Will Robots Build Your Next House?

Published: May 10, 2017.
 

Dollars & Details:

In many of the world’s major markets, home sales are booming and prices have risen very quickly due to intense demand.  While houses are selling well, builders are facing shortages of skilled workers, both in the U.S. and in many other developed nations.  In fact, the number of American construction sector employees is down by 1.25 million from its peak.  As of early 2017, the U.S. Bureau of Labor estimated that 6.41 million Americans were employed in construction, down significantly from an all-time high of 7.6 million in 2007.  During the devastating real estate crash of 2008-2011, many workers left the industry.  Today, while the sector is booming, there are not enough skilled employees available, and it can take many years to learn a building trade.

This worker shortage is combining with other factors to force the construction industry to adopt new technologies and become more efficient in general.  Factory-built, prefabricated building components (most notably wall and roof panels) are rapidly growing in popularity.  Now, robotics and factory automation are being applied in the plants that make such components.  Baltimore, Maryland-based Blueprint Robotics, Inc., for example, acts as a subcontractor to builders and developers, supplying completed sections or entire rooms, some finished with tiled showers and gourmet kitchens.  Another example is Connecticut Valley Homes which assembles factory-made homes on customers’ lots.  Robots do much of the work on assembly lines, including cutting, drilling and nailing.  A significant portion of the total construction has been completed when these prefab components arrive on site.  This makes building much faster, less expensive and much less vulnerable to weather conditions.

Trends and Theories:

Bucking a long-term, widely held distaste for prefabricated housing, a maverick firm called Resolution: 4 Architecture is promoting manufactured, modular housing.  Starting at around $200,000, modules can be manufactured in a factory and assembled into a completed house in one of several dozen designs.  The company won a competition sponsored by Dwell, a home design magazine, to design a house near Chapel Hill, North Carolina.  In addition, the firm has designed a beach house in Ventura, California, a vacation home in East Hampton, New York and a 1,725-square-foot suburban home in Long Island, New York.  Contemporary and hip in design, the homes generally appeal to young homebuyers with cutting-edge tastes.

Ranks and Results

Housing Chart by Plunkett

The quality of panelized flooring, walls and staircases has risen remarkably thanks to new techniques, and building these elements at a factory offers many advantages to working on-site.  Major homebuilders that have embraced at least some aspect of the prefab component trend include PulteGroup, Toll Brothers, Inc. and Beazer Homes USA, Inc.


Hot-off-the-Press:  

All the information you need about the global real estate and construction industry can be found at Plunkett Research, including our real estate & construction industry research center online, and our just-published, completely-updated Plunkett’s Real Estate & Construction Industry Almanac, 2017 edition.