According to a recent NAHB study, although use of some factory-produced components like trusses has become widespread, the newer and more innovative types of construction technology, such as 3D printing and robots, have so far penetrated the residential market only to a very limited extent. This is true for both single-family builders and residential remodelers.
Data on use of technology come from special questions on two of the surveys NAHB conducts on a regular basis. NAHB canvasses its single-family builders once a month in the survey for the NAHB/Wells Fargo Housing Market Index (HMI), and its residential remodelers once a quarter in the NAHB Remodeling Market Index (RMI) survey. The main purpose of the surveys is to provide the data for the NAHB indexes, but each survey also often includes a set of special questions on a topic of current interest to the industry. The special questions on technology were included on the surveys for the 2nd quarter 2019 RMI and June 2019 HMI. A total of 508 builders and 233 remodelers responded to the two surveys.
Trusses are the most common type of construction technology used in the residential sector, and by a wide margin. According to the NAHB surveys, over 70 percent of both builders and remodelers use roof trusses, and over 50 percent of both builders and remodelers use floor trusses.
After trusses in the above chart, 13 percent of single-family builders use prefabricated wall panels, and 9 percent each use dust-free masonry tools, other prefabricated components, and geo-fencing (a perimeter established digitally, for example to keep construction tasks within safe boundaries). Most of these technologies are used less often by remodelers. Some of the technologies, such as prefabricated wall panels, are not relevant for all types of remodeling jobs. However, 18 percent of remodelers report using dust-free masonry tools—twice the share for single-family builders and the highest percentage for any of the listed items outside of trusses. Activities such as cutting, drilling and sanding masonry generate silica dust, which a known health risk. Power tools designed to handle dust automatically (for example, with an integrated vacuum system) can therefore increase productivity by eliminating the need for an extra worker to operate separate dust-control equipment.
One of the newer construction technologies is 3D printing, which uses design software to create lightweight molds that can easily be transported to a construction site and filled with concrete to add architectural detail to a structure. In the NAHB surveys, only one percent of builders and zero percent of remodelers reported using 3D printed forms. Zero percent of both builders and remodelers reported using digital tilt sensors, wearable devices to monitor construction workers, automated brick laying machines or other robots. It is not surprising that these newer technologies have not penetrated the residential construction industry yet. The motivation for including them in the NAHB surveys was largely to establish a baseline for future reference.
For additional information, including builders’ and remodelers’ use of information technology and social media platforms, please consult the full study.