Thursday, June 25, 2020

A Second Look at an Important Topic

A follow-up to my previous article: “Everyone” May Not Want an Energy Efficient Home

To Jason, Harris and all those who posted Anonymous Comments:

What I wrote was not intended to disparage the science of a healthy new home and the factories and builders that are on the leading edge of building science.

Actually, I should have elaborated more on what I’ve noticed over the past 3 months in regards to all the on-line conferences, webinars and live feeds which is why I wrote the article in the first place.

I’m not sure how many of those events have taken place over the past three months but it’s at least a four-fold increase. The proliferation of them, especially in home building, has seen many experts explaining in great detail how the construction industry, especially modular, needs to adapt to all the new ways to build energy efficiency, air quality and improved air infiltration into new homes.

Some of these experts, and I’ve watched about 30 of them so far this year, try to convince us to build more into the single family home to improve it. Everything from improved ways to stop COVID-19 from entering our homes by installing clean entrances with two doorways to not having windows that open at all allowing the house ventilation system teamed with energy efficient HVAC to be the only source of air to even the hiring of specialists to make final sweeps through new homes to seal every single access point.

All of these experts forget that actual people would have to pay for their home improvement ideas. Sometimes in the thousands of dollars. 

That is why I wrote the article about “Everyone” not wanting all those things. 

We can build super efficient homes with clean entrances and even clean “work from home cocoons” which one expert said should happen but we will have successfully priced these homes out of the affordable market.

To all those modular factories and builders that have chosen to be leaders in building science adaptations, I salute you for your work to make a better home for your customers.

However, the “everyone” market simply may not be able to afford one of your homes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

“Everyone” May Not Want an Energy Efficient Home

It has always fascinated me when I see seminars, conferences and webinars being promoted about the latest research and findings into how to improve air quality, air infiltration and energy efficiency for everyone.

The people that host and speak at these events are experts in their fields and have done much to improve the quality of life for everyone but who exactly is “everyone?”

The Coronavirus hit the world and immediately we all accepted ‘sheltering at home’, working remotely, wearing masks, social distancing and on-line shopping only. The experts had spoken and “everyone” started doing those things.

That is, until it became unbearable for the “everyone”. Masks and sheltering were a couple of the first things to go, followed by demand for shops and restaurants to reopen. “Everyone” had spoken.

The same thing can happen when environmental scientists spend millions on research, then hold conferences and seminars about their research and then construction’s governing bodies adopt the ideas from all that research.

But does “everyone” really need or even want those new rules on all those wonderful things.

The construction industry continually builds new homes with better insulation, better house wrap and better ventilation systems and “everyone” opens their windows to let in fresh air. Or they crank the heat up in the winter and ‘crack open’ a couple of windows to get fresh air. Window manufacturers include screens with their windows as standard expecting people to open them.

Throw those HERS ratings right out the open window!

Some, myself included, put screen doors on all outside entries. My wife and I sleep with our windows open in the Spring and Fall and at night in the Summer. My wife, like many others, occasionally ‘cracks’ the window to get fresh air in the house in the Winter.

The entire construction industry wants to build better homes with great energy savings and air quality for the home buyer but what happens when “everyone” really wasn’t asked what they wanted in a new home.

They want a good quality home, built by skilled people and at an affordable price. A low monthly mortgage would be nice also.

“Everyone” is taking a second look at what Coronavirus has done to our everyday life and they are speaking out. Maybe the experts should listen to “everyone” once in a while.

Gary Fleisher is a housing veteran, editor/writer of the ModcoachNews blog and Modular Construction Industry Observer and Information Gatherer

Monday, June 22, 2020

How to Calculate Crawl Space Ventilation

When it comes to residential construction there are typically two main types of foundations a house sits on. One is a concrete slab on grade foundation and the other is a raised floor foundation. These are the two main common types of foundations.

There are other types as well such as homes with basement foundations, caisson, piles, etc… however these are typically specific to the climate conditions and geographical location.

CLICK HERE to learn more.

Your Employees Define Your Brand...or not!

Recently I’ve been less than forgiving with a business if I’ve had a bad experience dealing with their employees. Business owners, even modular home factory owners, work hard to make sure that every customer is satisfied and buy from them again. Owners would be amazed just how badly their business looks to the customer when they have bad interactions with their employees.

It's OK. Just ignore that old guy and he'll go away.
Over the past year I’ve visited Best Buy three times and had a bad experience with one of their employees. Being retired and unfortunately, looking like an old guy, means that the just out of college employee on the floor wants nothing to do with me. The first time I wanted to buy a new 50” Smart TV, the second time I was looking to upgrade my 3 year old tablet and the last time I wanted a new stereo. Each time I got a young person that viewed me as a tech-ignorant old fossil that they would have to waste a lot of time on that could be better spent talking with their fellow employees about TikTok or other social media experience. I have vowed I will never darken their door again and bought these items from either a locally owned store or on line.

Not my waitress but you get the picture
Just the other week I stopped at an Applebee’s for lunch. My town has every restaurant known to man except an Applebee’s so this was something I looked forward to. Lunch. How much simpler could it get. Order off the menu, make no special requests, get the food, enjoy it and leave. Oh no, my simple lunch turned into an argument with the 18 year old girl that waited on me. Three simple items should be on my plate but I only got two so I asked for the third. She told me that I must have eaten that after she brought the plate and I just wanted another. What the H***! I ate, left a very small tip and will never visit Applebee’s again, no matter where I am in the United States.

Could this be one of the problems facing the modular home industry? It sure is.

A sales rep avoids calls and emails from an irate builder. The service department manager argues about whose fault the repair is. The Sales Manager tells the builder if he doesn’t like how things work he should try another factory and then he will see just what he is missing.

Employees can make or break an entire factory. 

Make your biggest builder angry enough to leave and go to another factory and within days all your competitors will be calling your remaining builders asking if they heard that XYZ Builder left you and speculating if you are going to close. A single employee with a bad attitude on a single day can bring down your factory.   

When factories focus first on their employees, customers are likely to be satisfied. This results in profitability, which then makes owners happy. Things can go very wrong if employee focus is not at the beginning of this equation.

Modular home factories must encourage employees to be passionate about what they do, to remain laser focused on their organization’s mission and goals, and to be obsessed with customer service excellence.

One of the ways to measure such encouragement and focus is through employee engagement. If employee engagement is high, then you are likely encouraging and focusing on your employees. If it is low, then you are probably not.

Employee engagement can best be described as the level of intellectual and emotional commitment an employee has for accomplishing the work, mission, and vision of the organization. And the level of active engagement or active disengagement can be a game changer in whether an organization succeeds or fails.

84% of senior leaders say disengaged employees are considered one of the biggest threats facing their business. However, only 12% of them reported doing anything about this problem.

Though it may be difficult to attribute costs directly to under-performance, it is estimated employee disengagement costs the overall US economy as much as $350 billion every year! This can break down to more than $2,200 per disengaged employee.

Just what do disengaged employees do or not do to cost companies so much and how can you identify them? 

Disengaged employees:

  • Take more sick days and are late to work more often.
  • Undermine the work of their more engaged colleagues by constantly complaining.
  • Produce less, this can be millions of dollars in lost home sales.
  • Miss deadlines and lose sales opportunities.
  • Use cynicism, which is often passed on to other employees and customers.
  • May be very talented, but leave to join another company.
In many cases, disengaged workers may need to be removed because they cannot be turned around. However, most of your employees are neither engaged nor disengaged, and this is something you can influence.

Before you go on a witch hunt looking for bad employees in your sales, service or production departments, you have to ask yourself if what you do or in most cases, not doing to engage your employees to do a great job when interacting with your builders and even their customers.

Modular home factories are not just isolated islands where ships dock, load up a new home and sail away. If an employee screws up any part of the process and makes the builder question why he/she is still buying from you, it may be too late to save that builder but it should give you an incentive to begin engaging with your employees so it doesn’t happen again.

Gary Fleisher is a housing veteran, editor/writer of the ModcoachNews blog and Modular Construction Industry Observer and Information Gatherer


Sunday, June 21, 2020

Modcoach’s Modular “House of the Week” June 21, 2022

We don’t often think of tiny houses being modular but this week’s home is just that. And that’s not the only unusual feature of this home.

The Italian design company, gnocchi+danesi architects, has built the prototype and is getting ready to offer their “Mountain Refuge” to other parts of the world with 2 dealers in the US already signed up.

The basic wooden structure has two modules, covering a total floor area of 260 sq ft with an optional additional module of 130 sq ft, bringing it in under the magic 400 sq ft.

The first unusual feature is no poured-concrete is required, although in locations with more extreme conditions it is suggested to have a thin concrete slab. The interiors are finished with an exposed plywood, while exterior plywood is coated with black pine tar, lending the dark, warm look together with water-proofing. The front wide glass panel allows the feeling of openness.
Notice the tall height of the module! It is not designed to be delivered by truck as modules usually are but brought in by helicopter.

Thursday, June 18, 2020

Modular is the Answer for “Build to Rent” Investors

Looking at what is being built as affordable housing in cities today finds mostly multistory buildings with apartments or condominiums all looking alike. Same old box stacked upon same old boxes built mostly using Federal, state or local subsidies in order to keep the rents or even ownership costs somewhat affordable.

They can be built as site built, panelized or modular with modular rapidly becoming the ‘go to’ construction method. Many new modular factories are popping up West of the Mississippi to feed the need for huge affordable housing projects from Denver to the West Coast.

But there is another affordable market that is gaining ground rapidly. The “Build to Rent” single family affordable home. These can be found in scattered lots, as infill in housing developments and in entire communities of rental homes.

There is a tremendous market for singles, couples, families and seniors looking to rent rather than buy. These rentals are priced at the affordable housing rate or even slightly higher for their area and appeal to renters looking for more than a box stacked five stories high.

The “Build to Rent” investor will find a huge market for single family housing as many people, especially after COVID-19, can’t afford to buy any houses listed in their area.

Here are some things an investor and/or developer needs to consider before jumping into this market.

One of the immediate benefits is “Implied Equity”. Financing for homes you immediately plan to rent, those rent payments will go directly toward paying down your mortgage. Often this may give you better rates from lenders.

Next you need to secure a continuous supply of both land and homes. If you have developed land before, you already know the requirements and costs associated with that part. However, finding a steady source of labor and contractors to build your rentals is another story.

The absolute best option when building “Build to Rent” properties is securing a couple of modular factories already building single family homes. These homes must be built to IRC standards which allows them to be used as infill homes and you won’t be saddled with simply building a manufactured home type community.

You can buy homes from a modular factory who is supplying other builders or you can look to purchase a modular factory, ensuring a continuous supply of homes. You can subcontract the set and finish of the rental homes to others or you could purchase or build your own factory which would allow you to be vertically integrated with your own set and finish crews in house.

In the past it was thought that people would rather buy a home than rent one but today that idea has changed with many renters wanting to move into a newer home. This attracts premium prices for the developer/investor. 

If someone can afford a premium rent, why would they want to live in a 50 year old house that probably has poorly insulated walls, single pane windows, 50 year old plumbing and 100 amp service?

Renters moving into new “Built to Rent” homes will have fewer maintenance calls to management which means less costs to the investor.

With land at a premium on the West Coast, most investors will probably look at the East Coast for their projects. East Coast modular factories have been building single family homes from day one and have it down to a science. Set crews and finish crews are more readily available.

With Amazon’s new headquarters coming to the DC area, Google buying up land in Northern Virginia and the need for massive amounts of single family rentals in the DC to Baltimore to Philly markets, look for a real boom in “Build to Rent” developers/investors to begin their search for modular home factories to buy from or possibly purchase to secure a steady supply of rental homes.

Gary Fleisher is a housing veteran, editor/writer of the ModcoachNews blog and Modular Construction Industry Observer and Information Gatherer

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Join Housing Innovation Alliance's June 23rd Coffee Talk


Bring Questions + Contribute to the Conversation

June 23 | Coffee Talk

2pm EDT / 11am PDT
Home Performance + Tech – Consumer, Housing Provider + Developer Attitudes

We've all been spending a lot more time at home—making what works and what doesn't about our current living situations crystal clear.


How have our wants and needs for house, home and community changed in the past few months? How are consumers looking at home performance, design and technology upgrades to their current homes or wish lists for a future rental or purchase? How are designers, product suppliers, housing providers and community developers responding? 


Join us as a number of experts kick things off by sharing what they're seeing and learning:

  • Matt Daigle of RISE, the leading online authority in sustainable home improvement, will share how consumers' home performance priorities have shifted in the past few months

  • David Dixon of  Stantec will offer a community development perspective and explore the suburban remix trend 

  • Nancy Keenan of Dahlin Group, one of the architects behind the America at Home Study, will share results from an April 23-30 survey focused on design changes consumers are looking for in new homes and communities

  • Ashley Kent, a rising star in the housing industry and recent honoree of ProBuilder's 40 Under 40, will share the perspective of North Carolina-based Kent Homes

  • Jenni Lantz of John Burns Real Estate Consulting, will highlight changing design trends on the industry side–in homes and communities across the country 

  • Dennis Webb of Phoenix-based Fulton Homes will facilitate the discussion


Get a sneak peak into our conversations with short video clips and insights from our panelists leading up to the event. Follow along on LinkedIn.

Millennial Builders, Developers and Investors Are Now the Heartbeat of Construction

In 2014, Google reported that 46 percent of potential buyers researching B2B products were Millennials, up from 27 percent in 2012. Today, 83 percent of Millennial workers are involved in decisions to purchase products or services for their companies or their own business, and 34 percent are the sole decision-maker regarding purchases.


That includes a growing number of young land developers and commercial builders born between 1977 and 1994. These young men and women are loyal, seek value and help and are peer persuaded. Millennials will turn to their robust social networks to crowd-source decisions as well as recommend and refer business. Deliver exceptional value and social sharing shall be your reward.

If you are a factory owner, a GM, Sales Manager or a Sales Rep and over 50 years old, brace yourself because “You Probably Don’t Know Jack!”

Here are some key facts you need to understand to attract, nurture and keep a Millennial that has begun working in the housing arena as a developer, a residential builder or a commercial builder.

Sixty One percent of them say they're least likely to get along with someone from another generation.

Millennials communicate, shop, make decisions, and buy differently than previous generations. A firm understanding of the behavior and values of Millennials is the first step in establishing common ground with a next generation buyer.

You need to learn what they look for in products/services, how they prefer to communicate, what associations or social networks do they belong to and what would make your company more appealing to them.

You need to learn their demographics, motivations, what blogs they read, devices they use, podcasts, how they shop online, prefer to communicate with vendors, etc.

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Millennials spend more than 3.5 times overall usage time in messaging apps than those over 50 years old, with older users defaulting to apps that replicate desktop functions, like email and web browsers.

Evolving technologies have created a tangled web of varying communication preferences.

The clashing of communication channels is at an all-time high in the workplace. Some folks want face-to-face like Zoom, others want a phone call, an email, a text, or message via the latest chat service. One thing is for certain, never leave a voicemail for a Millennial.

How factory sales reps want to communicate is less important than how Millennial builders want to communicate. Reps should defer to the builder's communication preferences which may be text, Slack, Skype, or some other innovative platform. Adjusting in real-time to various communication channels is the new norm when selling to Millennials.

On a positive note, the majority of B2B sales and inquiries is now done between Millennials. I was having a conversation with my son-in-law, a Millennial pharmaceutical sales rep, about how he communicates with his customers. One of his doctors and he talk while playing Call of Duty together.

Millennial builders also cited Internet search and factory websites as their two top means of researching factories, products and services.

Historically the sales process has been very linear--qualifying, educating, creating interest/need, and closing-- but the Millennial B2B builder prefers a different process.

The Millennial builder or developer will gather information up front by consuming information via social networks, videos, blogs, etc. As a result, sellers have to do much more work attracting vs prospecting.

What's the best way to attract a Millennial? Deliver valuable, compelling content where they are searching for that information. Learn what topics or questions they are searching for online and create content that fills the need of the potential builder. High-value content will also position you as an expert/authority that can be trusted.

Ensure your content is plentiful and as digitally native as Millennials are so that the Millennial builder or developer can easily beat a digital path to your front door.

Millennials grew up on the web searching forums, reading blogs, evaluating Yelp reviews, Googling everything, and tweeting at brands as if they were a personal friend. Millennials buying behavior is different from previous generations because of their high-social and hyper-connected upbringing.

Millennials will make decisions about you or your homes based on your digital presence or the lack thereof. Unlike previous generations, a face-to-face meeting is not needed to build trust and will only support the relationship or impression that they've already established online. Millennials place a high value on virtual.

Eighty-four percent of Millennials report that user-generated content on company websites has at least some influence on what they buy.

Once attracted, how do you move the Millennial builder along in the buying process?

Provide proof. For a generation that has been bombarded with ads their whole life, straight-forward and honest proof is what demonstrates the most trust with Millennials.

Create a compelling story with real images of other real builders getting real results.

Remember the good old days when many factories were hesitant to introduce their builders to each other. Millennial builders and especially developers want to be networked, in fact, demand it.

Millennials are massively persuaded by peers and will lean into their massive online networks to gather peer reviews, recommendations, and referrals. Ask one of your current Millennial builders, if you actually have any, to create proof-packed content.

Seventy percent of Millennials feel a responsibility to share feedback with companies after a good or bad experience. Nurture Millennial influencers to provide proof and help promote your company to other builders and developers.

Ninety-two percent of Millennials say mobile devices are important when researching new products and services.

On-demand info gathering and mobility throughout the sales cycle is a Millennial expectation. Millennials grew up in a response-rich, mobile environment and now expect prompt responses and mobile friendly communications at every crossroad.

Factory sales reps must rethink their sales communications through the lens of mobile in order to connect with the Millennial B2B builder.

The age of factory sales reps “bagging and tagging” builders is over. Now it’s the Millennial builder or developer that first 'tags' and then 'bags' a factory. You just need to learn how to get on their radar.