Early Monday, the operator of a truck-mounted hydraulic Grove TMS640 telescoped the crane upward, and swung it into action, carefully lowering the boom down to one of three enormous flatbed trucks, stacked with structural wall-panels that would become the enclosure of the first floor of a home. When it's done, this house will show builders all over America at least some part of the way to the future of housing.

With a handful of local framers, the entire two story envelope--including finished flooring and roofing--of a house that's never been built before will be complete in three days, a fraction of the time with a fraction of the skilled labor it normally takes to start with a bare slab and complete a home enclosure, with sheathing, sub-flooring, and insulation already in place.

KB Home wants to build smart, sustainable, healthy homes for people who make living wages and work to participate in the American Dream. Its KB Home Projekt is an R&D lab in the Las Vegas Valley desert, at one of the valley's sprawling vibrant masterplanned communities, Inspirada, in Henderson. Projekt is KB's literal line-in-the-sand commitment to learning to design, build, and sell with its customers as the very center of its universe, its business model, and its investments.

The three trucks set out from Entekra's Ripon, Calif. factory early Sunday, packed carefully with labeled panels and components each ready to come off the truck in order of on-site assembly. They made their way south, through Fresno and Bakersfield, and east into Las Vegas, a 500-mile journey, start to finish.

Over the next several weeks, BUILDER will take you inside the walls, and inside the design, engineering, construction documentation, and building process that led to this three-day vertical moment in time that could not have been possible if no fewer than 30 partner companies hadn't chosen to join with KB, committed to changing the way they work with one another and work for home buying customers, and begun to remap how homes and communities can be built.

Here are a few take-aways from the first day of vertical on-site assembly of a project largely completed in highly automated factory work stations, driven through CNC cutting machines to near-perfect measures.

  • Fully-integrated offsite is not panelization. The work that comes out of Entekra's factory in Ripon actually involves an entire make-over of the architecture, procurement, construction documentation, and assembly process.
  • What this means is that offsite--if it's going to make a difference in helping to solve for productivity loss in construction--is misnamed "offsite construction." In fact, offsite needs to be understood as a system that connects design, engineering, supply chain, and construction, both on and offsite into an integrated, interdependent flow of process.
  • The opportunity here is that if builders embrace offsite it will improve not only the time, quality, and waste reduction performance of their operations, but it will force improvement of decision-making on every part of the home building and development business, from land strategy, to finance, to product and community design, to purchasing, and finally to construction. Every node where decisions, judgments, and planning occur will, per force, need to change in order to achieve the benefits of fully integrated offsite.

Tomorrow, we'll give you a progress update on the second day's efforts, and show you more of how KB Home's living laboratory in the desert is working to bring consumers' new meaning to intelligent, energy-smart homes, with features that promote health and well-being built into the house.