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IBS Recap with Special Correspondent Beth Bryan :: Universal, Efficient & Modular Design


Last week I flew to Las Vegas for my very first opportunity to attend the International Builders’ Show. Armed with an iPhone camera and my walking shoes I covered the 360,000 square foot of exhibit halls and seminars in three days. I absorbed an overwhelming amount of information, wishing I rented a Jazzy scooter for my aching feet.

My background is in commercial modular buildings and office furniture. While the Show is definitely geared more toward residential home builders, I came away with plenty of ideas, software and new products on my must-have list.

Highlights from the Show Floor

Being my first Show, I have nothing to compare it to, so I am giving an unbiased opinion here. Peak attendance was in 2007 with over a million square feet of floor space. With the decline in the housing market, the Show is smaller now. The key players in the industry all still at IBS 2013 – making attendance a worthwhile investment.

The booths were unbelievably impressive and massively large. This demo house was about the same size as my first garden home. The booth itself was definitely larger than the postage-stamp-sized lot where my first home sat.

Blown away by the amount of time and effort that went into each booth at IBS 2013, the building industry’s largest trade show. The folks at Coronado Stone constructed a mini-Olive Garden right there inside the convention center. It left me craving a pretty stone fire pit, a glass of red wine … oh, and a Tour of Italy.

These impressive front doors caught my attention as well. Imagine greeting guests into your home behind those big, bad boys. Wow!

Check out these craft rooms and closets storage solutions. I could only dream of mine looking this organized.

These faux wood beams were hard to distinguish from the real thing, even at closer glance. Now recreated from foam, they are a re-emerging trend.

One inexpensive product that needs to make an appearance in our homes … immediately, was this USB charger receptacle. At just $20 bucks a pop from a big box store, this simple outlet switch-over would be cheaper than buying a new iPhone charger from the Apple store.

Spotlight on High Performance, Energy Efficiency

Many of the products I saw in the expo area were geared toward the million-dollar-home crowd. In the seminars and outside in the village, however, there was a big focus on modular housing and sustainable construction. This of course equals more energy efficiency.

From what I saw on Wednesday and Thursday, about 1/3 of the educational sessions were devoted to the green building movement and how to produce more energy efficient homes. I toured the BASF Beyond High Performance Home, which claimed to cut energy efficiency by 50% of today’s housing standards.

See the solar panels built into the awning? That was just one of many advances in technology for modular housing.

Along with the BASF home, there were two other modular houses, one built by Palm Harbor Homes, GreenFab, the other by IronTown Homes. Gorgeous modular homes like these help the prefab and panelized construction industry shed the old “house trailer” mentality. Today’s modular construction is stylish, affordable and very green. This is making it a top choice for both urban and suburban housing markets across the country.

Manufactured, panelized and modular construction have all come a very long way in recent years, and the low production costs and quick construction speed are hard to ignore. As one presenter said, “If you’re not familiar with panelized housing, you better get cozy with it. It’s here to stay.”

Latest in Modular Construction

A peek behind the walls of this modular home revealed some interesting and non-traditional construction techniques. Exterior studs are set at 24″ on center instead of the traditional 16” OC. Roof trusses centered directly over the studs to support the roof load. This not only meets code (for most areas of the country) but saves time, money and building-material waste. Instead of the standard pink stuff, foam insulation is sprayed in between the studs. This yields a value of R-24 in the exterior wall and an impressive R-48 in the ceiling for a 2×6 rafter.

I’ll let you research and decide what your stance will be in the great green vs. VOC chemical off-gassing debates that are occurring over this new version of spray foam insulations. After the asbestos and formaldehyde spray foam debacles from the 1970s and beyond, I would hope that companies have learned from our forefather’s construction mistakes. But, considering BASF’s slogan is “A Chemical Company” – I’ll let you make your own judgments on whether it is something you want to live and breathe 24/7.

But hey? You won’t find any mice nesting in it! Bonus!

* Features in Energy Efficient Modular Home

A few other features that caught my attention on the modular home included a tankless instant hot water heater in the laundry room. It took up about the same amount of space as a medicine cabinet. Compared of course to a giant behemoth of a 60-gallon water heater, which usually requires its own closet.

A ductless mini-split air system was tucked into a small niche cut into the exterior of the home. The supply system mounted on the wall above the kitchen and main living room. This allows the air system to be installed by the factory. They then ride safely down the road to the customer’s site inside its own little safe haven. (I’ve had personal computer towers that were larger than this air system.)

Wall-mounted radiant heat panels in the baths and bedrooms offer an additional source of heat along with the ductless mini-split units. The handicap lift system is not a standard for residential modular construction, but it made an impression on me, a commercial modular builder, who is required to meet all ADA codes. It seemed like an easy way to provide accessibility without having to build an ugly 36- to 40-foot long metal or wooden handicap ramp.

* Universal Design

Speaking of handicap accessibility, the other big push of information at IBS 2013 was building or remodeling for the 50+ Boomer generation, aging in place and mobility solutions. There was a plethora of seminars, products and training ideas on how to sell to clients who are not willing to lose money in this market by down-sizing their homes.

Instead, many in the retirement age group are choosing to remodel their existing houses. They can age-in-place, comfortably, or take advantage of multi-generational dwelling by moving in with their children.

Mobility products such as stair lifts, walk in tubs, and handicap bars in bathrooms that look stylish instead of something you’d find inside a gas station bathroom are a great solution for many of these issues.  They face a large part of our population today.

The Invisia booth had a collection of bath products such as soap dispensers and towel bars that were modern and stylish while also offering a 500 lb weight bearing load if mounted to a stud. Pretty impressive.

Overall, my top five take-aways from the IBS 2013:

1.) Age In Place? That is the Question

The Boomers are retiring during one of the biggest housing recessions in recent history. Is your company ready to handle the overwhelming amount of customers who are going to need to age-in-place in their homes or their children’s homes? What about retirement communities and assisted living facilities? Have you considered that as a niche market to add to your present demographic?

2.) There’s No Shortage of Handicap and Mobility Solutions

I am a Wall-E girl living in a Wall-E world. It’s time to do your research on handicap and mobility solutions. Know what your customers will need in the near future to make life easier. Adding home stair lifts, elevators, walk-in tubs are all things to consider as the American population ages and grows in girth.

3.) Prefab, Modular and Panelized Construction is Fast, Affordable and Energy Efficient 

For the homeowner, it means a significant cost savings over traditional stick-built construction. Guess what that means for the builder? It means less hassle, quicker turnover rates on jobs, and more profit.

Modular building are constructed in a climate-protected factory. All while your subs run parallel with the on-site preparations, pouring footers and doing dirt-work. This cuts construction time significantly and rain delays move way down your list of concerns.

The Modular Building Industry and manufacturers are working hard to shed the old HUD-housing stigma of being “trailers” and are emerging as the clear choice in green building solutions. Did you know the tallest modular building in the world is under construction in NYC right now? Awesome, right? After Hurricane Sandy and Katrina and other major natural disasters, both residential and commercial modular manufacturers are in high demand. Their speed and efficiency at getting people back in a home or to work in a permanent shelter make them important players.

4.) Builders are getting Social

If you are a business owner, it’s time to move beyond Facebook and Twitter to reach your audiences. Social media sites such as Pinterest, Google+, Hometalk, Houzz, and Flickr are just a few of the popular places to reach your demographic as a home builder.

Pinterest is THE place to be right now, and harnessing the power of it can send your website numbers skyrocketing to places you’ve never dreamed.  (If you are not sure how to use Pinterest to your advantage, please check out this article I wrote about how to go viral on Pinterest.)

It’s imperative also that your website have an excellent mobile site as well. Your customers using tablets and phones should be able to navigate your site quickly and efficiently while on-the-go. If you are not spending any of your advertising dollars on these social media internet sites, you might want to reallocate some funds. Alternatively, place focus on web-based applications for both pay-per-click and organic, or word-of-mouth advertising.

5.) And finally… the last thing I learned from IBS 2013? Stop, Collaborate and Listen

Just when you least expect it, you might turn the corner and see a few celebrities signing autographs at the Lumber Liquidators booth. I rubbed elbows with Ty Pennington, and I hear Mike Holmes and Paul Sr were hanging around at other booths. But the highlight of my trip was scoring a picture with everyone’s favorite one-hit wonder turned DIYer… Mr. Vanilla Ice himself.

Anything less than the best is a felony.

Beth Bryan has over fifteen years of experience in the commercial modular building and office furniture industry as a designer and salesperson. You can find her at her personal blog, Unskinny Boppy, where she writes about her life and brags about every DIY project she’s ever completed. You can also join her on facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or Hometalk. Thanks Beth.

For additional coverage from important industry trade shows, including the International Builder’s Show – please see 2012’s recap with Jeremy Parcels here. My own from 2014, here – Design & Construction Week Recap. Cheers. ~jb

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