Make it here, build it there
The construction industry is building more off-site, and that can be a very green thing. This is one of ten industry-defining trends of 2015 cited in an article on ConstructionDive.com, and it comes as no surprise to me. I’ve run into bits and pieces of this phenomenon in stories I’ve written lately and the implications are heartening.
To start, off-site manufacturing provides greater control on material sourcing as well as the (indoor) conditions that render weather a non-factor. Manufacturers can specify recycled steel or sustainably harvested wood, for example, buying in advance rather than purchasing what might be available at the time of construction.
Another green advantage is that many of these off-site builders specialize in tight envelopes that reduce heating and cooling costs to the eventual owners and occupants. Examples include:
ZIP System sheathing – As I detail in this article, off-site made sheathing panels can be all-in-one systems (wood base, continuous foam insulation, water resistive barrier housewrap, air barrier) that ship in panels, are fastened to framing and taped, significantly reducing on-site labor hours and overall construction time. The envelope can help builders achieve Passive House certification.
mnmMOD Building Solutions – The Santa Monica-based, Iceland-born couple Erla Dogg Ingjaldsdottir and Tryggvi Thorsteinsson developed their own high-performance, factory-manufactured, no-VOC paneling system that ships flat to construction sites. Erla was named one of the top 20 women in sustainability by gb&d (Green Building & Design) magazine in 2015.
Acre Designs – Another husband-wife design team, Andrew and Jennifer Dickson of Acre Designs in Kansas City, is building a net-zero home that is intended to be the affordable-cost model for green houses. To accomplish that, they are developing a construction process that includes pre-cut structural insulated panels, windows and fixtures. “Energy-efficient homes right now are a luxury, so we’re trying to make that more accessible,” Jennifer Dickson told ConstructionDive.
Onion Flats – While the project is now undergoing a redesign, my article in 2014 about the design-forward firm Onion Flats took at look at their plans to build America's first multi-unit Passive House in Philadelphia. “Passive House construction requires a conscious approach to airtightness, which we did by working with our prefabrication company,” president Tim McDonald told me about the $30 million project.
While off-site building component manufacturing could eat into the demand for on-site construction labor, some of the work will obviously shift to factories where building components are being assembled. Of note, one of ConstructionDive’s other top trends of 2015 was the shortage of skilled craft labor – suggesting that these two trends might well dove-tail into a significant change in how homes and other structures are built.