Panelized Homes: The Next Big Thing for the Building Industry?

22 Feb

An example of panelized construction (thanks to Blenker Companies for the image)

Can you really build 3x the amount of homes with the same labor force? Last week at the International Builders’ Show (IBS), I attended a presentation by Jason Blenker of Blenker Companies, Inc about panelized construction and it’s got me intrigued.

So we’re clear, here’s a good definition from Castlegate Homes of what panelized construction means:

The entire house super-structure or “shell” consisting of component parts (wall panels with integrated insulation, roof trusses, floor systems, and optional windows and exterior doors) are built and installed in a controlled, automated factory and then transported to the building site for final assembly according to the house blueprints.

This is different than modular construction (which I’ll cover in another post), but why is this any better than traditional stick-building? Jason’s analogy was this:

“Ford builds a good truck. But how good of quality would that truck be if they sent a mechanic to put it together in your driveway?”

Here’s a few additional reasons panelized construction makes so much sense for builders:

  • Projects are planned in advance, usually using 3D BIM technology, which allows all parties involved to collaborate before the construction starts.
  • A panel factory can cut lumber up to an accuracy as good as 1/16” – you won’t find many framers that can do that on a jobsite.
  • A typical 2000 sq. ft., 3 bedroom, 2-car garage home can be completed, from digging the foundation to homeowner occupation, in as few as 62 days.
  • That home can go from foundation-only to completely enclosed in 2.5 days with only a 3-man crew and a crane on the jobsite.
  • The construction waste from those 2.5 days was small enough to fit in a 55 gallon garbage can.
  • There’s no limit to how “custom” a home can be when you build with panelized. To prove that point, I saw photos of a 30,000 sq. ft., $20 million home that was built with panels from Blenker’s factory.
  • The price is comparable to traditional stick framing, when all factors (materials, labor, waste, extra deliveries, time delays, weather-related issues, callbacks, etc.) are considered.

In 2010, less than 5% of new homes in the US were built with panelized construction. It seems this is a trend just perfect for the future of our industry. What’s stopping us from considering this different approach?

Additional Information:

4 Responses to “Panelized Homes: The Next Big Thing for the Building Industry?”

  1. seftonoxford November 24, 2012 at 9:28 am #

    I am not sure what is so special about this espoused concept? Because I have built penalized buildings like hotels, homes and condos for 30 years. And I agree that this reduces waste and material loss it requires a factory that is precise in manufacture and the tolerances have to be such that moisture and daily temperature can be taken into account. I could not see from the article if the finishes were also installed at the factory. Because in any building that is where the money is.

    • branddepthfinder November 26, 2012 at 10:11 am #

      Mr. Oxford,

      Thanks for reading the post, and for commenting. While we don’t claim to know all the ins and outs of residential panelized building, the companies we’ve come across, including Blenker Building Systems, don’t install the finishes at the factory, as all that can’t be done until the wiring, HVAC, etc. are in the wall. The key advantages Blenker identified include the reduced waste you mentioned, as well as reduced errors, less labor hours and the ability to completely enclose the building within days rather than the weeks typical to most residential projects. Those were intriguing to us and hence, the genesis of the blog post. Thanks again for reading!

  2. Craig Johnson January 31, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    While many have utilized the benefits of a panelized building system for years, there are many builders that are just realizing the benefit. Good article and insight…


  1. Top 8 Ways to Onboard Rookies to the Building Products Industry « Depth Finder - May 30, 2012

    […] just for the exhibits. Send them for 3-4 days and get them to attend a variety of seminars, like this one I attended on panelized homes, for […]

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