- A Japan-trained, Las Vegas concrete team used an innovative, proprietary, metal-form and anchor bolt foundation system in laying the groundwork for Chōwa, the first Sekisui House model to come to the North American market.
- Every millimeter of the home—from the horizontal base footings upward—gets built digitally, generating exactly-sized, oriented, named, and labeled subcomponent parts, starting with the foundation’s metal form boards, spacers, and anchor bolt system. Job-site time to lay the foundation cut 30% off the time it would have taken to do a similarly-sized 5,400 square foot custom home in the Las Vegas market
- Using a metric metal-form system the U.S. crew had never utilized before—shipped to the U.S. from a Sekisui House engineering center in Japan—the results speak for themselves: A diagonal from the right-angle southeast corner of the foundation to the right-angle northwest corner, measuring 139 ft. 4 inches, was within 3/16ths of an inch (less than 5 millimeters) accurate.
Seido is a Japanese term that means precision. It translates. And, it matters. No more so than in the world of building homes, structures whose basic fitness function is straight lines, right angles, and plumb verticals. Geometrically precise volumes.
For Japanese builders at Sekisui House, who’ve built and delivered more than 2 million homes in the 60 years since the company’s founding, seido is not simply about a standard to shoot for in geometric measurement. For them—each and every team member in the Sekisui House chain of command—seido is sine qua non, a cultural non-negotiable.
Yet, here we are in 2019, and we’re having this conversation. Despite America’s technological global leadership, American home builders still work on-site around typical tolerances of a quarter-inch of error--this way or that--for every 10 linear feet of construction.
On too many U.S. home construction sites, seido is not just a foreign concept but a fantasy. How can home building expect to alter its calculus of runaway costs—land, labor, materials, capital, etc.—if it can’t get control of the simple geometry of building?
The time, know-how, materials, cash, etc. it takes to make up and correct for a quarter-inch off-line or off-square of measure for every 10 feet linear built space is a well-known bane of American home building. It’s one of the root causes of a daisy-chain of consequences that plague the industry today. Those variances—and the expense of resolving them on site—map directly into an enormously complicated, chicken-and-egg, welter of lost productivity, waste, higher costs, delays. Ultimately, those quarter-inch errors measure a large part of the mathematical mismatch between what builders can afford to build and what households can afford to pay for homes.
From 40,000 feet, American residential construction activity adds up annually to approximately $1 trillion. Experts widely believe upwards of $400 billion of that $1 trillion frizzles away in waste and lost productivity and poor quality. And then we wonder why more and more households—whose wages have nowhere near kept pace with housing costs--find living options to be unattainable where they live and work.
Seido—should American building crews everywhere learn what it means, how to get it, and, importantly, that they should expect it in every facet of a job—also represents a classic multiplier effect promise among builders. Precision would add velocity, eliminate waste in physical materials, introduce predictability, reduce or eliminate warranty expenses, and turn start-to-completion building cycles into a digital thread of managed outcomes, rather than the crapshoot of multiple moving-parts they are today.
What’s more, that list speaks to the “hard cost” effects of elevating builders’ ability to assume and execute millimeter accuracy in measures and structural members. What it doesn’t speak to are so-called soft benefits and values. A sense of pride in work that’s close-to-perfect the first time; the satisfaction at having a near identical relationship between intention and outcomes; the ability to apply all that gain in time, aggravation, and other resources to true focus on customers, and caring for their experience, and giving them delight.
In a very real way, the BUILDER Concept Home project, Chōwa—Living In Balance, nearing fit-and-finish shape just six months after the project broke ground at its site at Howard Hughes Corp.’s Summerlin in Las Vegas, is itself like a school.
- Japan-based Sekisui House, Ltd., is learning through this venture with its wholly-owned U.S. home building firm Woodside Homes, how its mastery as the world’s No. 1 home builder may apply to design and product development in the United States market.
- Partners at Woodside are learning how to bring entirely new building technologies—aimed at precision, velocity, productivity, simplicity, and high performance—into their operating skillsets.
- Trade crews and suppliers are learning how to engage, train-up, and execute using tools and processes perfected in Japan and other global markets, and available for the first time here.
Here’s how that education, research, and discovery process worked to enable the construction of a never-before-built 5,400 square foot, luxury custom, net zero energy ready home in one-third typical time by trade crew members who’d never used some of the building tools and technologies before this project.
In early March, just before the scheduled March 18 ground-breaking in Las Vegas, a super-user team of executive and supervisory Woodside Homes members—including Kent Lay, Troy DeGraff, Michael Salerno—and representatives of their two key foundation and framing trades, Colvin Construction and BMC, participated in a two-day training session at Sekisui House’s building education and training center in Shiga prefecture, just north of the company’s Osaka headquarters.
During the foundation training process, Woodside Homes Las Vegas-based project supervisor Michael Salerno and Colvin Construction’s Michael Colvin got a hands-on training in the Sekisui House proprietary metal-form board foundation wall system—a critical first-step necessary for the firm’s eye-poppingly elegant post-and-beam assembly.
Among the first challenges Salerno and Colvin confronted was metric-to-Imperial measurement conversions that would enable U.S. crews to apply Japanese-produced metal form boards, spacers, connectors, and anchor bolts. The Chōwa foundation footprint would measure 39,000 millimeters in length, or 127.935 linear feet. The width is 20,000 millimeters, or 65.61 feet. Once they mastered the conversions and snap-lined the training area, the team set about learning the Sekisui system for a precision-process foundation.
The system starts with a series of specifically-assigned stands for horizontal footings—each marked to a single location and an exact position—spaced in such a way so that they’ll fit pre-welded lengths and shapes of rebar. The rebar grid builds up and gets secured at the center of each stand, and then that rebar grid gets enclosed by a sleeve of metal form boards, each of which interlocks with one another, every piece mapped to one and only one location in the entire foundation system.
Atop the form boards, the crew attaches a metal template. These templates serve three purposes.
- They’re precisely-measured spacers of both width and length
- They also ensure that the top surface of the stem wall is laser level at the proper height from grade the entire 7,154 square foot foundation.
- They’re each punched to fit bolts--at dead-center penetration points--that will anchor glulam posts that weigh as much as 2,000 lbs.
“The system is so simple, you can’t mess it up,” says Woodside project supervisor Michael Salerno, who’s been building homes in the Las Vegas area for 30 years.
Training In Las Vegas
While excavation and grading work got underway in Las Vegas during mid-March, Salerno and Michael Colvin returned from Japan and began the process of getting the Colvin Construction crew ready to implement a foundation system they’d be doing for the first time.
“We took the entire concrete crew into our training center here,” says Salerno. “We played them the Sekisui House training videos—with the audio off, obviously, since our U.S. crews don’t speak Japanese.” Then Sekisui House foundation experts, Yoshiyuki Matsubara (Mat) and Kazumasa Matsukuma (Kazu)—who arrived in early April, showed local crew members from Colvin Construction the process Sekisui House uses for the footers, the rebar installation, the proprietary metal stem wall forms, the leveling, etc. for the foundation.
“The collaboration between the Japanese and our crews was seamless,” says Colvin. “The Sekisui House team culture is meticulous about details and precision, and our guys appreciated the wealth of knowledge and a system that is so accurate the first time, there’s no need for retrofits, or special fits on-site. They design foundations and the process around their forms.”
Woodside’s Salerno says that, thanks to the simplicity of the system, its intuitive steps, and the ability to achieve accuracy, concrete crews who’ve been building for decades the same way in the Vegas Valley, were able to learn the Sekisui House process in a couple of hours of training.
“It’s easily 30% faster, once you learn the process, than the way we’ve done things here,” says Salerno. “And the U.S. guys embraced it with open arms.”
While the U.S. training days and excavation work were going on, two containers shipped from Japan into the port of Long Beach, Calif., with all the pre-engineered metal stands, form boards, spacer templates, and anchor bolts. Between April 9, when the team dug the base footers for the foundation, through May 3, when the team poured concrete for the home’s interior crawl space, Sekisui House foundation experts Mat and Kazu worked side by side with the Colvin Construction team.
“With that collaboration, we were completing the work at a rate of about 1,000 dimensional linear feet with six crew members in eight hours,” says Colvin. “The way they’ve integrated the bolt template with their foundation system is revolutionary. It not only squares up the foundation, but you’ve got the anchor bolt positions punched out exactly where each one needs to be. It’s really eye-opening—the construction culture in Japan—to see first-hand how each person is so passionate and focused on precision. You can see the care and love in how they work.”
The outcome of the partnership—actually a tri-lingual job site of English, Japanese, and Spanish-speaking workers—speaks volumes.
“We poured about 180 yards of concrete for this foundation, and it’s diagonally 139 feet from the southeast corner to the northwest corner,” says Salerno. “We were 3/16ths of an inch off-square, within 5 millimeters accurate. We snap-lined adjustments, and had it perfectly square and level so that every bolt was laser-perfect when we started framing.”
What You Need To Know
As a result of the accuracy of the foundation, stem wall, and anchor bolt system, a unique post and beam framing system—engineered and manufactured in Sekisui House’s Japanese factory—assembled on-site from the first stick flying to the roof nail-down in eight-and-a-half days. This, mind you, is a newly-designed, custom home that blends Japanese influences with high-end preferences of American buyers, built by crews who only produce high-volume production homes.
What It Means
Seido, at its essence, is about getting the math correct in the physical world of construction. In Japan and its other global markets, Sekisui House regards precision as a fundamental requirement, not simply a nice-to-have result.
For U.S. construction players, the take-aways are these. As painful and counter-intuitive as the industry’s shortages and unpredictability in skilled labor, the pain and friction by themselves won’t cause change. Seido may make logical sense, but it also may be regarded as too expensive or time consuming or both. As the Japanese team at Sekisui House showed the Colvin Construction concrete team in Las Vegas, it does not have to be either.
- Make it easy to learn
- Make it simple to implement correctly the first time
- Make it go fast
All of this involves front-end design, engineering, and construction processes that iterate in countless sizes and footprint shapes, all conforming to the same geometric “fitness function” or grid, which is what Sekisui House basic geometric building blocks do.
The kicker benefit, of course, comes when the crews see that they’re work in any given time period is better than they’d been able to accomplish with their usual tools and processes in twice the time.
“We’ve got our trades coming back to the site with their families to show them their work on this project,” says Salerno. “This is a job they’ll remember the rest of their careers. They’re proud of their work here and what it’s added up to.”