Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Pennwest Homes Workers Go On Strike

Pickets lined the road to the Pennwest Homes in Emlenton, PA, a manufactured homes factory, starting at 6:00 a.m. Monday for the first time in the plant’s ten-year history after contract talks failed on Saturday.

International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAMAW), Local 2439, represent the workforce.

“IAMAW has begun a work stoppage against Pennwest Homes in Emlenton,” stated an IAMAW news release on Monday. “The last, best and final offer made by Pennwest Homes was rejected in a vote of the Local’s membership on Saturday morning.”
Union Business Representative Robert D. Miller said the 117 union members are seeking a living wage, a reasonable pension package, and the ability to share in the company’s growth.

“This is about these workers making a wage they can support their family on. The workers want a pension they can retire on,” said Miller.  “These workers built this company and want to share in the growth of the company.”

The local union chapter has contacted the Pennwest Homes management and said it is ready and willing to meet with the ownership as soon as possible to negotiate a contract that is beneficial to all involved.

Picketing will continue on Route 38 outside the road to Pennwest seven days a week until contract negotiations are resolved, according to Miller.

Pennwest Homes was launched in 2005, bringing together the latest home-building technologies, a dedicated management team, and an experienced builder network.
“The average salary in this plant is the same as the national poverty level for a family of four,” said Michael.  “I don’t want to get into specific numbers, but that’s where were at. They didn’t offer us an increase in pay, and it was basically another three-year contract without an increase.  We love our jobs and what we do here.  We just need a basic living wage. We have guys who have been here for 10 years, have kids, and stuff and basically can’t pay bills and can’t pay mortgages. For skilled labor and the product that we put out here at Pennwest Homes, we feel that’s just unacceptable.”

 “I’m very proud of our union,” continued Michael. “I’m very proud of these guys.  They finally stood up and said enough is enough. A lot of these guys are living hand to mouth, paycheck to paycheck, and this hurts everybody. We want to go back to work. We want to work, but that isn’t the issue.  The issue is we don’t want to work for poverty level wages.  We just can’t do it.”

Barry Shein, owner and CEO of the Commodore Corporation, provides leadership at Pennwest Homes.

Pennwest generates an estimated $28 million in annual revenues, and employs approximately 170 people at this single location.

March Modular Builder Breakfast Cancelled

Due to a personal situation that can't be postponed, the March Builder Breakfast has been cancelled. All the builders that reserved a seat will have their deposits returned.

I'm sorry to have to pull the plug on what was to be a very open and frank discussion among modular home building contractors about common problems.

Please join me for the April Builder Breakfast that will feature Rick Terry, a well known speaker in the modular home industry and a HERS Rater, talking about energy conservation, Energy Star and how the builder and factory can work together to improve it even more.

Again, I am sorry to have to cancel the March Builder Breakfast but this session will be rescheduled later in the year.

Seeing is Believing - Site Built vs Modular Construction

On a whim I began looking for some videos depicting how a site built McMansion and a modular McMansion are built. The videos are very good for both but while watching the site built home being constructed, I saw OSHA violations and the use of very young and I have to presume college boys home for the summer looking to make some money. Skilled craftsmen? Probably not.

There were also a lot of deliveries to the site built home. Every stick of lumber, every door and window and every other component had to be delivered by truck. Then there are the dozens of workers pickups making the trip to the jobsite every day. No matter how green the house is, the fossil fuel wasted for all these trips had to offset any carbon exchanges for decades.

The modular home video is a 5,600 sq ft McMansion from Westchester Homes in NY. Third party inspectors in the factory, long time employees, no rain or snow, safety first working conditions and no delivery trucks coming and going into the factory.

Oh, almost forgot to mention this. I've included another stick built McMansion that shows a timeline with it. This was my favorite.

Set aside about 30 minutes and watch them all or save them and watch of them you have a few minutes to spare.

If this doesn't convince your prospective customer to go modular......

Site Built

Stick Built

Modular Construction

Monday, March 2, 2015

Cross Laminated Timber - The European Answer to Housing

My latest article entitled Watch the Future of Robotic Affordable Modular Housing is about automated robotic steel modular residential structures and it led to an anonymous comment that made me stop and wonder if maybe I didn't give enough credit to what is happening in Europe.
I find this post totally disingenuous. On the one hand you dump on the people trying to change the modular industries image and on the other you show something that is unattainable in the US because of the prices we insist on paying for our housing. There are so few factories that build with steel in the US and none of them can do it for a price point that makes sense for residential construction.
The European system of cross laminated wood is much closer and much more attainable for US residential construction then welded stainless steel framing and I don't see you talking about or it making any inroads south of the Canadian border.
So while I found the video sort of interesting the question of why there is no one doing this in the US is not hard to fathom.
I have never tried to discredit any type of building method and I don't think Anonymous will find that I've ever tried to 'dump' on people trying to make changes in modular housing. 

What I don't do is talk much about are building systems that even though they are part of the larger systems built industry they aren't generally being used in modular construction. This blog is dedicated to modular residential housing after all.

So to make amends to Anonymous for apparently overlooking an entire construction method used by many other countries throughout the world I would like to explain what Cross Laminated Timber is and give you the nickle tour by video.

I went to the American Wood Council for their definition of CLT:
What is cross laminated timber?
 Cross Laminated Timber (CLT) is a flexible building system suitable for use in all assembly types (e.g., walls, floors and roofs).  Made from industrial dried lumber stacked together at right angles and glued over their entire surface, it is an exceptionally strong product that retains its static strength and shape, and allows the transfer of loads on all sides. Panels are prefabricated based on the project design and arrive at the job site with windows and doors pre-cut. Although size varies by manufacturer, they can be as large as 54.1 x 9.7 x 1.6 feet and include 3, 5, 7 or more layers.
 Common connections for CLT assemblies include wall-to-foundation, wall-to-wall (straight or junction), floor-to-floor, wall-to-floor, and wall-to-roof. Panels may be connected to each other with half-lapped, single or double splines made from engineered wood products, while metal brackets, hold-downs and plates are used to transfer forces. Mechanical fasteners may be dowel-type (e.g., nails, screws, glulam rivets, dowels, bolts) or bearing-type (e.g., split rings, shear plates).
Then I found a very helpful video that explains CLT:

Will CLT ever make headway into the modular housing industry?

Probably not anytime soon.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Watch the Future of Robotic Affordable Modular Housing

When we talk about the future of modular housing, Dwell and other architecturally themed publications push the square box designed by underemployed Architects looking for a 'one off' house that can be built on a production line in a factory. Almost all of them fall flat on their collective faces after finding a factory that will actually build their designs and selling one or two. Too much work for the return.

But when Thailand's  SCG Heim builds a modular box they do it just like an automobile, in an automated factory and set with the same precision as a Lego building.

Here a couple of videos showing the factory production line and the actual set. I can't believe that someone hasn't stepped up and begun creating these perfectly built homes in the US.

The "Kathleen"...This Week's Modular House Plan

This week's Modular House Plan from New Hampshire Design Collaborative is the 'Kathleen'

copyright by NHDC 

copyright by NHDC

For more information about this home and how you can customize it as your own, contact NHDC by email

Convert More Prospects to Modular Home Purchasers

Four Winning Strategies for an Automated Marketing Campaign

By Charles Bevier, Bevier Creative

You’ve invested in a draw-droppingly gorgeous new website. Visitors are captivated with your story and they’re filling out a friendly “Tell Me More” contact form on your site. Think of that email arriving in your inbox as the starter pistol in a race. Bang! The race is on!

Meet Today’s Home Buyer 

Call it a reflection of the age of the selfie, but from the buyer’s perspective it’s all about them. Today’s new home buyers are super busy, super connected, and savvy about real estate, thanks to all those home improvement shows.

Downside? They have the attention span of a two-year-old. They don’t return calls and they ignore traditional sales pitches.

Plus, they send mixed messages. They view phone calls as an interruption and they distrust sales people. But they have money to spend and they want a new dream home with a cool design. They aren’t loyal to a specific brand, but they crave a relationship with someone they trust. They don’t respond to your follow up, yet they expect an immediate response from you, no matter what time of day or night they ask a question.

Can you win over these fickle buyers? You can, provided you invest in a smart automated marketing campaign.

Follow Up Disconnect

Recently a company that offers a CRM software (customer relationship management) for home builders mystery shopped 425 new home communities. Here’s what happened:

  • 53% of home builders did not follow-up with the prospect—at all 
  • 23% followed up in 72 hours 
  • 18% followed up in 24 hours 

Set Yourself Apart From Your Competitors Strategy #1

Respond quickly. As in seconds, with an automated response using a CRM, a simple “thanks for reaching out to us, we will be in touch shortly.” Then within the hour, respond with a personalized email. Thank them again for reaching out to you, provide links back to home designs or floor plans, ask if they have any specific questions you can answer for them?

If they’ve provided a phone number, call them within the hour. The right tone here is crucial. You do not want to come off as pushy. Be friendly. Let them do most of the talking. Try to qualify them by discovering what stage of life they are in (first time, move up, retiree), do they have land, how soon would they like to build, do they have a design they like, have they obtained financing? Keep it light and brief, take notes, ask for their mailing address to send brochures and ask if it’s OK to keep sending them information via email.

Set Yourself Apart From Your Competitors Strategy #2

The race has only just begun. All leads are fed into your CRM and your automated drip campaign. (What CRM is best? There’s a boat load of them out there. But it comes down to whatever one you use.)

I have built a number of websites in conjunction with automated marketing campaigns. Here’s an automated drip campaign schedule that’s worked for other builders/manufacturers.

  • Day 1: Immediate response, with automated response, personalized email and phone call 
  • Day 2 : Email 
  • Day 3: Call 
  • Day 7: Email 
  • Day 14: Email/Call 
  • Day 21: Email 
  • Day 28: Email 

Keep them in monthly email newsletter, until they opt out

Set Yourself Apart From Your Competitors Strategy #3

Too many builders/manufacturers have email campaigns that are passive and boring. “We just wanted to check in and see how you’re doing blah, blah, blah.” Stop checking in, please. That’s no way to win them over. Instead offer knowledge that they will value.

You are a home builder, which means you solve problems. Show examples of your solutions. Give them tips on how get their finances in order, how to find land, how to save money when buying and building. Put your knowledge on display. The more knowledge you share, the more trust you will earn.

Set Yourself Apart From Your Competitors Strategy #4

Add a Chat Live capability to your website. This can be a purchased service (24-7!) or it can be a service you or your employees can provide during business hours. And while you’re probably rolling your eyes, thinking that’s all you need is to have to answer chats all day. But the reality is it will likely be less than 30 chat requests a month—a couple of minutes each day. Plus, it’s a great way to interact with visitors to your site in real time; helps build trust and will set you dramatically apart from your competition.