The news is full of stories these days about labor shortages, material costs, construction safety, energy efficient sustainable building, and the health and comfort of occupants of buildings. For those looking to build a new custom home, these are all important stories. More important is the realization that you need a different way to build your home.
Using the same old practices to build is no longer an option. Builders in New England are being challenged to stay up on new codes, energy efficiency standards, and other government regulations. That’s a lot to keep track of, and they need help. Building systems are the answer.
Have you heard the terms “prefab”, “off-site”, “factory-built”, “pre-engineered” or the like? These terms are all used to describe building systems. The main point is this… trained employees work under roof to assemble pieces and parts according to specific instructions provided by the design/engineering department. Supervision assures consistent quality. The result may be a modular section that is 80% complete when it arrives on site to pre-cut log or framing packages that are 10% complete when delivered. While material costs are managed by the manufacturer, the value added to the package by factory processes can be substantial.
Building systems are a different way to build. Many decisions are moved to the front of the project – material specifications, floor layouts/plans, access to the building site, etc. This process of planning ahead is an inherent part of “green building” because it generates careful considerations and more efficiency. This process starts before the building lot is cleared, but can happen simultaneously with clearing, excavating and foundation work. The many types of construction that can be called building systems (e.g., log homes, structural insulated panels, insulated concrete forms, timber frame, dome homes, and modular homes) all rely on similar factors for a quality build. And they all start on site with an accurate foundation (square and level).
Building systems have many advantages, including a more streamlined construction process, improved quality control and less material waste compared to their traditional site-built counterparts –all while reducing costs, making high-quality homes more affordable.
- Fabricated off-site to meet the residential construction codes in effect at the delivery location
- Installed on permanent foundations
- Highly customizable based on engineered standards
- Third-party verification as appropriate – modular certification, log grading per ICC400
- Financed like a site-built home on a different draw schedule
Let’s focus on my experience with the open panel building system of Harvest Homes. Their process starts with the estimate which presents a guaranteed price to provide the specified materials and components necessary to build the structural shell presented by the submitted design plans. The estimating process involves careful consideration of all structural elements, window requirements (e.g., light, vent, egress, safety glass) and more. When an order is placed, the engineering group takes over. In their process, they do what the builder would do on site, such as resolving conflicts in the plans and aligning framing to carry loads down to the foundation.
In May 2019, the Journal of Light Construction published an article by Matt Risinger titled, “The Secret to a Builder’s Success is Simple”. His point was that a clean, organized, well-managed building site is an indication of professionalism. A panelized or modular construction site is the epitome of this, free of large piles of waste materials or dumpsters.
The panelized building system simplifies the process on-site. The panels are handled safely using a crane to lift them from the truck to their position in the structure. This delivery system allows the site crew to continue working while the crane operator locates the next panel and delivers it to that crew. Roof trusses also provide a factor of safety as they save time constructing the roof.
Building systems also offer less obvious benefits. A guaranteed materials package frees the project manager’s (PM) time coordinating pick up/delivery of materials. The PM is also spending less time traveling to the site to check on progress because the floors and walls are assembled in a matter of hours vs. days. A 2000 sf home can be complete to the roof framing within 2 days!