Labor Shortages Prompt Builders to Try Prefab

November 16, 2016

Some of the nation’s largest homebuilders are turning to factory-made housing in response to an ongoing shortage of construction workers across the country.

KB Home recently debuted a model home that featured pre-fabricated portions that were later for assembled onsite. The house includes an energy-efficient kitchen as well as a rotating audiovisual wall (for watching media or video-conferencing) between two rooms. Since much of the home was created in a factory, KB Home required fewer workers in the field for the home’s construction.

“Other [industries] have been able to utilize these same techniques,” says Dan Bridleman, senior vice president for sustainability, technology and strategic sourcing at KB Home. “Ultimately this is about cost, it’s about efficiency, and it’s about speed.”

Prefab housing has long faced criticism for being too “cookie cutter” and lacking the customization of traditional stick-built housing. In recent years, only about 2 percent to 3 percent of new-home construction could be considered modular, according to U.S. Census data.

But builders are now showing more willingness to explore prefab housing, particularly as the number of workers in the construction field continues to shrink. This year, those numbers are down 30 percent below their peak in 2006, according to the Labor Department.

Some companies have relied on this method for quite some time, however. Since the late 1980s, Toll Brothers Inc. has welcomed elements of prefab housing, particularly in the construction of wall panels and roof trusses.

“We don’t need as many skilled workers on the job site,” Rob Parahus, a regional president at Toll Brothers, told The Wall Street Journal. “A four- or five-man crew can put together a house in the field that might take a lot longer and a lot more skilled people to put together if they had to build every wall panel on the site.”

Source: “With Workers Scarce, More Home Builders Turn to Prefab Construction,” The Wall Street Journal (Nov. 14, 2016)