Several years ago, when David Cohen was knocking on the doors of big builders, trying to convince them to let him build their houses for them in on-site, whole-house factories, he got cold shoulders at the best and slammed doors at the worst. With sales soaring, nobody was interested in changing the way they built homes, even if it was better. Finally, about a year and a half ago, he found a builder willing to take a risk, Gene Myers, president of New Town Builders in the Denver area. By last spring, fully formed houses, complete from the tile floors to the ceiling-hung lighting fixtures, were rolling off an assembly line in Aurora, Colo., and onto a special transporter bound for home sites a few blocks away. Cycle time: 10–20 days in the factory. That little pilot plant closed when New Town's sales faltered due to lack of demand, but not before Cohen proved whole-house building on site worked. "We produced homes on an assembly line, and we got the quality of performance we were interested in and showed that whole-house building works," Cohen says.
According to Cohen, now is the perfect time for innovations like Cohen Brothers' whole-house process in home building because builders are diving deep into ways to increase efficiency and decrease costs.
"I think you see across the industry that companies are much more concerned about their core operating efficiencies than they have been in many years," he says. "But we are ahead of the game. ... You can't innovate over a weekend. It takes a lot of hard work. I think we will be well-positioned because we put in years and years of effort, so we are ready to go now."
By training, David Cohen and his brother, Roger, are engineers. By experience, they are commercial contractors and real estate developers. Their experience building on a commercial scale made them wonder why large production builders, who were building on a commercial scale, didn't apply commercial building methods to production. They also pondered the idea that houses, not just pieces of houses, would benefit from being built in a controlled factory environment. "We were accustomed to doing big projects," Cohen says. "And that gives you different things to think about." For instance, you can construct a building on a parallel track rather than a sequential one, even question the order of construction in such ways as asking, "Should we build the elevator core first and then build the building around it?"
"We are now are in a position where we know whole-house building works, we know what types of production settings would work very well, and we are presently developing business opportunities that allow us to take our technology into a full commercial application," Cohen says.
"Primarily, what we are looking for is high demand opportunities ...In that 20 percent of the market is the large community portion, we think we have an excellent model."
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Denver, CO.