It takes an average of four to six months to build the typical new construction home and in the homebuilding business, time is money. Complicating the issue for most builders is a shortage of skilled tradespeople, including framing carpenters, the constraints of weather-related delays, and countless other risks associated with construction sites. However, evolving building processes like offsite manufacturing can dramatically improve the homebuilding process, resulting in myriad benefits to builders and homeowners. Insulation Institute recently spoke with Gerard “Gerry” McCaughey, Chief Executive and Chairman of Entekra, which offers a fully integrated offsite construction solution. While there are many benefits to the process, we highlight four undeniably appealing ones for builders.
- Faster build cycle
Reducing the construction time for any home builder is advantageous for many reasons, but foremost is increasing cost-effectiveness. McCaughey says his two-year-old California firm employs engineers and architects to design and develop computer aided-design (CAD drawings) and specs to create templates that become the structural shell of the new home. The shell is then delivered and ready to assemble at the home site. “Typically for builders, it takes 15 to 25 days to frame a home,” McCaughey said. “Our manufacturing process for cutting the wood panels, floor panels, roof trusses, and all the other relevant material in a factory-controlled setting and then delivering them to the site dramatically reduces that framing time to four days.” According to McCaughey, this saves the builder anywhere from $200 to $1,000 per day in labor costs on a 2,500 square foot house.
- Consistent Quality
We’ve talked a lot here at Insulation Institute about the challenges some builders are having meeting the 3ACH 50 blower door testing requirement in newer versions of the IECC. We hear over and over that getting the airtightness levels required by the code starts with framing. McCaughey believes that the lack of basic building science knowledge among framers comes at a cost to builders pursuing energy efficient building envelopes. “Using modern, precision technology and a more integrated approach to building in a controlled manufacturing facility means consistent quality and better structural integrity,” he noted.
Without careful oversight by a construction superintendent, HERS rater, or other quality assurance contact for the builder, a home’s framing can have unintended holes that can compromise air tightness and long-term structural durability.
- Less Waste
Material waste is not only expensive, it’s also antithetical to what most energy efficient, high- performance builders value most: sustainability.
It’s estimated that excess or unused wood alone accounts for 40 percent of job site waste.  There’s a multiplier effect to consider with larger developments, but this waste (and the cost associated with it) is eliminated with off-site manufacturing.
McCaughey thinks some builders may bristle at the first cost of off-site manufacturing initially. “It looks to be expensive, but it isn’t,” he said. He estimates that a builder of a typical 2,500 square foot home can reduce build cycle time by as many as 40 days and save about $500 daily in reduced labor costs. “If you look at first costs, it’s more expensive, but total costs make off-site manufacturing more profitable for the builder.”
- No Weather Delays
Off-site manufacturing reduces weather-related delays, and associated damage and one of the biggest threats to home durability is moisture. For example, with traditional wood framing, experts recommend wood moisture content of no more than 15 to 19 percent. Higher than that and you’re setting the stage for moisture-related problems like wood rot and mold, so protecting wood framing is critical, which can be tough with on-site construction outdoors.
Offsite construction, however, eliminates weather-related construction problems altogether.
Why Offsite Construction Will Explode
Few in the building industry question the long-term viability of offsite construction. While Entekra is a young company, its business case is strong, as demonstrated by the $45 million investment the company received from Engineered Wood Products company Louisiana Pacific. That investment will allow the company to scale up its production from five homes a week to 10 by the end of March. The company is also constructing a state-of-the-art off-site production facility, which McCaughey says will be the most automated off-site production facility in the country when it opens in about a year. “This will allow us to manufacture 3,000 homes per year and expand to other states throughout the country.”
McCaughey says off-site construction is much more popular in Europe than it is here in the U.S., but that will likely change. The ability to solve one of the most pressing issues builders have, lack of skilled labor, is a strong value proposition that Entekra and companies like it can leverage.
“Delivering a home to the job site and getting it up in a few days allows the builder to get the other trades in and out efficiently, cutting their costs and allowing them to deliver a top-quality home to the buyer in less time.”