Building Systems Housing Summit Breaks New Ground

On the heels of a very successful Building Systems Housing Summit, the Building Systems Councils are looking at ways to better educate builders and remodelers about building systems and how using modular, panelized and other systems will save time and money.

In a group discussion about the future of the summit, given its recent success (it was the highest attended since 2010), Norm Hall, incoming BSC Chair and territory manager and factory built structures industry manager for Simpson Strong-Tie, asked his fellow members what they hoped to get out of the tradeshow going forward.

“What’s the purpose of this event?” he queried. “Is it to have a destination to network, renew old friendships, complain about codes, or to get the message—the building systems message—out to more builders?”

Group photo taken during tour of Deltec Homes in Asheville, N.C.

Group photo taken during tour of Deltec Homes in Asheville, N.C.

Hall mentioned that a trade show held in the recent past only attracted five or six builder members.

“I really questioned whether or not I got $800-900 worth of value from that meeting,” he said. “I wasn’t seeing our message getting out to builders. Not with mostly manufacturers there.”

When the building systems trade show—formally called the Building Systems Housing Showcase—was first created nearly 20 years ago, the event brought in upwards of 400 attendees depending on the location. Participation was driven by manufacturers and suppliers who wanted to swap industry war stories and catch up on what was new and trending.

But with the recession came change. The benefits for the manufacturers and suppliers are obvious: more builder members means more houses built and more products sold.

However, builder members may not see what’s in it for them. Even though council membership is only $80 annually, growth has been slow since the downturn. And that’s what the BSC is working toward improving: starting with education.

One thing everyone agrees on is that they’re experiencing the worst labor shortage the industry has ever seen, and don’t see any sign of it getting better. Dan Mitchell, a former BSC Chair and owner of Eagle CDI, has said that systems-built home building is a fitting solution.

Norm Hall (back left) and Ken Semler (back right) discuss the future of the industry with NAHB staff.

Norm Hall (back left) and Ken Semler (back right) discuss the future of the industry with NAHB staff.

Ken Semler, the owner of Express Modular, said getting a grip on labor was his primary reason for switching from traditional stick-built construction to modular home building.

“During the downturn it got really hard, and I needed to reduce my dependence on subcontractors,” he said.

Richard Rozycki, general manager of Champion Commercial Structures, supported Semler’s position.

He’s seen modular home building grow tremendously over the past five or six years and there’s a reason for it: labor shortages.

“Modular can help you solve your construction labor problems. It cuts skilled labor requirements in half,” he said. “Essentially, a modular manufacturer serves as a large subcontractor, replacing and reducing work of up to 30 subs. Modular helps builders and developers do more with less.”

Despite the benefits, Semler said the reason he believes traditional stick-built home builders shy away from systems-built construction is the difficulty in getting started. He said most folks don’t get the hang of it until their third or fourth build.

First-timers tend to overestimate the cost for different trades because they’re not given much direction from manufacturers, he said. They simply don’t know what to expect before everything arrives on site, and they end up paying for it.

“When you lose money on a home, you’re not likely to do it again,” he said. But it’s worth it once you get the hang of it, he added. “What builder doesn’t want to learn how to make more money faster?”

Scott Sedam, president of TrueNorth Development, a construction industry consulting firm, said the biggest hurdle those in the systems-built industry have to overcome is traditional builders’ belief that “the chaos” inherent to home building is just standard operating procedure.

He said more education will show builders that building systems can reduce site labor, cycle times, site waste, extra trips by suppliers and trades, labor and materials, and simplify purchasing and estimating—and how they can take advantage of these benefits.

Detail on one of the log home models at Blue Ridge Log Cabins in Asheville, N.C.

Tradeshow attendees toured Blue Ridge Log Cabins in Asheville, N.C.

Until recently there was no formal school or class that builders could take to learn how to build a systems-built home for the first time with success.

Now, there is. Semler is teaching three classes at the International Builders’ Show in January focused on the topic:

With systems-built housing a possible solution to an industry-wide problem, the BSC hopes to fill the education gaps that are holding builders back. Getting them to see how building systems can save them time and money is crucial for the success of the building systems industry as a whole.

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  1. Great information!
    Systems built housing is the wave of the future!
    Get acquainted with the manufacturers and process!
    Consider adapting your technology to systems built today!
    Attend IBS and learn from the systems built instructors!
    Obtain books from NAHB Bookstore!
    ONwards and UPwards!

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