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Homebuilding Innovation Lags

Posted by: Peter Coy on September 14, 2006

We’re going through a big home remodeling and addition so I’ve gotten an up-close look at some of the new technologies being used in homebuilding. For example, with copper so expensive, builders are using sturdy plastic tubes now. They’re reliable, but they’re much cheaper than copper, lighter, more flexible (of course) and easier to work with. As a bonus, they’re color-coded, so you know which ones are for which purpose. (People who actually know about this stuff are invited to correct me on the above. Or I could just go home tonight and ask Rich Ragusa, our wonderful builder.)

That’s a long way of getting around to talking about a new study by Virginia Tech’s Center for Housing Research. Authors Theodore Koebel and Marilyn Cavell concluded that overall, builders are pretty slow to adopt new technologies. “Technologies and practices persist for long periods in homebuilding for various reasons, many still unknown,” they write.

The Va. Tech team focused on builders who put up more than 200 houses a year. They found that the biggest builders were the most innovative, on the whole. They heard builders complain that subcontractors and their own employees were resistant to adopting new technologies. The biggest builders were the most likely to complain that building codes impeded innovation and that using new technologies raised the risk of call-backs.

The study was done for the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing and the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development. It came out in June 2006. Here’s a link: Characteristics of Innovative Production Home Builders.

Reader Comments


September 14, 2006 5:45 PM

Not terribly shocking... We have coal burning technology that's 100 years old in some parts of this country. Homebuilding as an industry isn't that much different. Larger homebuilders may introduce new technology into their "production line" if it proves that it saves them money (or can make them money). For the average subcontractor, he's not going to go buy a bunch of new tools and abandon the old way until it's been proven. The jury is still out on those PEX tubes, by the way. There's debate about whether the material in some of them is potentially harmful to your health.


September 15, 2006 10:43 AM

I do not seem to be able to get the link working for further information. Can anyone please clarify the source?

Peter Coy

September 18, 2006 10:44 AM

PathNet's link to the study seems to be broken. Here's a link to the press release about it.


September 26, 2006 2:03 PM

In the past there has been too rapid innovation that led to real problems. Remember abestos, aluminum wiring, and plastics that turned brittle and yellowed? What nightmares await?

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BusinessWeek editors Chris Palmeri, Prashant Gopal and Peter Coy chronicle the highs and lows of the housing and mortgage markets on their Hot Property blog. In print and online, the Hot Property team first wrote about the potential downside of lenders pushing riskier, "option ARM" mortgages and the rise in mortgage fraud back in 2005—well ahead of many other media outlets. In 2008, Hot Property bloggers finished #1 in a ranking of the world's top 100 "most powerful property people" by the British real estate website Global edge. Hot Property was named among the 25 most influential real estate blogs of 2007 by Inman News.

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