The future of housing is broken, and Joseph Wheeler, co-director, Center for Design Research and professor of Architecture at the Virginia Tech School of Architecture and Design, is working toward a solution with his Solar Decathlon housing prototype, made up of 12 plug-and-play cartridges.

Wheeler and his team are focusing on prefabrication because they believe that's where the future is headed. As housing faces a shortage of trade labor and as homes become more sophisticated with technology, factory construction will be the best way to integrate systems and ensure quality with fewer trades.

“The industrial revolution happened in the late 1800s, but we are in the digital revolution now, which is going to be much, much bigger,” Wheeler says. “It’s all the sophisticated electronics. People will start to expect more sophisticated hardware and electronics, like Murphy beds built into walls that allow for flex space and living rooms that can change sizes or convert to an office. The house needs to be more than panelized walls; they are going to be complex, pre-wired systems.”

At the International Builders' Show, a panel—hosted by Metrostudy and led by Paige Shipp, director of consumer segmentation at Metrostudy, Michael Dickens, partner and chief marketing officer at IBACOS; Gerard McCaughey, CEO and founder at Entekra; and Buddy Raney, owner at Raney Construction—addressed how the session participants are preparing for the digital revolution.

“If you have a process that is labor constrained and you can’t change the labor, then you have to change the process,” McCaughey says.

Watch the whole session below.

Wheeler predicts that changes to the industry will be driven by builders that have to deliver a much more complex product in a much more constrained environment. With fewer trades, industrialized housing will allow builders to bring a more sophisticated product mainstream. Another process change that will be inherent with the industrialization will be the importance of the designer throughout the entire design and construction phases.

These process changes will make it easier to integrate the high-demand smart home solutions that are currently trending yet difficult to bake into the volume home building cycle, especially as they become more sophisticated.

Wheeler doesn’t think 3-D printing will be an option for the future if it’s limited to the frame of the house, because that’s the fastest part of the home to build. Instead, he envisions housing components being sold and shipped by big box retailers, like Amazon, in five to 10 years.

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