 111 studio and two bedroom units was recently set in place with more to be set every day. These modules are finished with all plumbing, heating, electrical and interior features completed in a warehouse by Champion Commercial Structures.

Larson is leading the corner project and opted for the modular construction to cut the timeline by six months.

"You don't really save a tremendous amount in actual cost, but you save a lot in terms of the ability to move fast," Larson said.

After the last unit is set in place all the utilities will be connected and the entire project is expected to be done in February, about 6 months sooner than site built.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Are Shantytowns Really the Answer to California’s Housing Crisis?

Oakland, California like many other cities on the West Coast has a huge out of control homeless population fueled by the high cost of living problem. People sleeping on the streets, in tents and cardboard makeshift housing with no bath or toilet facilities has prompted several city and private organizations to find a better solution.

But are these solutions almost as bad as living on the street?

Oakland’s Tuff Shed camps where homeless people live with roommates in prefab garden sheds behind fencing look more like Free Range Chicken Coops than a good solution to the problem.

The camps have shared portable toilets and portable showers. Residents are NOT required to be sober or drug free which means the cluttered, dirty and disgusting situations they were living in on the streets will now simply be moved into camps so the streets can reclaimed and bragged about as a successful city government program.

The interred homeless will not be allowed to cook in their garden sheds but you can bet a couple of them will burn to the ground as the residents will fire up grills inside their sheds just like they did on the streets.

I give these Tuff Shed encampments a year and they will begin to look just as awful as the streets where the homeless lived before. Filth and clutter will fill every one of these garden sheds even though there will be paid staff on hand.

One resident of another Tuff Shed camp in the city said it's not much of an upgrade from living in his tent, it's just on the other side of the street.

Watch the video and ask yourself if this is the best one of the richest cities in California can do.

England’s Berkeley Group to Build Huge Modular Plant

The Berkeley Group will break ground on its new 150,000 sq ft modular factory in Northfleet, Kent just outside London. It will also house an additional 15,000 sq ft office space.

It will be ready to begin production in Spring 2019 and will create up to 240 new jobs.

The factory is expected to deliver up to 1,000 dwelling units a year.

The Berkeley Group is one of England’s biggest housing developers adding almost 4,000 housing units a year.

Wishing them great success.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

DeLuxe-Built Video Showcases The Answer to Urban Affordable Housing

DeLuxe-Built in Berwick, PA has been in modular commercial and housing construction for over 50 years but this is no "Old Guard" company. 

Today, DeLuxe focuses primarily on the student housing, rental apartment, condominium, hospitality arenas, and pre-built modular foundation systems.

This video from a couple of years ago presents what modular construction can do to help house our growing inner city population. Predictions are more modular factories will begin entering this arena over the next 5-10 years and soon modular will be the first choice of investors and developers wanting to put up affordable housing.

CLICK HERE to read the story about this video

Ramtech’s New Storm Shelters Designed for “Tornado Alley”

Section 423 of the 2015 Edition of the International Building Code mandates the placement of ICC-500 compliant storm shelters covering all new construction in “tornado alley” from Central Texas to the upper Midwest for educational occupancy when the building is designed for 50 or more occupants. It also requires storm shelters for all new construction of critical emergency operations centers used by our first responders.

To answer this challenge, Ramtech has developed hardened shelters that can be incorporated into new construction such as the corridor shown in the adjacent plan, or free-standing shelters that can be placed alongside existing structures.

Design-build commercial modular building firm Ramtech Building Systems of Mansfield, Texas has announced that the company has developed storm shelters that can be integrated into new construction or function as a standalone structures to meet Group E occupancy requirements for K-12 education facilities of 50 or more occupants and for Emergency Operation Centers such as 911 call centers, fire, ambulance, and police stations.

The storm shelters have been developed to meet wind speeds of up to 250 MPH and have ballistic sheathing to withstand a debris missile impact of a 15-pound 2x4 shot at 100 MPH.

According to Roland Brown, Ramtech's vice president of design and development, "We developed a modular building approach to create a hardened storm shelter that is fastened directly onto a specially designed engineered concrete slab foundation which allows it to counter the uplift generated from tornado force winds while protecting against the flying debris that can easily penetrate ordinary buildings."

When integrated into new construction, the storm shelters function as the corridor in a multiple classroom or office building, or they can be used as freestanding structures placed adjacent to existing buildings.

Using a variation of Ramtech's innovative slab-on-grade permanent modular construction process, the storm shelters are manufactured with attached ceilings and walls but without floors, which allows the modular sections to be fastened directly onto a conventional concrete slab foundation. This allows the concrete slab to become the floor of the structure just like a site-built building. By applying this technique, Ramtech is able to construct the building faster and with less cost, but identical in the look, functionality, and life expectancy of a completely site built structure.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Three Brits Arrested for Using Slaves at Construction Sites

Two men and a woman have been arrested on suspicion of modern slavery offences after a police raid involving 100 officers.

Police found eight people, believed to be victims of modern slavery, in a raid on a residential property in Love Lane, Iver, Buckinghamshire.

The operation followed allegations made about forced labour being used at building sites.

Two men, aged 49 and 42, and a woman, 28, all from Iver, were arrested.

They remain in police custody.

The signs of modern slavery aren’t always obvious but there are some that you may notice. These include people being withdrawn, unable to make eye contact, or being reluctant to talk to strangers.

Their appearance may be unkempt, they may be malnourished, or showing signs of physical or psychological injury.

They may also have inappropriate clothing or equipment for their job, be working long hours for little or no pay.

Their accommodation may be overcrowded and poorly maintained.

CLICK HERE to read the entire Daily Mail article

Friday, September 14, 2018

Modular’s “Day One Difference” is Unmatched in Home Building

Seacoast Modular Homes in Greenland, New Hampshire shows why modular is the best way to build a new home. From foundation to weather-tite and secure in just one day.

Here is a series of drone pictures showing how a new modular home went from foundation to completely set in Lee, NH. And this is not a shell like a panelized home where all the trades have to wait to begin until the walls, floors and roof system are finished.

Modular homes are plumbed, wired, drywalled, trimmed and painted in the factory before it ever got to the jobsite.

This is just one more example of modular construction’s One Day Difference.

Yestermorrow School Offers Unique Five Factory Tour in Vermont

It’s not everyday you get to visit 5 Modular and Prefab factories in 2 days but that is exactly what the Yestermorrow Design/Build School in New England is offering anyone that wants to learn more about designing and building their own home.

What is unique to 2 day adventure in Vermont in late October is a chance to actually visit visit Huntington Homes, Connor Mill-Built Homes, Bensonwood/Unity Homes, Preferred Building Systems and Vermod and talk to the key people at each factory.

Production line at Unity Homes

On a personal note I am planning on being there and touring the factories and meeting old friends and making new ones.

CLICK HERE For more information and make your reservations.