What Types of Construction Technology Could Help with The Housing Shortage?

Labor and supply shortages worldwide have led to a significant housing crisis, leaving the United States over five million homes short of the demand from buyers. The sources of these problems go back to the 2008 recession, but COVID-19’s economic fallout has been the primary catalyst for the current dilemma.  The housing market outlook does not look promising at the moment, but innovations in construction could turn the tide back to the buyer’s favor. Here are some construction technologies that can help with the housing shortage. 

Modular Building 

Modular building is a simple concept on paper and in practice. A contractor builds a structure off-site in a factory, then transports it to the main location where the structure is bolted, welded and slotted together. Builders have primarily reserved this technique for skyscrapers, but builders have become advanced enough to apply it to home-building projects.  A modular project has many advantages over the traditional building methods which haven’t been able to keep up with buyer demand:  • Affordability: Modular building can minimize the supply shortage-induced price increases by streamlining the construction process and reducing waste. Builders know exactly how much materials they need and don’t need to order in excess.  •Accessibility: Modular building enables contractors to complete more homes in less time despite the labor shortage. Larger structures like apartment buildings and low-income housing especially benefit from the quicker mass-production process, giving people who are underprivileged greater access to living spaces.  • Sustainability: As previously mentioned, modular building reduces material consumption and waste production, which helps the environment as well as homebuyers. • Worker safety: Building in a controlled environment like a factory is safer than traditional on-site construction. There are fewer risks to worry about, and contractors can implement safety standards explicitly catered to their factories.  • At its fastest rate, modular building can complete a home 50% faster than traditional methods. Widespread implementation of this new construction method could contribute a significant amount to the 5 million houses that Americans need. 

3D-Printed Houses

3D printing is another new technology that could revolutionize affordable housing construction. Costing just $4,000 and having a significantly shorter building time, a 3D printer can create entire custom homes from scratch. Some houses even have eco-friendly design features, such as passive cooling and alternative energy availability.  The phenomenon is starting to catch on, as entire 3D-printed neighborhoods have provided quick and affordable housing to thousands of low-income Americans. Non-profit organizations like the Habitat for Humanity are also partnering with 3D construction companies to print homes for people who are underprivileged.  People were eager to buy even before the COVID-19 pandemic began, but home inventory decreased by over 10% in 2020 and hasn’t stopped since. 3D printing could change that trend. It negates the need for excessive materials and allows for easy mass-production of simple, sustainable homes.  

Sustainable and Recycled Building Materials

With supply shortages plaguing construction, many contractors have resorted to using unorthodox building materials. However, this change could prove beneficial, as more sustainable materials have gained relevancy in recent years. Wood, stone, bamboo, recycled plastic and other products make for greener construction. Even shipping containers have been valuable assets for eco-friendly housing. Instead of waiting for months to receive a shipment of drywall or another material, contractors can use locally sourced natural products to complete their projects on time and give people more housing options. Not only are these resources better for the environment, but they also have better durability and longevity than modern materials. Sustainable houses are built to last for generations. 

Risk Assessment Technology 

Outdated risk assessment models have contributed to the labor shortage problem and caused delays to many projects. Artificial intelligence (AI) and blockchain technology could enable us to make more accurate risk assessments and thus complete our projects without delays or casualties. Perhaps the most influential AI tool has been drone surveillance. AI security software can analyze drone footage and detect suspicious or unsafe activity, allowing project managers to identify all threats and implement more effective safety standards. Contractors can also use AI in the planning phase to improve designs and optimize resource usage. Blockchain technology can benefit risk management and the construction industry in many ways. It encrypts project data so only authorized people can access it and tracks all transactions, helping managers cut back on wasteful spending. Plus, since blockchain doesn’t operate on a central server, it can accommodate large and small projects alike without issue. An interconnected project leads to better risk management, quality homes and more satisfied buyers. All of these factors can help relieve the housing shortage and create a safer, smarter future.
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Construction Wearables 

Wearable technology has been around for a while (see smartwatches), but it has only recently begun to influence the construction industry. Traditional construction gear like hardhats, vests and boots now have built-in monitoring systems that promote worker safety and productivity. GPS, heart-rate monitors, activity trackers and other sensors can detect poor air quality and even determine if a worker is too fatigued to continue. This technology helps optimize a project’s day-to-day workflow, making sure it gets completed on time without any setbacks. Wearables can take a lot of micro-managing off a manager’s plate, giving them more time to pursue big-picture ideas, such as sustainable materials and modular building.

Construction Robots

We no longer have to rely on human resources alone to complete complex tasks. Engineers have programmed robots for specific jobs, including digging, drilling, painting, welding and many others. As one might expect, these robots are quicker and more accurate than humans, helping to streamline projects and improve a building’s infrastructure. These robots can be huge players in solving the labor shortage, getting projects back on track and giving people the housing they need. They also work in conjunction with the wearables and risk management tools discussed above, enabling project managers to focus on implementing widespread improvements to their sites.

New and Old Tech Could Solve the Housing Crisis

Much of the technology we discussed is new and cutting-edge, such as AI, blockchain technology and 3D printing. These tools will prove vital in solving the housing crisis. Old-school natural building materials and traditional tools with tech add-ons will also play important roles. We must use all new and old resources to address the housing problem.

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Rose Morrison

Rose Morrison is a freelance writer covering the construction and home improvement industries. She is also the managing editor of Renovated. You...

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