This discussion is a brief summary of some of the new technologies that are being offered to homeowners. Of course, each day, new and better advances in material, equipment, finishes are being developed and marketed for consumer consumption. As is always the case, some of the new technology will offer more efficient and improved benefits to new homes, some of the advances, will never actually become factors in the improvement of the residential home.
It is important, when constructing a new home, that only the technologies that present a consistent marketable improvement be considered. There are, and will always be the creative, “off the wall “developments, that will neither add value to the home, or survive the test of time.
There are separate discussions within this website that provide more information and specifics for each of these topics, however, again this discussion is a summary of some of the more important and time tested technologies currently being incorporated within residential homes.
Precast Foundation Walls
The use of precast foundation walls has drawn considerable popularity with both builders and home owners. These walls are constructed within an enclosed factory environment and are delivered and installed at the jobsite. Benefits include:
- Walls are constructed in an environmentally controlled environment by skilled craftsmen that only perform the task of producing these walls.
- Walls are engineered to accomplish the highest in structural integrity and durability.
- Wall finishes are exact and consistent with color, finish and accuracy.
- Walls are installed onsite, in many cases, in one work day.
- Walls are watertight and can be filled, similar to a bathtub and will not leak.
- Interior surface of the walls is pre-designed, to easily accept final finishes, for ease in providing a finished basement.
- Engineered drawings and dimensions are presented for approval, prior to the manufacture of the foundation, ensuring accuracy, control and coordination for inserts, pipe openings, etc.
There are several manufacturers of these types of walls, and dependent upon the location of the project, the local providers should be contacted for pricing and scheduling.
The cost, when analytically evaluated, is, in most cases, less than the cost of a poured in place, footing and foundation wall.
The modular concept for home construction has been in existence for decades, however, the advancement of technology, manufacturing space, transportation and field erection has caused this type of construction to advance and become a viable means of constructing your home. Benefits include:
- Homes are constructed in an environmentally controlled environment by skilled craftsmen dedicated to specific tasks.
- Homes are not constructed in sun, rain and snow, as in field stick built construction.
- The homes are constructed on pre-assembled jigs, in the factory, ensuring square corners, equally cut joists, studs, rafters, etc. The assembly is a much more accurate and controlled assembly than stick built in the field.
- Inspections and coordination are performed on a daily basis in the factory ensuring that all codes are followed and every mechanical and electrical assembly is properly installed.
- In most instances, the roof is completed, windows and doors installed and closed on the first day of home erection. This eliminates the negative issues with water, sun and environmental concerns that plague any stick built home.
- Owner is presented with finish options, specific to the individual modular home vendor, in one location, making the selection process a much more controlled and coordinated process.
- The homes are constructed with up to 30% more structural members due to the need to safely transport the modular to the site, lift them off the transportation trailer and set them in place.
- The homes are insulated more efficiently due to the construction within an enclosed environment. The sealant used is applied in a temperate environment, allowing adhesion and set up time as well as temperature, to be in accordance with manufacturer’s requirements. This eliminates the installation in freezing weather or excessive humidity and heat.
- Costs are more accurately determined, due to the precise and consistent cost evaluations presented upon purchase of the home. Elimination of the majority of change order events that normally plague the onsite construction process. Prior to delivery to the site, all issues, selections, etc. are precisely made and priced by the modular home representative.
Panelization of specific portions of the structure, like modular homes, has been in existence for a number of years. This industry has, like modular, has had its positive and negative elements, however as technology advances, insulation techniques improved , mechanical and electrical materials are advanced, the use of panelization has become more common and convenient. Benefits include:
- Like the modular concept as well as the precast foundation wall panels, the panels for panelization are constructed within an environmentally controlled space. There is no rain, snow, heat, humidity, etc. involved in the construction of these panels.
- The panels are delivered to the jobsite and coordinated for proper sequential installation. There is not a lot of raw material to be coordinated, protected, and managed on the site.
- The engineering of the panels is performed by certified engineers and presented to the owner for review, coordination and approval. There is less chance of issues resulting from mistakes and incorrect structural assembly.
- The panels are constructed on straight jigs and are assembled to rigid standards. The panel’s are square and dimensionally accurate.
- Special, in house inspections, are coordinated within the factory ensuring that all mechanical and electrical assemblies are proper and in accordance with code.
- Installation in the field is coordinated with approved shop drawings, each panel having a designated number for sequencing the installation.
- Installation and home erection is much more efficient and therefore quicker than the common stick framing. The assembly of the panels is not as efficient as the entire modular assembly.
- Insulation, sealants, etc. are all applied in the factory and finalized in the field resulting in less use of sealants and insulating products in an uncontrolled environment. Although this is not 100%, as is the case in modular construction.
Spray Foam Insulation
The use of spray foam insulation has become one of the newest technologies being introduced to the residential marketplace. Both closed and open foam has been utilized in the commercial construction market for several years; however, the introduction to the residential market has offered some interesting positive results. Benefits include:
- Increase R value ( the rating used to determine insulation value / it is a rate of heat exchange through a material ) with less depth of material. This allows increased R values within the same confines of space.
- Ease of application, the spray application is easily performed by trained, skilled craftsmen, and the coverage is 100% as opposed to the labor intensive installation of board or batt insulation.
- Ability to fill all openings such as cracks along windows and doors as well as the ability to spray where it is impossible to access with batt and board insulation.
- Sound deadening. The use of spray foam will deaden the sound within the structure by reducing the ability of sound transmission from the exterior. Having sprayed a home on the waterfront, we have been chastised that the only way to hear the surf pounding the shoreline was to open the windows.
- Structural stiffening. In areas of tornado resistance necessity, the use of spray foam has shown structural stiffening and increased structural integrity of the structure to increase the structure’s ability to withstand the destructive elements of a tornado or hurricane.
- Enhanced structural integrity. When you are in a structure that has been “ foamed “ there is a more substantial feel within the structure. The combination of sound deadening, structural stiffening and lack of air penetration offers a feeling of being within a more established and structurally sound environment. This will offer the real estate agent the accommodation of less creaks and noises as they show the property.
The technological advances within the exterior finish marketplace, provides a never ending advancement of materials. The competiveness of this marketplace has caused siding manufacturers to improve the use of PVC for siding applications as well as countless other materials. The roofing manufacturers are adding to the warranty years on their products and a 30 year roof is now the norm.
I will not attempt to identify all the various product advancements available to the homeowner. It would be beneficial for the homeowner to perform some product research and select some of the local suppliers of roofing and siding to make presentations of their products.
Exterior finishes and the research and development of these products are ongoing, and influenced by the marketplace, the location of the home, and most importantly the environment of the specific home site locations. Whether you are building in the Northeast, the Southeast, our West or elsewhere will determine the best selection for your exterior finishes. There are many products and price ranges to choose from and the local distributers are best suited to summarize these options.
Again, as with the exterior finish components, this portion of home construction is developing on a daily basis. The advancement of air handlers, cooling and venting systems, piping and ductwork, hot water tanks and tank less technology is advancing at a lightning rate. It would be impossible to try and summarize the various product advancements and acknowledge the pros and cons of each advancement. However let me summary a small list of products that should be evaluated.
- Piping / a product by the name of Pex tubing is being used throughout the industry. This is a plastic component that offers expandability to reduce breakage due to freezing, ease of installation, special tool assembly equipment to ensure leak free connections, manifold layout coordinated piping, hot and cold water color designations and much more. Although more expensive as a product there is substantial savings in labor with the use of this product.
- Tankless hot water and heating equipment / the development of equipment that is instantaneous in their ability to heat water reduces or replaces the need for large, heavy , space gobbling water tanks. The use of “ insta hot “ water heaters at the point of use ( kitchen sink for example ) has reduced or eliminated the cold water first, prior to hot water. The use of circulating pumps to ensure instantaneous hot water throughout the home is now a normal practice.
- Mechanical units that provide both cooling and heating throughout the home with refrigerant piping is eliminating the need for large banks of ductwork and separate air supply and return ducts. The ability to satisfy several areas within the home on separate thermostats with the same mechanical equipment is now in production. There are countless different and advanced heating and cooling mechanical systems that will enhance the home efficiency and adaptability.
Not to repeat the comments, but as with the mechanical components, electrical equipment and wiring devices are being developed and improved constantly. The use of blue tooth technology is eliminating some of the hard wired systems. The use of new and easier connection components, wiring harnesses, etc. are all making the electrical installations more efficient and simpler to install. A summary of products is the following:
- Dimmers and switches making the use of electricity more efficient and modernized.
- New LED lamps have solved the energy consumption issues of incandescent lamps.
- Generator systems are being designed to ensure continual electrical service even through storms and power outages.
- Low voltage systems allowing full internet access throughout the home as well as wireless technologies are advancing at an amazing rate.
- Switchgear and lighting and power panel technology as utilized new components to make the transmission of the power from the utility company into the home more efficient and economical.
Energy Saving Products
This discussion can, and will be an entire element unto itself. The advancement of energy saving and “ green “ technology is advancing on a daily basis. This industry is an entirely separate entity and can be summarized:
- Solar, both panels, coatings, active, and passive
- Wind, roof turbines, windmills, wind turbines.
- Wave and water usage
- Geothermal systems that utilize the earth as a heat or cooling source
- Advancement of heat pumps to use the ambient air as a medium, the water in a body of water, the earth as the heat and cooling sources.
- Specialized windows and doors that darken upon sunlight interaction and become clear as the ambient light changes.
- Specialized roof shingles that absorb and or reflect the light and solar heat as required.
In summary, the rate of advancement in new technology for the homeowner is tremendously exciting. The use of each product has both its advantages as well as its limitations. It is up to the homeowner to decide on the particulars of the industries, and the extent of the usage of new and advanced technology.
The sky is the limit, however the pocketbook is also. As is usually the case, the newest technology is the most expensive. As with television, computers, etc. as the technology advances the prices decrease. Once again, the decision to utilize advanced technology is a personal one and can only be determined by the individuals financing the project.
I have said it before, and will say it once again; the employment of a professional construction consultant to guide you through the many advanced products available, is invaluable, and will be money well spent. Good luck!