Saturday, July 21, 2018

Confusion About BIM Could Cloud Its Future in Construction

First question most of us in the modular housing industry ask is “What is BIM?”

Well, here goes nothing…. BIM (Building Information Modeling) is an intelligent 3D model-based process that gives architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals the insight and tools to more efficiently plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure.

In 2011, the British government announced that all central government projects must be BIM (building information modelling) Level 2 compliant, with it being mandated from April 2016. But seven years on from that announcement, many in the industry remain unsure of what BIM is – and what firms need to do in order to be compliant, as revealed in a survey by specification services provider NBS.

Only 58 percent of Britain’s industry respondents were confident in their BIM knowledge and capability. Around 41 per cent said they were still unclear on what they needed to do to comply with the mandate.

This confusion about BIM is presenting difficulties for the their industry.

So why is there so much confusion?

It appears the concept of BIM may be too complex for people working in non-technical positions to understand. Engineers, designers and architects within companies are the ones pushing the agenda but outside of these roles, BIM remains unclear to most.

It is often misunderstood as being a 3D design software tool, when in fact it is more like an initiative to move the industry into a data-driven world from a document-driven world.

A big problem arises when BIM is taken beyond the engineering side and forced onto construction’s management, supervisors, investors,etc where BIM is almost a second language that they don’t want to learn or have time to learn.

Being promoted by Autodesk could explain why many people mistake BIM for being just a 3D design tool.

When the industry moved towards designing buildings using computers instead of pencil and paper, BIM was associated with this move from 2D to 3D design.

Britain’s BIM program knowledge and use appears to be much further ahead of the US simply because our industry hasn’t yet learned “BIM Speak”.

Confusion around BIM suggests there is ambiguity in the way the subject matter can be interpreted. Talk to different engineers and designers and each will give you a different definition of BIM and how it should be incorporated into modular construction.

Many think it tends to restrict investment in other innovations such as 3D imaging, AI and other ideas. BIM is restrictive, as it focuses on one area of digitizing construction at the expense of other technologies.

Before your company looks at incorporating BIM into engineering, planning and costing make sure you first fully understand what BIM can do for you and secondly make sure everyone learns your company’s “BIM Speak”.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Forbes Article Looks to Modular Housing for Millennials

Just a couple of years ago, homeownership rates were low, and many analysts were blaming millennials. Burdened by more student debt than previous generations and typically inclined to marry and start a family later in life, millennials were a factor in 2016 homeownership rates falling to the lowest levels recorded by the U.S.Census Bureau going back to 1965.

What a difference a couple of years makes! Homeownership is rising, and millennials are leading the way. But will the new tax law shake things up?
But innovations in homebuilding are delivering more affordable, sustainable housing, and that could relieve some of the pressure in areas where homes are hard to find. Modular homes, which are built offsite and then assembled on the lot, are a more attractive option today, with stylish, tech-forward designs now available in many areas. Prefab houses featuring design principles that save energy and reduce the homeowner’s carbon footprint can be a great alternative to traditional housing.

The new tax law won’t immediately affect federal tax credits that were already in place to encourage the use of solar electric or solar water-heating systems in qualified residences or new homes.

If this is what is on the horizon for modular home construction, both single family and multifamily, our industry could be on the verge of a breakout decade. No longer should custom modular home factories have to rely on commercial projects to sustain production levels and in fact, those modular factories may start opening separate commercial production lines to meet the demand for hotels, dorms, condos and assisted living facilities.

There has never been a better time to support the two associations, the MHBA and the NAHB's Building Systems Council. that will continue to make modular and offsite production the best way to build new homes and commercial projects.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

NAHB's 2017 Report on SFH Building Times a Must Read

Time Needed to Build a Single-Family Home in 2017

BY NA ZHAO on JULY 9, 2018

The 2017 Survey of Construction (SOC) from the Census Bureau shows that the average completion time of a single-family house is around 7.5 months, which usually includes almost a month from authorization to start and another 6.5 months to finish the construction. The average completion time in 2017 was the same as it was in 2016, but it was longer than the time needed in 2015 (7 months).

The time from authorization to completion varies across the nation and depends on the geographic location, metropolitan status, and whether the house is built for sale or custom-built. According to the 2017 SOC, it takes anywhere from less than a month to 77 months to build a single-family home from obtaining a permit to completion.

CLICK HERE to read the entire NAHB Article

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

A Developer Shares His Angst about Building on the West Coast

My phone rings and on the other end is a small developer in California asking for my help in locating a modular factory to build several developments in the San Francisco area.

He explains that he has talked to every modular factory that serves his area and discovered they either couldn’t be bothered to build 4 unit townhouse projects on scattered lots at this time or the price was astronomically high. Yeah, who would have thought San Francisco costs were so high……

I wasn’t able to give him any names that he hadn’t already tried so I told him he may want to look at a panelized factory like Entekra which serves that market.

His response, while not surprising, was that panelized might save a couple of days in the framing stage but once completed he was at the mercy of every electric, drywall, HVAC, plumbing contractor, etc and using them brought his project above even the highest affordable threshold.

I was sorry I couldn’t help him but life is sometimes cruel for small developers.

This scenario is being repeated along the entire West Coast from California through Oregon and Washington. There are not enough modular factories serving the small builder or developer.

Factories like Kasita and factory OS are dedicated to large affordable projects, not to small custom townhouse developers.

The cloud in my crystal ball is beginning to clear a little and if what I suspect could happen look for one or more foreign modular home factories to begin popping up on the West Coast with semi-custom automation, their own delivery fleet, set and finish crews and possibly even financing. Then they would begin the invasion of the Midwest and East Coast.

These will not be the disruptive force we’ve all been waiting to appear but simply efficient and cost effective competitors that could drive many modular factories to close their doors over the next 10-15 years.

The US has now become the low hanging fruit for foreign investment in housing.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Modular Steel Systems Looking For Project Drafter/Designer

Looking for an opportunity to use and expand your knowledge and work with Wood and Steel framed modular units?

Due to an increase in sales and manufacturing Modular Steel Systems of Bloomsburg PA is seeking an individual to fill the position of Project Drafter/ Designer.

The Duties and Responsibilities are as follows:
  • Prepare layout drawings for the individual assemblies required for the in-plant fabrication of a modular unit. 
  • Work with purchasing department to determine manufacturing tolerances and requirements for each material specified in the job.
  • Operate computer aided design program to produce drawings and plan details 
  • Analyze and understand each of the building codes that the product must be built to 
  • Coordinate structural, electrical and mechanical designs for each job being manufactured.
  • Packaging of prints for submittals to Third party and State reviewers.

Interested candidates should email their resume to: or call Gene McKeown, Vice President of Operations at 570-520-4149. All inquiries will be kept confidential. 

Are Modular Home Builders Happy?

First we have to learn what “Happy” means. According to the dictionary (for those that are under 30, it’s a book) it means feeling contentment, pleasure and delight.

Now the question becomes “Are modular home builders Content and Delighted?”

So let’s take a closer look at a typical week in the life of modular home builder.

Monday morning is the ‘rude awakening’ day for a lot of modular builders. The phone calls and emails start about 6:00 AM. An email from a customer asks to meet you at the house ASAP because they visited it over the weekend and saw something they didn’t like, ordered, saw missing, etc.

Then one or more of your subs contacted you saying they can’t make it to your job this week because their ‘truck broke down’; ‘they are sick’; ‘didn’t get the job before yours finished’; etc.

One of your workers didn’t show up and didn’t let anyone know. Oh, almost forgot, your factory sales rep called and said they didn’t get the special order of windows yet and your house will NOT be going on the line this week.

Tuesday sees local Code Enforcement red sticker your foundation because of a small infraction and tells you they can’t make it back to until Friday even if you correct it today. You call your sub asking when they can get to your job only to find out their truck conveniently broke down again at another builder’s jobsite. Your insurance agent calls telling you the premium is going up 20% next month.

Wednesday, hump day, starts off well but quickly goes downhill when you learn one of your potential customers is going to buy an existing home from the same Realtor that brought them to you in the first place. Not that you were counting on that sale! You only made three trips to their lot, had the factory draw out their plans (at your expense), priced out the house 3 times and submitted all your information to their mortgage company. Bourbon and a crying towel for lunch?

Thursday begins the long weekend for one or more of your laborers and subs. They work until noon and then slack off or disappear completely. This is usually the day your set crew wants to confirm the exact day for next week’s set only you forgot to tell them the factory called and moved the delivery date back a week. And let’s not forget about the draw that was supposed to happen yesterday that never showed up in your checking account and payroll will be written this afternoon.

Friday, absolutely beautiful Friday! A closing in the morning, two new prospects called for appointments next week and the payroll is met. The set is going great today with no problems and the cost of that custom home you were waiting on from your factory sales rep came in lower than expected. You’ll be able to get to your daughter’s soccer match on time and spend a wonderful weekend with family and friends.

OMG! That’s not your Friday, that’s the other modular home builder’s Friday. You've never seen a Friday like that one.

Back to the question, “Are Modular Home Builders Happy?”

They sure are or they wouldn’t come back the next week to fight the battle again.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

What Happens When Modular Construction Becomes Too Popular?

Commercial construction is red hot today. Hotels, dormitories, condos and homeless shelters are in high demand by both onsite and offsite developers. But what happens when demand for modular far outstrips supply?

That’s a good question. Too bad the modular commercial construction industry doesn’t have a good answer. To better understand why the industry is lacking an answer can be found on Facebook and LinkedIn.

Every day there are wonderful photos of major commercial projects being set all over the world. Factories outside the US use social media to promote and market their projects to developers that have never tried modular construction. They use videos, interviews, drone coverage and even press releases to get more business.

Modular factories are sprouting like mushrooms in England, Europe, Asia and even Canada while in the US things are quite different.

Starting with marketing, the US modular industry, both commercial and residential, do a very poor job of marketing. No national campaigns by any factory. The reason I hear from owners and GMs is that modular is regional but marketing today is instantly national thanks to the Internet.

When pictures of a commercial modular set are actually put up on FB and LinkedIn they are usually done by a modular set company like ProSet which uses LinkedIn to market their skills but rarely if ever do they name the factory that built the modules. In all fairness, it’s not their job to advertise for the factory.

Even when newspapers and TV stations cover a big commercial modular project being set they never mention the name of the factory. Is that because the modules are considered pre-assembled components the developer simply orders or is it because the factory can’t handle the demand having their name mentioned would bring them?

That brings us to subject of capacity. There are two types of commercial modular factories in the US, full time commercial factories and single family residential modular factories both capable of building 100-300 module projects. Today there is a huge demand for single family modular homes, especially on the East Coast where custom is the norm. But the same factories that build these time consuming custom homes are also scheduling 150 unit commercial jobs into their factory.

Related Article: Modular Fallen Flags

The average US factory can only build 10-18 modules a week (there are a couple that can build more than that) now have to make tough decisions as to taking on a major commercial project which will tie up their single production line for 6-8 weeks and push back residential modules 2 months or turn down the commercial and hope their single family production will keep the factory running at full steam or do they simply build the commercial work only during the off-peak months of Winter? Oh, to be a fly on the wall of Board Meetings!

Capacity doesn’t seem to be as much of a problem in other parts of the world. Because the British government is actively promoting modular. Hull, England north of London on the North Sea has become a huge hub for modular production and continues growing.

Penticton in British Columbia, Canada, just East of Vancouver, is becoming a mecca for new modular home factories serving both commercial and residential markets on the West coasts of Canada and the US. Thailand’s LifeBox which runs 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and Polcom in Poland are continually cranking up production to meet demand.

Meanwhile in the US we have seen a couple of new modular factories open in the West but not much activity to build a new factory on the East Coast.

And finally let’s look at how codes and regulations impact modular production in the US. Many states in the US have very easy to meet codes for building houses. They follow older IRC models and local and state housing regulations that are well written and enforced fairly. Many other states like the ones on the East and West Coasts and a few of the Northern Central states make getting a modular home through the preproduction review process so hard that many modular home builders have a picture of the head of their state’s Housing Agency on the wall and use it for a dart board.

If a state has vetted a third party inspection service to review and provide the “stamp” for a modular plan prior to production, why then does it need to be completely reviewed again at the state level by understaffed and overworked plan reviewers who have been told that “no plan is good enough to pass our standards the first time” forcing both the factory and the third party inspection service to revise the plan to meet some obscure change simply because the state plan reviewer was having a bad day. This has been known to add months to some plan reviews.

Witnessing this first hand was enough to make me scream “What are you doing? Trying to kill an entire industry?”

Then the plan goes to the local code enforcement department where in a lot of cases the inspector doesn’t know the difference between a modular home and manufactured home and neither do the people in the towns and neighborhoods where the homeowner wants to build their new home.

Screaming matches at local planning and commission meeting followed by petitions and demonstrations in front of the proposed building lot force good people to change their mind to not build at all.

If anyone knows of a new modular factory being built or planned on either the East or West Coasts let me know as I certainly haven’t heard of any.

So what happens when the media promotes modular to the point of acceptance driving demand higher and higher and there are no plans to run more shifts and no factories are in the planning stages?

Me Neither!

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Unexpected Opening by East Coast Set Crew Could Be to Your Advantage

Maximum Advantage Building Solutions, an experienced commercial and residential modular home set crew had a builder reschedule a big job.

If you are looking for a set crew the week of July 16th, email them right now.

With business booming, you may want to contact them ASAP to make sure your home is set when it arrives at your jobsite. They cover everyone from the Mid-Atlantic region through New England.

Contact Heather at to take advantage of a builder's need to reschedule. Only a few slots open.

Register Today! Building Systems Housing Summit Sept. 30-Oct. 2

Leaders of the systems-built housing industry are gathering in Knoxville, Tenn., this fall for the Building Systems Housing Summit.

The only national conference for the entire offsite construction community, the summit caters to builders, manufacturers and suppliers of modular, panelized, concrete, log and timber frame homes. It takes place Sept. 30-Oct. 2, at the Hilton Knoxville.

CLICK HERE to Register or for more information

“D1D”, the Day One Difference

A couple of weeks ago as I was looking through LinkedIn I noticed Ken Semler, the owner of Express Modular, used the term “D1D” when talking about the big advantage modular home construction has over other offsite construction methods.

He was using the term to describe an imaginary stopwatch on a new home jobsite comparing panelized construction with modular building. Now he had my interest.

For simplicity let’s assume two story, 3 bedroom, 2 bath homes are being built side by side in a development. Both have their foundations and sill plates done and are waiting for the house to begin being built.

An Entekra Home being set

Day One: Panelized

Years ago I was a GC that built panelized homes, mostly custom two story center hall colonials, so I am speaking from first hand experience.

On my typical Monday, the lumber yard delivered the floor joists, floor sheathing, joist hangers and rim joists. The truck would drop the entire load on the ground. The lumber yard I used packed the truck with the sheathing on the bottom and the joists on top making it look like an upside down pyramid all banded together.

When the truck driver raised the bed the load slid off with the bands breaking and all the joists followed the OSB sheathing on what looked like a toboggan ride across the lot.

Today a few of the more innovative panelized manufacturers like Entekra and Katerra ship the flooring in prefab sections making for a more efficient process but not nearly as fun to watch.

Watching videos of an Entreka panelized home being set I noticed that they are in most cases able to set both the 1st and 2nd floor systems and the interior and exterior wall panels. Very impressive but to be perfectly honest my 5 man crew would hand build both floors and set the same number of panels in one day.

In both cases the trusses were and probably still are set and sheathed on the second day.

That brings us to what Ken calls ‘D1D’.

A modular home being set by The Home Store

Day One: Modular

6:00 AM-7:30 AM crane arrives and sets up.
7:30 AM-4:00 PM the four modules are set and the roof is raised.
4:00 PM-6:00 PM +/- the roof is completely shingled

That timetable is fairly typical. What is amazing about this process is the amount of finish work both on the interior and exterior of the home that has been done in the factory.

Electrical is run throughout the house with switches, receptacles, lights and smoke alarms complete. In some states the fire sprinkler system has been installed. Interior house plumbing pipes, water lines and fixtures have been installed as well as the kitchen cabinets, countertops and even some appliances.

Carpeting and vinyl flooring is most areas, walls have been painted with a primer paint, interior and exterior doors have been installed along with most of the trim throughout the house.

Ken Semler has begun using the term “Day One Difference” to help his buyers better understand the modular advantage and I don’t think he would mind in the least if you start using it too.

Thanks Ken for giving an easy to use term to describe the modular housing industry’s unique benefits for homeowners.