The Future of Offsite Construction
Last week's Building Systems Week highlighted a number of key themes going forward for the offsite construction industry: education, access to resources, and opportunities to help builders overcome challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Builders are recognizing the benefits of offsite construction as they look for cost-effective alternatives to minimize the number of workers onsite, but the learning curve for offsite construction can present some challenges of its own. That's why organizations such as NAHB, the Structural Insulated Panel Association (SIPA), the National Ready Made Concrete Association, the Modular Home Builders Association and the Structural Building Components Association focus a significant amount of attention on educations and outreach.
"A fundamental barrier is this idea of timing, planning, attention to detail, really looking over the drawings and making sure they're set so that people can make that robotic equipment and routers and all of that, to deliver [the materials] to you on the job site," observed Jack Armstrong, director of SIPA. This includes not only building in adequate time to develop and order components, but also the capabilities of these building systems to provide more resilient solutions, such as tighter building envelopes and better ventilation to minimize the impact of wildfires.
Resiliency and efficiency were two of the key benefits touted by Armstrong and his fellow panelists during State of the Offsite Construction Industry, the culminating webinar for Building Systems Week.
"To get to zero [energy], you really have to incorporate onsite energy production," noted Lionel Lemay, executive vice president/division head – structures and sustainability at the National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, such as solar panels. "So you do need to build a building that's very energy efficient before you even consider adding onsite power generation. I think these [offsite construction] systems are going to be the answer to that because is simply just too cost prohibitive to build traditionally and get down to those low energy consumption buildings."
Such systems will not only be resilient in terms of withstanding some of the natural disasters, such as high-wind events and wildfires, but also be adaptable to future changes in building technologies, the construction market and building codes.
Trade associations can be a great resource not only for education on these systems and their benefits, but also to finding resources to construct them. Many associations provide credentials and courses to certify their members so that other industry professionals know they're working with a qualified professional. NAHB's Building Systems Councils (BSC) also was an instrumental player in the creation of the Housing Innovation Alliance Heat Map, which directs users to manufacturers in their area as a starting point.
As builders are starting out on their projects, panelists agreed that another early step needs to be bringing the entire team together — builders, designers, subcontractors, etc. — to ensure everyone is on the same page at the onset. BSC Chair Tifanee McCall pointed out that this includes many of your suppliers and outside collaborators as well.
"Let's not overlook the Associates and suppliers that are members of the associations," she stated. "Yes, you need to know how to build the house, but you also need to know where to get different materials, lending opportunities, insurance resources, and those are abundant within the associations as well."
For more insightful information on the state of the offsite industry and other key elements to getting involved, learn more about NAHB Building Systems at nahb.org.