Friday, May 7, 2021

West Virginia Chooses Modular to Build its Latest Bridge

Imagine for a minute how many carriers it would take to deliver a 5,000-ton module to the job site from your factory. And then imagine there being no roads to ship it on.

That's exactly what faced the contractor that built and installed the bridge.

A bridge spanning the Ohio River and serving as a primary connection between the communities of Wellsburg, W. Va., and Brilliant, Ohio, was constructed off-site and floated into place at the end of April.

The $131 million Wellsburg Bridge is the first alternative delivery project in the state of West Virginia.

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Under the direction of the West Virginia Department of Transportation (WVDOT), the project was awarded to prime contractor Flatiron, based in Colorado.

The main span and the arch were constructed using temporary shoring towers upstream at an assembly yard. According to Clark, the advantage was that they could use relatively small equipment with minimal impact, especially to the river.

CLICK HERE to read the entire Construction Equipment Guide article


Gary Fleisher is the Managing Director and contributor to the Modcoach Network and its affiliated blogs. Email at modcoach@gmail.com



Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Is Innovation a Good Fit for Established Modular Home Factories?

Recently I’ve been asked quite a few times what I thought of innovation and automation in modular construction and I’ve always answered that question the same way…”When it’s needed.”

But that is such a vague answer that I think it’s time I elaborate on it. 

The first thing we should look at is exactly what is Modular Construction? In this discussion, it’s a six-sided module that is built in a factory, either on a production line or cribbing. The module will have most of its interior and exterior finished when it’s ready to leave the factory. That could be as high as 85% if the modules are generic plans or very similar modules. Modular is not panelized construction.

Two Types of Modular Factories

There are essentially two types of modular construction. Residential single-family housing and “everything else”, which includes commercial modular such as Chick Fil A restaurants and other retail outlets, apartment buildings, dormitories, hotels and anything else that isn’t a single-family home.

When we talk about innovation and automation, they live in the “Everything Else” world of modular. New factories have been popping up across the country to feed all those big projects for developers and housing authorities and almost every one of them has the latest in BIM, automation and innovative ideas as part of their basic structure.

Software and applications that study worker movement and arrive at more efficient systems, as well as innovative new building processes, are the goals many want to achieve. Each new modular factory believes they have the secret sauce lacking in their competitors. Hopefully, all those millions being spent to “modernize” those new factories will eventually pay off but at the moment, many new “innovative” factories are struggling to get more than 10 floors out of their factory a week.

Most, if not all, of these new factories, have shunned building for the single-family home market. The advantages of automation and innovation are realized in building repetitive modules in the hundreds. Efficiency in producing those modules means profit. 

But what about those modular factories that primarily build single-family homes? Are innovation and automation part of their plan to modernize their factories?

To get a better picture of the SFH modular factory, we need to understand when most of them were built. It’s not unusual that almost every modular factory churning out single-family homes is over 30 years old.

During that time they have lived through the ups and downs of the cyclical housing market. They haven’t really needed to be innovative as much as they needed to be adaptive. These factories have been labor-intensive from day one with many of them producing 15-20 modules a week on a regular basis.

When a housing downturn came along, they simply worked with fewer employees and slowed down production. When housing heated up, they simply reversed the process.

Covid-19, unfortunately, has changed that pattern. Housing is going crazy with many single-family home factories wanting to ramp up production but with the shortage of labor, rising lumber and building material pricing and shortages of supply, these “old line” factories are falling back on being adaptive; something they’ve successfully done for decades.

Adding innovative new procedures and automation are expenses very few of them want or need at this point. 

They are survivors!

Once this rush to build as many homes as possible begins to slow down, they will have the time to begin looking at their production line and maybe begin looking at some innovative ways to save themselves time or work more efficiently...”When it’s needed.” 

While all those new factories are adding innovative procedures, automation and even robotics, the old guard single-family modular home factory owners continue to be labor-intensive by choice. When you can turn out as many if not more modules a week than those new factories without having to add millions of dollars automating their processes or hiring people simply to implement and maintain a new type of procedure, the question becomes…”why do it?

Sometimes doing things “the way we’ve always done them” isn’t so bad after all.


Gary Fleisher is the Managing Director and contributor to the Modcoach Network and its affiliated blogs. Email at modcoach@gmail.com

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Saturday, April 24, 2021

Experts Begin Speculating What Lumber Prices Will Do By Year's End

Experts are like baseball players. If they are correct 30% of the time, people see them as the people to follow. Too bad they don't have their own baseball-type cards.

Here are what some of those experts are saying this week about the lumber futures:

  • Lumber prices could be due for a sharp fall when supply ramps up, according to Capital Economics commodities analyst Samuel Berman.
  • “All told, we forecast that the price of U.S. lumber will plummet to $600 and $550 per 1,000 broad feet by end-2021 and end-2022, respectively, as domestic supply surges and imports remain strong,” Burman wrote in a note, according to Bloomberg.
  • But RBC analyst Paul Quinn is looking for futures prices to remain above $1,000 until at least late July.
  • Overall, "market participants continue to have a favorable outlook for pricing levels given strong demand, low inventories, and the inability for supply to catch-up in the near-term," he wrote, Bloomberg reported.
It really doesn't matter if they are correct or not. If they bat .300 overall, we'll keep listening to them. Whose cards do you collect?

CLICK HERE to read the entire Seeking Alpha article


Gary Fleisher
is the Managing Director and contributor to the Modcoach Network and its affiliated blogs. Email at modcoach@gmail.com


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Friday, April 23, 2021

Batman to Bring Green Construction Factory to Pittsburgh

I doubt we'll see the Batmobile parked in the employee parking lot anytime soon but Batman, along with several others, has invested in a new Off-Site construction factory in Pittsburgh, PA.

Pittsburgh native Michael Keaton is known for dressing in black as Batman (including in the upcoming flick “The Flash), but his newest role — starring his hometown — is decidedly more green. 

The actor announced he is partnering with Nexii Building Solutions, Inc., a Canada-based green construction technology company, to build a sustainability-based manufacturing plant in Pittsburgh that will advance what’s next in low-carbon, lower environmental impact building construction. 

Developed by Trinity Sustainable Solutions — a new entity composed of Keaton, Nexii, and Craig Rippole of the locally based Trinity Commercial Development — the plant will be the second PA location for Nexii and its sixth plant overall. 

The Pittsburgh plant, which is slated to open by 2022, specializing in low-carbon and lower environmental impact building materials could create 300 local jobs. 

CLICK HERE to read the entire Pittsburgh Magazine article


Gary Fleisher is the Managing Director and contributor to the Modcoach Network and its affiliated blogs. Email at modcoach@gmail.com

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Wednesday, April 21, 2021

The Off-Site Construction Industry is a Total Mess

Imagine off-site produced housing as a room full of Kindergarten children on the first day of school. Each child has their own personality and it’s the teacher’s job to begin bringing them together to learn. It’s a job very few of us could handle. 
 

How is that like the off-site construction industry, you ask?

Unlike each small child on that first day of school meeting each other for probably the first time and wanting to make friends, our industry is composed of unique types of building methods and designs led by people that don’t want to make friends with the other kids.


Each group thinks they have the magic sauce to make housing faster, cheaper, better, greener and more sustainable. Concrete housing people have no idea what goes on behind the scenes at a modular housing factory. The wall and panel producers look at 3D concrete printed home operations like there’s something wrong with those people.


Each different type of construction holds its own industry conferences, webinars and annual meetings. The only common theme is the term “housing.”

Even the term “Housing” is a screwed-up mess.  In its simplest form, housing is a single residential living unit that provides shelter.


But even that term has been torn apart by the off-site construction industry. Each part of our industry serves several masters. The first master is the discipline each builds to. The second master is how each type of off-site factory addresses the first discipline.

This is where Kindergarten comes back into the picture.

Just like each child wants the teacher to recognize them, each type of off-site construction is fighting for its place at the builders' and developer’s table. The shipping container people try to show how converting their boxes into affordable housing complexes is a better option than the wood-based modular units trying to achieve the same thing.


Even the Tiny House people are vying for a bigger piece of the housing pie by showing how communities of their homes are the answer for both the affordable and homeless needs. Add in the ADU crowd, the 3D printed home people and the myriad of other types of ways to build a home and suddenly it really does look like a bunch of 6-year-olds screaming and running around.

Even at this age, children with similar personalities begin forming groups of two or more doing their own thing while watching what the other small groups are doing. These groups tend to be fluid with some kids moving from group to group until they find one that fits them.


Continuing this analogy, let’s take a look at the new kids none of the others even knew existed until the first day of school.

Those are the kids that come from more affluent families. They have the best lunch boxes, the latest iPhone, the coolest earbuds and have never known how other children grew up.

These are our industry’s money-laden startups that have an idea of how to do housing better than others that have been doing it for 50 years.

Today’s off-site startups have a real vision of what they can do for housing. They bring in Architects, marketing consultants, hire production people and buy all the latest automated equipment. In order to do all this, they are using millions of dollars of investment money given them by people that are sometimes more motivated with helping provide affordable housing than learning how the off-site industry actually works.

Now let’s really put a knife into the heart of all this…

Imagine that teacher trying to do that during COVID-19 on-line with children they’ve never met in real-time. And what interactions could possibly occur between the students each sitting at their tiny table at home interacting with their computer?

That’s the way the off-site industry has been for decades. Each not only competing for all the homes and projects out but also with each other no matter how they build it.


There is another problem that needs to be addressed...rapidly rising lumber and building material costs. We’ve all seen the webinars, read the news and listened to the experts explain why it is happening but the one thing our industry, the entire off-site industry, hasn’t done is to have met and discussed what our options are as a combined force.


Skilled labor shortage is another topic not discussed as a collective.

But how will all these inter-discipline off-site discussions occur if Association members of each of the different types of off-site won’t even talk about it with each other, let alone ‘everyone’ in off-site coming together for the betterment of all.

What is needed to begin bringing us all together is a strong leader, one respected by all that has the time and patience to work with all the kids that make up the off-site construction industry.

Our industry needs a good Kindergarten teacher!


Gary Fleisher
is the Managing Director and contributor to the Modcoach Network and its affiliated blogs. 

Email at modcoach@gmail.com

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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Promoting Your Modular Home Business on YouTube Can Reap Benefits

It really doesn't matter if you are a regional builder or a builder serving many states, promoting your company today means reaching out to people where they are which is different than putting an ad in your local newspaper.

Here are some recent YouTube marketing efforts by companies in the modular housing industry that are sure to have new home buyers emailing them for an appointment. 

East Coast Dormer - A remodeler using modular construction

This first video is perfect for today's "working from home" owner showing how to increase the size of your home without having to sell it and buying a new one, especially with today's rapidly rising costs. 



Impresa Modular - A nationwide modular home builder

This video explains to the prospective new home buyer that it really does matter what happens behind the scenes in building your home in a factory.



Huntington Homes - A modular home manufacturer

Many modular home factories have videos but Huntington Homes is one of those factories you can see the quality of the workmanship of their skilled labor force.





Gary Fleisher is the Managing Director and contributor to the Modcoach Network and its affiliated blogs. Email at modcoach@gmail.com


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Monday, April 19, 2021

Things That Keep Modular Home Builders Awake at Night

We’ve all had those nights when after being asleep for an hour we suddenly wake up thinking of all the things that have changed around us and how we’re going to cope with them. 

It’s very tough keeping up with the tremendous changes facing our industry.  Lumber and Building material costs are off the chart, your customers are changing and working with your factory has never been more important. 

Today your customer Googles just about every statement you make checking to make sure you are correct. They watch YouTube videos of every part of home building and check on social media to learn if you are a good builder.

As the pace of the off-site business continues to speed up everything is being turned upside down. Everything we thought would last forever from sales and marketing all the way through the construction process is being attacked and improved on an almost daily basis.

Because the economy is good, business is good. But good business brings about changes for the modular home builder they haven’t faced before, especially trying to explain to your customer why the price of their house goes up every week. Lead times are expanding every day for most modular home factories. This is happening because many of the factories are jumping headfirst into commercial, large multi-family and hotel production to keep their lines working continuously and leaving the modular home builder waiting longer to get a home for their customer. 

The factories are running short of lumber and building materials and with prices continuing to climb, are reluctant to stockpile too much.

‘High Tech’ is invading us from one direction, large commercial developers from another and the media keeps pumping out story after story about off-site being the future of not only single-family housing but affordable and homeless housing as well.

Modular home builders are being asked to respond faster to every question asked of them. Get an email at 7:00 AM from a customer and if you haven’t answered it by 8:00 AM another email shows up asking if you got their first email. Someone fills out an information request form on your site and if they don’t get a response from you within 24 hours they are moving on to another builder.

It’s time for every modular home builder to begin thinking about throwing out the trash that is slowing down your business. It could be the way you interact with your customers and prospects, the procedures you use to build a home or it could be somebody on your team that just does what is expected but nothing more. Your trash can could overflow within one hour if you honestly sat down and looked at it with objective eyes.

Related Article: Time to Take Out the Modular Factory Trash

If you, the modular home builder, haven’t been waking up at night asking yourself what you can do differently, do better and how to embrace all the new things attacking the modular industry’s status quo, it may be time to retire or change professions as you haven’t been watching the news and reading this blog.

Disruptive change is coming. This doesn’t mean bad change, it simply means that the modular industry as we have known it for the past 3 decades is about to get a rude awakening to the great possibilities headed our way.


Gary Fleisher is the Managing Director and contributor to the Modcoach Network and its affiliated blogs. 

Email at modcoach@gmail.com

Sign Up to receive the Modcoach News newsletter twice a week

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Escalating Lumber Pricing Add $24,000 to Average New Home

“Lumber is more than just trees.” I heard that yesterday when talking with a wholesaler friend about when lumber pricing should begin receding. 

He told me that the tree itself was simply the raw product and everything and every step in the process from felling the tree to delivering a 2x4 to a customer’s home has been hit with shortages and rising costs.

When the pandemic was in full boom last Spring and people were forced to work from home, many of those workers took their first stimulus checks and began remodeling projects. Lumber was still readily available at Lowes and Home Depot as many off-site factories and even site-built projects came to a screeching halt.

Then the restrictions were lifted in our industry and everything from sawmills having trouble ramping up fast enough to meet the surge in demand to trucking delays and worker shortages at lumber yards has added to costs, which are now getting passed on to consumers. Add in higher fuel costs, fewer young people wanting to do manual labor, shortage of truck drivers all the way down to finding skilled mechanics to keep those trucks on the road and it all makes sense that “Lumber is more than trees.”

All of those things will keep pouring fuel on red-hot home prices, making ownership less affordable for large swathes of the population.

Even though out-of-control lumber prices have added $24,000 to the price of the average single-family home, new home buyers are lining up to buy their slice of the American Dream of homeownership.

Related Article: Can US Off-Site Construction Industry Obtain Better Lumber

It’s hard to believe just two years ago Canfor Corp. and West Fraser Timber Co. were closing sawmills because of weak demand. 

In 2019, weak demand prompted a steady stream of output reductions and mill closures. That left big sawmills flat-footed amid the unexpected demand boom as the pandemic kept people indoors, sparking a wave of do-it-yourself upgrades, full-scale renovations and purchases of bigger homes.

Related Article: Is the Modular Construction Industry About to be Hit with Many Factory Closings?

In the parts of the country that have severe winter weather, off-site factories are usually begging for work to fill their production lines from Dec to Feb, however, 2020 was different. As we entered late Fall and early Winter, those same factories that usually had layoffs were swamped with many new housing and project orders.


Gary Fleisher is the Managing Director and contributor to the Modcoach Network and its affiliated blogs. 

Email at modcoach@gmail.com

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Modular is the Key to The World's First Triple Net-Zero Development

Meet the world’s first triple net-zero development – the Seventy-Six complex! Triple net zero means the highest standards of reaching net-zero waste in three categories – Energy, Water, and Waste.

Seventy-Six is designed by Garrison Architects and it consists of three mixed-use buildings. Building A is a seven-story structure of spanning over 40,320 square feet, Building B, is a nine-story structure spanning over 136,080 square feet, and Building C is also a seven-story structure that spans 40,320 square feet. The buildings all include a studio, one, two, and three-bedroom apartments, as well as commercial spaces that can support the residents like a salon, daycare, urban farming zones etc.

The complex will be built using steel framing with a modular construction system that will include factory-built braced steel-framed units. “The mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP) scope will be coordinated with the modular system, and the systems coordinated with an energy consultant to meet the requirements of Passive House, Triple Net Zero Energy, Sustainability, and the NYSERDA Building of Excellence Program,” explains the team.

CLICK HERE to read the entire Yanko Design article


Gary Fleisher is the Managing Director and contributor to the Modcoach Network and its affiliated blogs. 

Email at modcoach@gmail.com

Saturday, April 10, 2021

California Cities Want to Build 100,000 Affordable Housing Units

If there was ever a state NOT to throw $16 Billion in housing money at, it's California. But that's exactly what 16 of the largest California cities want the state to give them.

Let's do the math. $16,000,000,000 divided by 100,000 new homes equals $160,000 per home. California hasn't seen a $160,000 home since the 1980s. Add in rapidly escalating building material costs, land infrastructure costs and all those bureaucrats wanting a share of the funds and if this isn't a recipe for disaster, nothing is.

Here is the headline from a recent Newsweek article. Read the article and let me know if you would give 16 California cities $16B to spend on this.

California's Big Cities Ask State for $16 Billion to Build 100,000 Homes for Homeless

A coalition of mayors from California's 13 most populated cities are urging the state legislature to approve $16 billion in funding to build over 100,000 homes for the unhoused.

The group of mayors, known as the Big City Mayors, sent a letter appealing for the funds to the leaders of the legislature on Thursday. The letter was addressed to state Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins, state Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and the chairs of the Senate and Assembly's respective budget committees, state Sen. Nancy Skinner and state Assemblymember Phil Ting.

"While our economic challenges make it difficult to identify an ongoing revenue source, the large amount of one-time funding presents a generational opportunity to make a dramatic move to address our homelessness crisis," the mayors wrote. "That can be accomplished by setting aside a one-time allocation of $16 billion for a steady expenditure of $4 billion per year over the next four years."

"A four-year allocation of $16 billion that we've outlined could create more than 100,000 homes—or enough to house nearly every Californian who entered a homeless shelter in 2020," they continued. "Such a bold commitment would have a transformative and lasting impact on our state, and make California a national model of compassion."

CLICK HERE to read the entire Newsweek article


Gary Fleisher is the Managing Director and contributor to the Modcoach Network and its affiliated blogs. 

Email at modcoach@gmail.com

Thursday, April 8, 2021

Is Britain's L&G Modular About to Turn the Corner to Profitability?

Just about everything you've heard about insurance giant Legal & General's venture into modular home manufacturing has been about the huge losses its produced. Perhaps the latest news coming from L&G Modular means that things are about to change for the better.


L&G Modular, set up by L&G Insurance in 2016 to produce 3,500 factory-built homes a year, fell to a pre-tax loss of $135.3M for the 2019 calendar year, without reporting any revenue.

However the company's CEO, Rosie Toogood, recently announced 750 homes to several developments over the next 18 months. This will require them to double their workforce to 700.

L&G modular homes factory CEO Rosie Toogood, left, with former housing minister Esther McVey

Toogood said the firm was in discussions over a 2,000-home pipeline of work and recommitted the business to its previous target of delivering 3,000 homes a year by 2024.

Describing the market as “really buoyant”, she added: “We’re now really starting to build momentum and seeing multiple schemes coming to fruition at the same time.

If they can maintain this momentum, L&G Modular has a real shot of not only improving their own company's bottom but reinforce the MMC battle cry putting the spotlight on every off-site factory in the UK.


Gary Fleisher is the Managing Director and contributor to the Modcoach Network and its affiliated blogs. 

Email at modcoach@gmail.com

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Built to Extreme Tiny Home Specs But Still Affordable

This "tiny house" from Australia is one of the most beautiful I've seen in quite some time. And being built to what has to be one of the toughest building codes, you have to ask how did they also make it affordable?

The reason it has to be built to Australia's "Bushfire Attack Level 29" code is it's required for its target market. I can't imagine a tougher building code anywhere else in the world.

Every MillBuilt home is built with: 
• Aluminium windows and doors
• 5-6mm toughened glass to exterior panes of all windows and doors
• Aluminium flyscreens on all windows and sliding doors
• Fire resistant timber on all external timber surfaces
• Non-combustible steel cladding
• Subfloors sealed with steel sheeting
• Vents and weep holes sealed with steel mesh.
• Foil-backed, non-combustible blanket to fill in any gaps below roofing.

Builders Daniel and Jamie Pobjoy, owners of Mill Built homes, bought a plot of land northeast of Melbourne, Australia for $129,000 (US) and quickly set about constructing a tiny home to set on it at their 10,000 sq ft factory, an old timber mill in Toolangi National Forest.



The house and property are currently for sale for $390,000 (US)

With the bulk of the building work completed in their factory, all that was left to do after the house was hoisted onto the site by a crane was to join the pieces and connect the electricity and plumbing.

The bottom line: If I were ever to move to Australia's Outback, these would be the first guys I would call to build my home. It looks like it could withstand any natural disaster.

CLICK HERE to read the entire Daily Mail article


Gary Fleisher, Managing Director and contributor of Modcoach Network and its blogs.

Contact me at modcoach@gmail.com