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High Tech, High Speed House Construction

If you're thinking that new housing developments go up awfully fast nowadays, you're right. New technology has reduced construction time for homebuilders. Homes go up anywhere from 1/3 to faster than just 10 to 15 years ago, and that's none too soon. Today's hot housing market has created a long waiting list for new homes as builders struggle to keep up with demand.

The construction site is becoming fully digitized. The major boon to homebuilders and consumers is the CAD software used for designing and drafting home plans. Computer-aided design has cut the drafting time substantially. What took almost a week can be done now in hours. And the computer enables the developer or homebuilder to respond to customer changes quickly and easily. No need to redo the drawings, just click the mouse if you want to change the floor plan a bit. Now the consumer can view the plans and create the ideal virtual layout.

The ubiquitous cell phone also removes the necessity to drive from the construction site to the nearest phone booth or convenience store, whenever a problem or change comes up. But the major advances are in the specialized equipment unique to surveying and construction. A palm-held global positioning system device lets the surveyor determine locations and make calculations a lot more quickly. No tradition is immune, you don't see carpenters with claw hammers and aprons at most construction sites anymore. The staccato rapping of hammers has been replaced by the rapid-fire din of pneumatic nail guns. It used to take two weeks to hammer framing together on a 1,200 square foot house, now it takes only a week.

The scarcity of quality lumber has created demand for more reliable building products. Warped, raw wood can wreak havoc on a home site, causing nails to pop out and framing to go askew. Builders are turning to pre-cut laminated joists, modularized panels with electrical wiring already installed, and even steel beams to save time and gain quality.

Is faster necessarily inferior? No, just because homes can be erected quickly doesn't mean they're slapped together. For example, new materials and pre-fabricated building components can be more reliable. Generally speaking, the factory is a better environment than the construction site to control quality. Would you rather have your wall panels made on a rainy day by water-logged workers, or inside a dry factory under the watchful eye of a shift supervisor?

Sources used to create this article include Doug Hubley and the Portland Press Herald.

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