I recently had the opportunity to visit the 200,000 square foot manufacturing facility of H+ME Technology here in Toronto.
Here’s a photo of myself and Nick Zicaro:
H+ME (originally called Brockport Home Systems Ltd.) is a division of developer Great Gulf, but they were never intended to be just an in-house provider and much of their business is now with outside clients.
What H+ME Technology does is manufacture and assemble factory-built wood panels for both low-rise and mid-rise new construction homes. That is, instead of the walls and floors being framed outside on the construction site, they are fabricated ahead of time in a controlled facility (see below) and then delivered to site. This allows for a single-family home to be framed in as little as 2 days on the job site.
What’s interesting about all of this is that architects have long been obsessed with the idea of shifting construction away from the actual job site. A great book on this topic is Refabricating Architecture by Stephen Kieran and James Timberlake. In it they talk about how inefficient our construction processes are and how we ought to move towards a fully integrated approach that brings together technology, materials, and production methods.
And in 2006 they put their money where their mouth is and built a fully prefabricated house on Taylors Island in Maryland. Here’s an snippet from their website:
“Most houses are built from thousands of parts, which are transported separately to the construction site and pieced together by hand—a process of extraordinary duration, cost, and environmental impact. With Loblolly House, by contrast, we wanted to use integrated assemblies of those parts, fabricated off site, to build a house in an entirely different way.”
The big advantage of this entirely different way is that you’re able to dramatically improve efficiencies, quality, and performance by fabricating the components in a controlled environment, as opposed to on-site by hand.
Despite all this, the industry has been incredibly slow to change and most houses are indeed not built this way. But H+ME is working to change that, which is why I was keen to check out their facility and learn about their business.
So here’s how it works:
H+ME starts by modeling out the entire home in 3D CAD according to the project drawings. This allows them to catch any design coordination errors before they happen on-site. And it’s why their slogan is “Twice built. Assembled once.” They are literally building the entire house in 3D ahead of time.
Once the house has been modeled, they then send the designs for the walls and floors to their factory and begin production. During this process, all of the rough-ins for electrical, plumbing, and so on, are provided, which makes it super easy for the trades on-site later on.
Here’s what that looks like in the factory:
Advanced Precision Robotics allow us to build within 1/16" (1.58mm), which means straighter walls, more level floors, faster installation, and better-fitting trim, molding and cabinets. #timelapse #factory #building #Construction #home #HomeTechnology #Robotics #Precision #quality #production #panelizedconstruction
And here’s what the scene looks like on-site when the panels get delivered:
Your eyes aren’t deceiving you. That’s our team assembling an entire floor of a house in a matter of hours. Because we can assemble the home so quickly, there are no damaged building materials or lost time due to weather. #PanelizedConstruction #Home #Building #HomeTechnology #Timelapse #worksite #Build #construction #builder #instalike #like #fast #build #instadaily
Ultimately, their vision is to be able to deliver fully closed walls to site. This would mean that all the plumbing, electrical, insulation, and so, would already be in the walls and be ready to get connected/assembled. All of this is a significant step forward.
Because as Stephen Kieran and James Timberlake argued in their book, this is where the industry is headed. We are headed towards much closer integration across design, technology, materials, and production methods.
And in the end this is a great thing for both the industry and for consumers. It will translate into less coordination errors. Less construction waste. Less environmental impact. Greater construction efficiency. And much higher quality homes. I can’t wait to see more of this.
A big thanks to the folks at H+ME Technology for taking the time to speak with me and tour me around their facility. If you’re interested in this space, they will be hosting a Q&A session on Twitter this Wednesday, November 25th at 8pm eastern time. You can join here or using the hashtag #TalkHomeTech. I’ll be tuning in.