In some ways, home building is an industry that exists in spite of itself. It relies on a complex, multilayered process that happens largely on site, where weather can be a factor, so the work is slow and methodical: On average, it takes anywhere from 95 to 150 days to build a home and deliver it to a buyer. By contrast, it takes about 60 days to build and deliver a car to a showroom.
No one is proposing a radical shift—not yet, at least—but there are systems, products, and processes that can make life easier for builders. Home building may not have changed much over the years, but the products that go into the houses have. They allow builders to increase their overall efficiency, eliminate mistakes, and shave precious time off the construction cycle.
One way builders are doing this is in the construction of their foundations. Traditionally, a foundation is a site gig that requires forms and a large crew, but some builders are turning to precast foundation walls and tilt-up concrete systems. Instead of being poured in place, precast concrete walls are cast off-site in a controlled environment and shipped to the jobsite, where they are installed with a crane and a small crew, says Brian D. Miller, a technical services engineer with the Indianapolis-based National Precast Concrete Association.
“Most precast concrete foundation systems can be installed in a day or less,” says Miller. “Many conventional foundation systems can take one to two weeks or more to install, and that is before adding weather delays. ... All in all, I would say builders can shave two to three weeks off the schedule using pre-cast concrete foundations.” The cost of such a system depends on the location, manufacturer, and design of the foundation, but it is typically about the same or less than a conventional system, says Miller. “The real value comes from the long-term durability of precast concrete and the time and labor savings on site.”
Jim Baty, technical director for the Tilt-Up Concrete Association, in Mount Vernon, Iowa, says the residential market for tilt-up concrete walls—which are poured in forms on site and then erected—is small; it is primarily used in commercial construction. Even though it might be cost prohibitive, panel casting could take place while the holes are being dug and footings are being placed. The potential for some time savings is there, but the tilt-up industry is not sure how much.
Reducing the time it takes to frame and enclose a house is also an area that can use a shot in the arm. Most builders, for instance, frame their floors and roofs with engineered I-joists and then cut holes in the web to run HVAC ducts and plumbing. While using engineered products is efficient, cutting holes on site increases the chance of a mistake, can be costly, and takes up precious time. This is why more builders are having holes pre-cut by their lumberyard and saving money, time, and mistakes in the process.
One such service is Build-Rite, offered by Boise, Idaho–based Boise Building Solutions. Part of the Build-Rite process is a service that analyzes the home's floor joists to determine where ductwork and pipes will run. The lumber distributor then makes the cuts in the joists so they will not have to be made in the field.
But Build-Rite is more than just pre-cutting holes in joists. Developed for companies that build multiple homes from a single set of plans, Build-Rite also evaluates a builder's project to identify ways to lower house construction costs without diminishing quality. Typical savings are $500 to $5,000 per home, but an added benefit is that the process shaves time off the framing as well.
Houston-based David Weekley Homes is a fan of the system. “It gives the builder a blueprint for how to build the optimum structural system of a house, and it facilitates a quicker process for the project,” says Bill Justus, the builder's vice president of supply chain management. The system analyzes house plans and does a mock-up structural analysis of the framing package to find ways to build the home with fewer materials and less labor.