Home Innovation Insights

Increasing Costs, Skilled Labor Shortage, Airtightness Pose Builder Challenges

Ed Hudson, MBA
January 11, 2019

Builders Identify Top Challenges in Meeting New Energy Code Requirements

In December 2018, Home Innovations Research Labs fielded our Omnibus Survey of 300 U.S. home builders, which included dozens of questions from sponsoring manufacturers. We also included some of our own questions to gain insight into current building construction issues.

One of the questions we added asked home builders to identify their “biggest challenge” in constructing homes to meet the energy code. Respondents were simply given an open space to answer. We then manually categorized and tabulated the responses. The table below shows our findings.

Builders' Biggest Challenge in Constructing New Homes to Meet Energy Code

Source: Home Innovation's Annual Builder Practices Survey

Cost, specifically the increased cost of materials and labor to construct the house, was reported by nearly a third of respondents as the biggest challenge – that’s twice as many as the second biggest challenge identified, locating sufficiently-skilled labor to implement energy-code-required practices. The number three answer was “No issues” (14%) in meeting the energy code. Many who answered this way stated they were already building far beyond energy code minimums and, therefore, did not have to make any changes to their current practices or products.

The first response dealing with the actual performance and function of the home was “Airtightness,” with 10% of respondents citing this as their biggest challenge. Builders described issues with airtightness of homes ranging from inability to meet current air change requirements, to those believing building homes “too tight” introduced moisture or ventilation issues, particularly in very humid climates.

When we pose open-ended questions like this, in contrast to those that give a prescribed set of answers to choose or rate, we allow respondents to speak their mind without being influenced in any way by a limited set of choices. Noteworthy in this study is that the top two answers had nothing to do with a specific aspect of constructing the home — rather, they relate to business or operational concerns.

What Does It Mean?

For builders, or any business person, real or perceived challenges can threaten the viability and health of their business. On the flip side, once identified, those challenges can provide an opportunity for them to confront and solve the issues more efficiently, thereby doing better than their competitors. These findings, along with others we’ve seen in our research in recent years, bolster the premise that that the market will favor materials and installation methods that improve construction efficiencies, lower skills requirements, and reduce the cost to construct homes.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be doing a deeper analysis of the findings to see how respondent attitudes changed across different geographies and types of businesses. I’ll also examine some of the verbatim responses that may shed more light on how suppliers and manufacturers can begin to solve specific issues reported in this survey.

In the meantime, the International Builders’ Show is getting closer and the window of opportunity for sponsoring focus groups there is getting smaller. Contact me soon to discuss how we can help you gain insight into the more turbulent and uncertain aspects of our industry.

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