Prior to COVID-19, a tightening labor supply and hot housing market portended a bright future for offsite housing construction methods, such as panelization and modular. In the wake of coronavirus and rising availability of workers sidelined from other industries, at least one key driver of builders adopting offsite methods may have faded. Are builders less inclined to adopt offsite construction now? Or are there other factors making them more ready for the change? A recent survey aimed to find out the answer to these and other related questions.
Home Innovation conducted a survey of 300 Builders in September 2020 to assess builder attitudes toward offsite construction in the post-COVID climate. While the results are still filtering in, we looked at the first 195 responses for a preview of what we might expect to find. Builders were asked an open-ended question about whether their views had changed since prior to COVID-19. The strong majority (72%) stated they had not changed. Of the 28% whose views had changed, 19% were more favorable to offsite technologies while 9% were less favorable. On balance, attitudes have tilted somewhat favorably toward offsite solutions.
Source: September 2020 Builder Survey, Home Innovation Research Labs
Those viewing offsite methods more favorably now see it as a means to overcome social distancing issues at the construction site to improve worker safety, or a way to reduce contact by reducing interaction with vendors. Some stated that coronavirus has made building more complex, and that offsite construction’s promise of simplifying the process was giving them a reason to reconsider it. Other respondents believe in offsite’s ability to improve materials usage efficiency—helping them curb the quickly rising cost of construction materials experience recently. Since coronavirus has tended to lengthen construction schedules, some believe offsite is a key solution to shorten it while simultaneously improving home quality.
Overall, respondents who now view offsite solutions less favorably see its adoption as increasing uncertainty in their business. This does not appeal in an already uncertain industry environment. A few expressed that offsite methods would give them even less control over the building process than they have now, and fear larger builders would be serviced better and more quickly than smaller builders by offsite solution providers. Still others expressed doubt that it could solve the current supply chain constraints within the industry — shortages, delays, and materials price increases — and could possibly make them worse. One respondent suggested, for example, that enclosed offsite factories have a higher likelihood of shutting down than jobsites. There was also a mention that labor had become a little more available since COVID-19, easing the labor crunch that existed prior to our current economic downturn.
The full findings of this new survey, which will include answers to other key questions on builder attitudes toward offsite construction, will be unveiled during a webinar hosted by NAHB’s Systems Building Council on September 24, 2020. Interested in participating? Let me know. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn how to take advantage of opportunities arising from the offsite construction trend, please contact me to discuss.***