The construction industry is facing a problem.
Demand for construction services is high, schedules are tight due to volume, qualified contractor and remodeling labour is hard to find and every player in the value chain is facing pressure to do more, faster, with less.
However, these are great problems to have – and evidence of the opportunities that exist for building industry leaders, technology firms and the stakeholders that recognize these inefficiencies as opportunities.
More and more, we see the state of mind of construction industry players changing as they realize the benefit emerging technology is bringing to their operations. From software solutions that enhance construction design productivity to pre-fabrication that creates cost-saving efficiencies of scale, to new homeowner experiences that yield faster remodels and home rehabilitations – the construction industry has never been readier to embrace new innovation.
These three technologies are making the new home construction, remodel and renovation industry more efficient:
1. Construction Productivity Software
With quick timelines and growing demand, it’s critical that players in the value chain are firing on all cylinders. For instance, faster project turnaround times for builders and contractors mean more sales volume for manufacturers and distributers.
Technologies that boost productivity and streamline coordination among manufacturers, distributers, builders, retailers and contractors are key to competing in a busy project climate, and many big companies in the industry are realizing this.
Most recently, Autodesk announced the $875 million acquisition of PlanGrid, a productivity app for the iPad that enables builders and architects to take all the paper scribbles, post-it notes and drawings from the construction design process and put them on a tablet. The big bet was that the conservative-minded construction industry would drop their pencils and pick up an e-stylus to create their designs. Apparently, the bet was well placed.
According to PlanGrid, it has helped contractors and owners work together on over one million commercial construction projects around the world.
Autodesk’s acquisition of a productivity tech start-up suggests a move toward integrating digital technology that makes it easier for the construction industry to complete projects more efficiently.
This is no passing trend. An $875 million investment in productivity software by a construction software giant shows that this technology is valued and will be around for a long time to come.
On the residential construction and remodelling side, companies are building software to increase project efficiency and streamline the supply chain among building product manufacturers, distributers, builders and the trades.
Hyphen Solutions, founded in 1998, builds software to simplify the complex scheduling, purchasing, installation and verification process that goes into the construction of residential homes. It provides a “single version of truth” that can be relied upon across the supply chain.
Hyphen is joined by other companies like Buildertrend, BuildTools, CoConstruct, ProCore and BuildIT that are working to increase the efficiency and coordination of manufacturers, distributers, builders, contractors and other stakeholders in the residential and commercial construction industry.
2. Pre-fabrication and Modular Building Techniques
The concept of modular, panelized, component and offsite-constructed homes was popular in the 2000’s, but most promising start-ups in the space were wiped out during the Great Recession.
The concept is straightforward. An automobile manufacturer, for instance, spends years designing a new car, but after the initial design process they sell hundreds of thousands of the same car. In other words, they take advantage of “efficiencies of scale” because the upfront design costs outweigh the huge scale of products that are sold.
In the housing industry it takes time and money to design a new home, but at the end of the day only one home is sold. Why not take a page from the auto industry’s playbook and create pre-built homes and modular components to reap the efficiency benefits of economies of scale?
The problem is that these companies need significant machinery, labour, tooling, software and complex logistics and distribution arrangements to succeed. Any player who intends to compete in this space requires significant investor interest, backing and capital.
However, it appears this is exactly what’s happening.
In a surprise move, Amazon’s Alexa Fund recently invested in Plant Prefab, a pre-fabricated home start-up based out of Southern California. The start-up purports to build homes faster and for less money. Not a bad thing if you’re a busy builder looking to increase the speed and volume of completed building projects. The added benefit is that these pre-fabricated homes can be built year-round in factory-controlled environments, not just during “construction season”.
It will be interesting to see who comes out on top with this technology, particularly given its rocky history of adoption. There are many players in the space, including Clayton Homes, Karoleena, Katerra, Blokable, Entekra, Factory OS, Blueprint Robotics and Kasita.
In the mean time, manufacturers should start thinking about whether the popularity of this technology signals a broader industry trend that they should be turning their attention to.
As an example, could an exterior siding manufacturer partner with a modular construction company to produce ready-made exterior walls? There are numerous partnership, joint venture and acquisition opportunities that will be interesting to watch develop over time.
3. Home Visualization, Measurement & Exterior Design Software
Home Visualization Apps
Traditionally, homeowners have had to look at several websites, visit showrooms and consult with friends, family and professionals before deciding how they want their homes to look like after a new build or renovation. There are limitless resources available to homeowners for design inspiration. However, the data shows that this doesn’t necessarily translate into increased design confidence.
According to our 2018 Consumer Remodelling Survey (available for free here), almost all homeowners looked to friends, family, professionals, TV or the internet for design inspiration. Many looked at multiple sources. However, despite all the options available, over 50% of homeowners were uncertain about their project outcomes.
This lack of confidence results in “design paralysis”, where homeowners are bombarded with so much information from so many different sources that they cannot make a final decision.
To make matters worse, many homeowners experience “design regret”, where they request frequent changes throughout the new home or remodelling project because the tools to properly visualize changes to the exterior of their house before starting the project were not available or offered at the time.
All of this design uncertainty leads to inefficiency and project delays that echo throughout the builder’s or contractor’s schedule. It also has a broader effect throughout the construction and remodelling value chain because project delays mean lower rates of completion success and less sales volume at the manufacturer/distributer level.
Home visualizer apps like those developed by Renoworks are helping to solve these problems.
Home visualizers allow manufacturers, distributers, builders and retailers to have a tool on their website that increases brand recognition and customer engagement, generates more sales, pushes qualified leads to preferred contractors and provides valuable marketing analytics data on how homeowners interact with their products.
Additionally, visualizers minimize homeowner design paralysis and indecision and increase efficiency throughout the value chain by showing homeowners exactly what their new home or remodelling project will look like when complete.
For example: CertainTeed has an exterior visualizer that lets homeowners visualize what the exterior of their home will look like with different siding and exterior building products; Royal Building Products’ exterior visualizer showcases siding, moulding, trim, windows, doors and other exterior building products on homes; and Tamko Building Products’ roofing visualizer app gives their customers a tool to see exactly how Tamko roofing and other products will look on their homes when their project is complete.
Exterior Measurement Apps
Home design visualizers help increase the efficiency of projects when a project is won, but what about the efficiency of measuring, estimating and quoting? This is where measurement software from companies like Geomni really shine.
With its nationwide fleet of fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters and drones, Geomni has amassed an enormous amount of housing imagery that is used to quickly generate roofing & property reports and estimate replacement costs without the need to take any photographs, climb on a roof or even take out a tape measurer. Geomni is streamlining the measurement and estimation process and making it easier for the construction industry to assess project costs and generate quotes without needing to commit field personnel to onerous measurement tasks.
Additionally, they are backed by Verisk, a multi-billion-dollar public company and industry-leading provider of data analytics.
A recent partnership between Renoworks and Geomni aims to develop the next generation of technology to improve the home design-to-project delivery process and increase efficiency throughout the entire value chain from manufacturer to homeowner.
We envision a world where contractors can produce quotes without even needing to visit the job site, and when the job is won, they can finish it faster because the homeowner’s design decisions and preferences are known earlier on.
All of these efficiencies can be supplemented by productivity and supply chain management software and pre-fabricated products.
Looking even further ahead, perhaps one day we’ll see a single piece of software that homeowners can use to visualize and order pre-fabricated homes that are easily assembled on location using productivity software to streamline the entire process. As it stands today, the possibilities are endlessly promising, and the industry is getting ready.