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How Innovative Construction Companies are Addressing America’s Housing Shortage

America is facing one of the most significant housing shortages in its history. With millions of homes still needed after a decade of under-building relative to population growth, the race is now on to bridge the gap and increase supply.

Amidst this backdrop, many construction companies are taking steps to address the issues using innovative techniques and technologies. From off-site construction to bypassing the labor shortage, there’s hope within the industry that these approaches can alleviate the pressure on America’s dwindling housing stock availability.

But before examining these innovative approaches, it’s worth evaluating just how bad things have got.

America’s Housing Shortage: The Worst in a Generation

The last decade has quietly seen a dramatic chasm, with the latest figures putting the number at 6.5 million homes. Several reasons have driven the underdevelopment of new homes, with the ongoing labor shortage a key factor. The pandemic also provided an unwelcome buckle in the production line.

However, the good news is that housing companies have woken up to the issues and found innovative ways around some of the most pressing problems. It’s how, last year, the US saw the highest level of household formations in the last decade, with over 2 million new homes completed.

Below are some techniques and technologies helping new home construction firms get back on track.

Off-Site Construction for Increase in Affordable Homes

One of the most significant pain points in the US housing shortage is the affordable price points. Thus, home-building companies have been looking at ways to deliver housing at a cheaper and faster rate.

Off-site construction, sometimes called modular or prefabricated construction, has offered some construction firms a way to achieve that lofty objective. As the name suggests, this process involves building vast swathes of homes in a factory setting “off-site” before transporting and assembling them on-site.

Building this way can deliver homes 20 to 50% faster than traditional building processes and shave off up to 20% on costs.

But it’s not quite the silver bullet many industry analysts would hope it would be. At least, not yet. A patchwork approach to state and county regulations has left progress in this arena stilted at best. More needs to be done for this new building method to make waves in the industry and deliver millions of quality affordable homes to market.

3D Printing to Solve the Labor Shortage

Labor has long been an issue within the construction industry. Despite the industry’s best efforts, there remains a significant gap in both skills and physical numbers.

Companies are taking an innovative approach to this by eliminating the need for human labor in many aspects of the home-building process. For instance, companies such as Diamond Age have used a combination of 3D printing and robotics to automate up to 27% of the manual labor required to build a home. The company believes that, once their construction lines become portable in 2024, they will be able to automate 55% of the homebuilding process.

Once again, in theory, this should solve two of the major issues plaguing the industry: the labor shortage and the lack of affordable housing. Experts will be watching to see if technology can be the answer to the problem – as has been the case in so many other inefficient industries in the past.

Shared Facilities to Speed Up Infrastructure Installation

Another reason for construction on new homes taking as long as it does is the need for the installation of critical infrastructure for the running of each home. Each home requires a substantial level of associated infrastructure installation, slowing down the construction process, from HVAC ductwork and systems to electrics and plumbing.

One way of circumnavigating this issue involves installing a singular system for an entire community and simply attaching each home to said system. Achieving this outcome is most readily attained with what is known as district heating and cooling. Using a central geothermal hub for the community, each house can be heated or cooled using an air pump.

There’s no need for extensive air conditioning ductwork, electric or gas-powered boilers, or water pipes, dramatically speeding up the new home-building process. This approach has been pioneered by leading national home builders, including LGI Homes. Under their Terrata Homes sub-brand, they have developed entire communities using this communal approach to heating and cooling, allowing them to reduce construction timelines significantly.

Better still, the entire system is solar-powered, meaning these homes generate as much energy as they consume, opening up the possibility of Net Zero living.

Construction Wearables to Increase Worker Productivity

The industry is tackling an ongoing labor shortage, and the productivity of this sector’s workforce has also been in steady decline. Homes are taking longer to build because the manual labor input is moving slower than it used to.

One of the most significant contributing factors to the fall in productivity is overworking, often leading to illness and injury. As many as one in every three construction workers has developed at least one musculoskeletal disorder (MSD). Worse, these chronic conditions are often treated with opioids, with prescription rates three times higher among construction workers with MSDs than those without one, leading to all kinds of problems, including addiction.

The potential solution to this problem is increased monitoring to better spot the signs of fatigue and other potentially injury-causing conditions. Wearable tech has been around for some time (see smartwatches). However, traditional construction attire, including hard hats, vests, and boots, can now include monitoring systems that promote better worker safety and productivity.

With GPS, heart-rate data, activity trackers, air quality monitors, and more, site managers can better identify workers unfit to continue on-site. With automatic thresholds set and reported, this innovation will also take a lot of a project manager’s micromanaging off their plate, sending workers home before accidents and other injury-causing incidents take place. This practice will avoid potentially shutting down construction for several days or harming workers and reducing their ability to work.

America is Chronically Short of Houses – But the Industry is Responding

While the United States might never experience a housing shortage so severe, several pioneering companies are adapting new technologies and new approaches to homebuilding that should see the gap close over the next 12 to 24 months.
From wearable tech that protects workers and keeps them productive to automating large swathes of the construction process, plenty of long-overdue innovation is entering the industry.

In the case of many of these innovations, including shared heating and cooling systems and modular construction, the onus is now on local governments to provide clarity regarding legislation and draft regulations to help rather than hinder this new dawn of new home construction. With a more coherent approach nationwide, the housing shortage can be addressed and remedied much faster.