Sunday, March 3, 2013

Bensonwood Homes Owner Slams Modular Housing Indusry


Some people just have to ‘slam’ their competitors and opponents in order to make their point of view seem like the best. It happens in politics, religion, late night talk shows and little boys on school playgrounds.

This time the person doing the ‘slamming’ is Tedd Benson, owner of Bensonwood Homes, a self proclaimed leader in component housing. He doesn't want to be lumped in with all the others children in the modular, prefab and component housing market so he is slamming them. It’s as if Michelle Kaufmann has an evil cousin we've never heard of before.


I think he builds a fine, energy efficient and good looking home but does that give him the right to tell the readers of his blog that modular home construction is “bringing the very worst building standards to consumers.”

Here is the section of his latest ramblings that targets all his fellow “off-site” housing buddies.

Words matter and the words that are used to identify the current off-site construction methods are insufficient by definition, and tainted by association. Here at Bensonwood and Unity Homes, we have long been uncomfortable with the terms used for off-site building fabrication methods. It’s usually either “modular” or “prefab,” and both have muddy meaning because of the diversity in practice, and both come with some negative baggage. Modular refers to the built volumes that are trucked on the highway like carcasses of beached whales, and prefab mostly connotes a modernist style, with an indeterminate percentage of value-added in off-site value actually accomplished in the prefabrication process.
The segment of the construction industry referenced by those two categories is whollyfailing in three significant ways. 
1. They represent only 2-5% of the new home construction, and therefore aren’t making much of an impact. The low percentage of actual built product is caused by #2, and is just as well because the damage inflicted in #3.
2.  Modular and prefab aren’t bringing the sort of fundamental quality and cost improvement to the industry that’s needed. Neither segment is doing enough to use the off-site manufacturing control advantage to bring real and much-needed improvements to the quality of homes. 
Modular is a building method in which whole houses or fractional 3D portions of them are constructed indoors instead of outdoors. The factories are predictably huge to house multiple volumes in production, and the process in the factories typically mirrors the on-site process, albeit under roof. Modular building has the benefit of controlling work conditions and the interaction of trade functions, but it also imposes inherent compromise by forcing architectural outcomes to the constraints of highway shipping rules. Inevitably, the widest, longest and tallest commonly trucked loads are modular buildings. They are the bane of the highway system; the ones with the escort cars, flashing lights, flapping building wrap, and often spilling over into both the adjacent lane and the road shoulder.
 Of course, there are some good things happening in the modular building segment, especially in commercial construction, where modules are typically only one aspect of a more extensive off-site strategy, not the entire solution. In addition, there are a few modular homebuilders working to raise the standards for modular building, and I certainly applaud their efforts and hope for their success. It’s sorely needed.
 But the bottom line is that modular homebuilding in this country is the industry sector bringing the very worst building standards to consumers. This unfortunate fact infects the whole industry with the consumer preconception of an affordable, but low tier product. It’s the Twinkie of housing: it doesn’t cost much, but it’s not good for you either.
3.  Finally, the industry segment associated with modular and prefab construction is wholly failing to create good jobs. This is the worst failure in my mind, and gives further insight about #1 and #2. The employee turnover and absentee rates for those sectors of the construction industry is not only worse than the rest of the construction industry (which is in itself very bad compared to other industries), but is (or was, in 2005) worse than ANY other industry at 61%. This is inexcusable. Nothing good can come out of a building system that depends on low pay, low skills, and bad working conditions to achieve financial success.
CLICK HERE to read his entire blog posting.

15 comments:

Kenneth Bigler said...

Coach, why did you ever publish this pompous ass' article? It should never see the light of day.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like he agrees with you about prefab lego boxes. Are you sure you don't have more in common than different?

Anonymous said...

I agree, his houses look nice, nothing like Michelle Kaufmans boxes and all.

But you posted about a NY based modular factory building high R values with double studs walls not that long ago. That's just as green as this, no? If this is what people were buying this is what every factory would be building. There's no reason we can't do it when the market demands it.

But he says he is doing better in quality and cost control. We should be able to settle those claims by just looking at the numbers.

Ibgreen said...

This is the attitude of your quintessential hard line stick builder. Frightened of change, fight or flight kicks in big time. His purpose is to prey on the general predjudaces among the general population towards modular systems. What he does not say, is how modular and panelization have more in common than not. It does make me wonder why, he takes the time to slam our industry if he does not see modular as a threat. Be rest assured, there are old school stick builders spreading the same disinformation about his system.

Aaron said...

I'm a modular home builder and I don't like that this man called us the Twinkies of the housing industry. I would bet that even the smallest modular home factory in the US produces more homes than this Ding Dong.

Anonymous said...

What a pompous ass to think his is the only good building methods. The preab houses that are being built today are generally high quality, well designed and indistinguishable from site built homes. The many high quality beautiful, energy efficient prefab homes now coming out of the factory run contrary to Mr. Benson's comments. Not very good PR for a man who is a media hound himself.

Anonymous said...

In regards to this article, I think its time for the modular industry to take a good look at itself without blaming others. Having been in the modular business for 18 years, I don't think that I am just slamming the industry for the fun of it. At one time, I knew 38 builders in the modular industry who were putting up homes on a good schedule. Now there are only 4 in the systems built business, the rest having gone back to stick building, including the writer of this comment. Why? Very simple. To cut costs, the factories have reduced the number of sales reps in the area. Whereas the rep used to be there for the set, they now feel that they just do not have the time to get involved. When the builder has a problem with the unit, they are told to call customer service. When they call customer service, they get no answer or are asked to leave a message that is not answered. Then when they do fix the problem, the factory wants to negotiate on the price that the builder paid to get the unit repaired, even if he sends in 4 estimates all showing the same approximate cost. In some cases, the units are coming off the line in very poor condition. No more cleaning of the units, cabinets that do not fit properly, sheet rock work that looks like it is now done by the janitor whereby before, this work was done professionally and the units showed that the company cared. We can slam the builder for writing that article but in a lot of cases, his comments are true. As the factories cut costs, it is apparent that they will cut the workers with the highest pay and leave the newest, lowest paid on the line. The result is that the units are not finished properly. When the modular builder states that he is tired of remodeling that new home he just had delivered, then perhaps the industry should wake up and take notice. Not all Builders are leaving the systems built industry
because business is slow. A lot of them are leaving because they realize that the factory just does not care. As one person from a factory told me, the motto is...I dons't care what the problems are, just get the units out and then the builder can fix them in the field! Does this sound like the same attitude that was in the industry a couple of years ago?
Just sit back a minute and think about it!

Anonymous said...

I just visited his website and found an upscale housing company. Nice looking and something I could live in but what I don't understand is why somebody that only builds with engineered walls and SIPS is trashing all the other forms of house construction.
If he wants to be a pompous ass and only work with people that can afford his houses, that's fine but why tear down everyone else?

Anonymous said...

Who is this numbnuts and why would anyone listen to a word he says? Sounds like sour grapes to me.

Anonymous said...

"Some people just have to ‘slam’ their competitors and opponents in order to make their point of view seem like the best. " <<< Like ModCoach vs. Blu Homes? haha

Anonymous said...

Lack of knowledge and fear make people say and do some inappropriate things. Here is a perfect example...

lavardera said...

I am surprised at this response.

Benson is claiming that HUD code housing brings down the public's perception of all off-site construction. All of you modular guys struggle with this as well. Tell me you have not had to explain the difference between HUD and Modular and reassure somebody that Modular does not mean flimsy? Benson is saying what you all are living - why the push-back on this?

Who is this guy you ask? Tedd Benson is a highly celebrated and award winning builder. Benson almost singlehandedly started the Timber Framing industry in the US, and he has trained countless craftsman in the art. He's gone on to establish innovative off site building practices in his factory, and establish new standards in energy efficiency for off-site built homes. He has authored several books on all this, and industry experts constantly seek out his opinion on these issues. That's who he is, and if you've not heard of him, or don't know who he is, you should be wondering not whey he can sound pompous, but rather why you seem to know so little about the what's happening in the field you work in. If you're going to simply shut the doors of your mind and decide you have nothing to learn from this guy it will be your loss.

If you read Mod Coach's reaction in this post, you might come away thinking that Benson is slamming his competitors, but that is not the case. Read Benson's post carefully. He is arguing to uplift the entire off-site building industry - that includes you and the guy sitting next to you.

One thing I can tell you for sure, is that while Benson may see you all as being in the same off-site boat as he is, I'm quite sure he does not see you as competitors. That's not pompous - that is simply a fact of your product. Any of you building walls with 2x4s & 2x6s, R15-R19 batts, you are building a completely different product than Bensonwood. Nobody that is buying his R28-R35 walls is seriously considering buying a house from you. He is building in a completely different ball park, to a completely different set of consumers. His buyers understand how his controlled factory process benefits them. Its the modular customers buying more conventional homes with thin walls that suffer under comparisons to HUD code, and knocks from site builders who tell people "you don't want to buy that flimsy sh-t".

Benson is not your competitor slamming you, he is your best friend trying to drag the entire off-site industry out of the muck you find yourself in.

Just try thinking about it that way, ignore Coach in this case, and read Benson's post again.

Josh Margulies said...

I've read Mr. Benson's blog comment now in its entirety. I could not truly understand Mr. Benson's rationale until I got to:

"Even if I spend more time talking and writing, I still think of myself as a carpenter. That’s where my heart is. My objectives in this business have always been to develop a better way to build. That “better way” must result in much better homes that will bring real quality of life improvements to the occupants, but it also must elevate the builders themselves because the building profession is so critical to our civilization. After all, it’s about how we live."

which came right after his #3 reason why modular is bad and his way is good. Before I thought him foolish but he is in fact a carpenter with a vision of the world and how home building should fit into his world. It is all quite emotional really. It is a veritable "montage" of human ideals. Home building should be a community thing, maybe with locally grown building materials and locally grown labor - good local boys and girls who want to pick up that hammer, sawzall, bundle of shingle, 5 (six?) 2x4x8's stacked on the shoulder - start round 0600 - (None of this 0700) stuff - this is community! It will/should be safe/fun/wholesome/good. A montage of people. Not subs, not tradesmen, not specialized, skilled, trained trades - but EVERYBODY should be in on the MONTAGE. (They do it that way in Montgomery County). And I daresay Mr. B can build some very nice stuff with his system of montage.

I'm 30 years in home building now. How did that happen - maybe God called me and then told me to stay - I don't know. I'm 14 years a construction supervisor with 4 national local home builders. I've seen home building under the most brutally competitive market forces in production environments that would send a carpenter Mr. Benson's age home after the first days framing. I don't know, maybe we were doing it all wrong. Subdivision at a time, tens of thousands of working folks all nicely housed. What were we missing? So you forgot to blow a ceiling every now and then - gimme a brake! Oh yeah - it was a REAL MONTAGE. We had some boys back then you really REALLY wanted to MONTAGE with! Now it's better, when the national builders MONTAGE in the field, they don't even do it in ENGLISH any more. (nor do they do it in SWEDISH). How many houses in 14 years (1,000?, 1500?) Who cares when you are working in someone Else's army?

I saw more waste, more market foolishness, more rip and tear, more rain soaked ruined materials, I could fill a 30 yard can with 7'4" metal panel bifolds! I have seen volume home construction's dark underbelly.

Mr. B's posture toward modular housing is understandable however given his weltanschauung. However, I must live in a different world. Modular housing is a very effective response to existing short comings in our labor supply and the means by which we manage our other factor resources. It would strike me as irrational to ship a big box down the road to build a home some 75 miles away. Even if i were not a worried bicyclist annoyed at such big things going down the highway as Mr. B laments for his safety and a cleaner, neater road. I see it. In a world where carpenters, hvac men, electricians, plumbers, finish men - all live round the corner and not in PA it makes sense. In a world where affordable housing with all the bells, whistles AND comes in the color GREEN is, by some standards in excess $200.00 a square foot. Let's hear it for Mr. Benson and his MONTAGE way.

We may be fortunate enough to see affordable custom home building yet survive as long as needed till some new world order releases all of us from the danger and drudgery and physical toil of construction or Mr. B has found a way of getting all of Montgomery County's young people involved in this noble endeavor.

josh said...

I'm all for uplifting. Uplifting is good. Uplifting is better then lifting up. I simply cannot wait to see the next best thing!

J McDonald said...

Seems a number of folks, claiming years of expertise, taking shots at the Modular build industry are named Anonymous. I for one, am very proud of our product, our quality process, our employees, our service & what I do. Too bad so many others feel the need to criticize that which the don't understand.