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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6 comments:

  1. In the business world, it is individual ego that take over.

    Even the best available technology cannot convince the unconvincable to adopt a new attitude.

    The world of net zero home is a holy grail in construction. To master the technique, it takes a decade or more and comes at the cost of passion and determination.

    Having put together all of the piece of the puzzle, the only way to have the industry adopt a new vision is to shove it down their throat by demonstrating the capacity of innovation.

    Old industries are all reluctant to change. What has worked well for decades does not have to change they think and will not budge.

    Without help to market new ways of doing things nothing will ever change.

    Thankfully, the best technologies are emerging but they have to work hard at demonstrating there are better ways to build but too often, it implies paying the surplus the client is not willing to pay.

    For 12 years I worked in cold climates investing time and money to fulfill a passion and I am proud to say, I succeeded.

    Trying to have other players participate in this new building concept is a fabulation. It will never happen and that is why everyone is walking on their own, making mistakes and adjusting along the way. They are not reluctant, they are simply ignorant of what is out there, they do not see the added long term values and are only all in for the money in their own pocket.

    Regulators (kindergarten teacher) is only there to set boundaries which are no more than minimum guidelines which are often too little to protect the people and help reduce or eliminate our carbon footprint.

    Our building technology is up for grabs to anyone willing to change the industry without having to reinvent the wheel. We created a monster of energy efficiency that thrives on durability and high performance. Since 20 plus door have been shut in my face when trying to introduce the idea, I have given up trying to sell anyone the best windows in the world, the best insulation technology and the best energy system, I simply walk forward and construct my own villages off the power grid and will invite guests in our glamping resort.

    After experiencing the comfort and having a taste for quality, it is not the industry that will help us grow and multiply, it is our clients that will want to come back and buy their little n'est where they can retire without fearing power outage, heat stroke or arctic winters.

    Our homes have made their way to a place where only a few other actually thrive in the passive housing industry.

    Only this type of home is what we call the E-Volution of construction.

    Our vision is a world where building your own home without the knowledge is feasible because a net zero kit home should be as easy to build as an IKEA piece of furniture, as energy efficient as a sword fish in water and as durable as European ancestral homes while providing comfort and all the convenience of modern day life.

    Of course with more financial support, we can expand and offer solution for eco housing faster
    The goal is to build enough kit homes to accommodate more people and start reverse the negative effects of energy consumption like there is no tomorrow and crappy homes that do not last more than one or two generations.

    The best of all is that it is affordable and sustainable.

    Since the industry is not willing to change nor support new ideas in their plant, I will struggle another year and build my own developments until I become wealthy enough once again and make available on a larger scale, the products that will last and benefits generations to come.

    Instead of convincing other plants to change their way of building, we will offer kit homes anyone can assemble on their own without particular skills or heavy equipment and let destiny take its course.

    We are confident some of the large manufacturers will either copy us or buy in and become affiliates helping us provide thousands of mindfully thought homes that will be future proof.

    Paul Girard, Président of Polar Maxima

    514.793.7285

    ReplyDelete
  2. Aw yes as Paul Girard says; shades of Bill Simpson, Fred Haas, and of course the late Gaylord Lindal! The original Viceroy Homes organization's Port Hope ON facilities where originally designed for such a variety of delivery methods, ie precuts, panelized and/or modular. Unfortunly that version of VHC found quickly that challenge of mod bulk... equaled excessive freight dollars and later called me.. then a VHC distributor-builder-dealer in Williamsport MSA and we tried to fix that limitation, ie shipping mods to the US! Twz as Grandpa Hart said like "shipping coal to Cardiff"

    I helped GL try to find a US-PA location, an existing plant(s) in my home town(s) mod valley ie in the Upper Susquehanna River area. I setup two for Lindal to try to buy but alas we failed! In retrospect. I failed as the kindergarten teacher you describe Gary!. Shall we try, try again " one more one?

    Bill Hart 570-772-9119

    ReplyDelete
  3. Gary - You never cease to disappoint! As Paul and Bill both bring out, the Off-Site industry is less of an industry and more of a group of like-minded innovators all doing their own thing. That's not unlike the early days of the automobile - 100's if not of small shops each with their idea of what an automobile should be, each trying to build the 'better mousetrap'. Until consumers see the difference as something they are willing or able to invest in, there may never be total cohesion as an industry. Looking forward to exploring this more on the Webinar today, The State & Future of Modular Homes with you and Ken Semler. Register here: https://www.learnmh.com/events/

    ReplyDelete
  4. Gary
    I think that, while this has been a consistent opine of yours for many years, it is not solvable within the context of a free, competitive market. With all deference to mssrs. Hart and Girard, passion does not motivate, money motivates. Builders build to make money! They do not build to go home at night and feel good about building homes. They will build what they build for what they can get in response to market demand.

    I love the different technologies. But I am a capitalist kind of guy and I love the fact this industry remains of incredibly fragmented and fiercely competitive. This is the beauty of the market. No central authority tells us where to build or for whom to build. If you want to go another way, God help us.

    Modular Multi family has become viable and highly successful, commercial is booming, and, I believe, the higher end custom homes are going to become a competitive option for many high end site builders.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Gary
    I think that, while this has been a consistent opine of yours for many years, it is not solvable within the context of a free, competitive market. With all deference to mssrs. Hart and Girard, passion does not motivate, money motivates. Builders build to make money! They do not build to go home at night and feel good about building homes. They will build what they build for what they can get in response to market demand.

    I love the different technologies. But I am a capitalist kind of guy and I love the fact this industry remains of incredibly fragmented and fiercely competitive. This is the beauty of the market. No central authority tells us where to build or for whom to build. If you want to go another way, God help us.

    Modular Multi family has become viable and highly successful, commercial is booming, and, I believe, the higher end custom homes are going to become a competitive option for many high end site builders.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Gary
    I think that, while this has been a consistent opine of yours for many years, it is not solvable within the context of a free, competitive market. With all deference to mssrs. Hart and Girard, passion does not motivate, money motivates. Builders build to make money! They do not build to go home at night and feel good about building homes. They will build what they build for what they can get in response to market demand.

    I love the different technologies. But I am a capitalist kind of guy and I love the fact this industry remains of incredibly fragmented and fiercely competitive. This is the beauty of the market. No central authority tells us where to build or for whom to build. If you want to go another way, God help us.

    Modular Multi family has become viable and highly successful, commercial is booming, and, I believe, the higher end custom homes are going to become a competitive option for many high end site builders.

    ReplyDelete