I have to build this up a little to make a point, so bear with me while I set the stage.
The Big Event:
The International Builders Show (IBS), happening now in Las Vegas. It’s a pretty big deal in the industry. It’s organized by the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and is the largest annual residential housing construction trade event for manufacturers and suppliers of home construction products and services. According to Wikipedia, “It is the only event of its kind, focusing specifically on the needs, concerns, and opportunities that face builders.” There are about 1,700 exhibiting companies there, all displaying their coolest products and latest innovations. It’s intended to be a veritable festival of homebuilding advancement, creating promise and excitement about all things new and better for both builders and homeowners.
The Biggest Exhibit at the Big Event:
The New American Home (TNAH). This is a complete show home built specifically for display for the thousands of IBS attendees. It is proclaimed on their website as “America’s premier show home and construction technology laboratory, The New American Home serves as the official showcase house of the annual International Builders Show.” Further, from their website: “The show home demonstrates ‘Builders’ Best Practices': concepts, materials, designs and construction techniques that can be replicated – in whole or in part – in housing built any place and in any price range.” (The italics are all mine in this piece.)
You’ll get an inkling of what to expect from this year’s New American Home from this description: “The 2014 New American Home will display the innovative elevation design of the future of home building and incorporate in this family-style design a relevance to the way we live today and how we will live in the future. Coming in at right around 6,700 square feet, the New American Home will be comfortably spacious and inviting with warm interiors seamlessly integrating between indoors and out.”
The Voice of the NAHB:
Builder Magazine. All you need to know for my little build-up is the magazine’s tagline: “Smart Building Starts Here.” The preview of The New American Home has been exclusively featured in Builder Magazine.
So, in review:
- IBS is the annual extravaganza of the NAHB and America’s homebuilding industry. It breathlessly presents residential building state-of-the-art.
- TNAH is the premier exhibit at the show, demonstrating the very latest as the “construction technology laboratory” and “Builders’ Best Practices.”
- Builder Magazine is about “smart building” and is the voice of the NAHB and the herald of IBS.
Now that your expectations are prepared about purpose and hype about the New American Home for 2014, let me briefly take you back in history.
Here’s a painting depicting construction practice in the 1700s:
And here’s a photo of construction practice just about 100 years ago.
With all of this as context, just imagine my reaction when I saw the cover of Builder with a photo of The New American Home under construction. Drum roll….
Really? This is a construction technology laboratory in the 21st century? Does smart building start here? A demonstration of builders’ best practices? The future of homebuilding? Incredible. I’m seeing lumber dumped in the dirt, strewn about like Pick-Up-Sticks; a guy bent over like Gumby, working on framing lumber with some small tool; another one on a step ladder doing something; and a third guy apparently watching. Is this where we are in 2014? This photo shows the essence of the actual building, and this is how it was made, which is not very different from the way buildings were made 300 years ago. The main difference between the 1700s building depiction and the Builder Magazine cover photo is the guys in the former would ride horses home (or walk), and the guys in the cover photo will likely drive pickup trucks manufactured with the world class precision and efficiency.
The article goes on to tell the story of the project. It got terribly behind schedule (easy to see why) and crews (hopefully more than 3) were working 17 hour days to try to catch up. In addition, the weather turned wet and harsh (for Las Vegas), construction was further delayed, materials got wet (and muddy, I imagine) and they even lost 350 sheets of drywall to water damage, presumably because it took so long to make the building weathertight.
I do sympathize with the heroic effort of the builders to battle weather, time and labor shortages to get the project done on time. We builders thrive on challenges. It’s in our DNA. But the big challenge we should all be taking up is to build stronger and more energy efficient buildings with the same quality standard as the appliances and fixtures that will be used in the home, not just surviving the poor planning and communication embedded in our industry’s process, and its habitual devotion to outdated building methods.
The finished New American Home will reveal none of this. According to all descriptions, it has an impressive number of features, clever amenities, the best of plumbing and electrical fixtures, a bunch of green certifications, and is “chock-full of multigenerational, sustainable, and inspirational design ideas.” I don’t doubt that.
Nor do I plan to see it. 6,700 square feet of features and amenities masquerading as real building value are hopefully not the future of American homebuilding.
Really, we can do so much better!