Panel Briefs – March /April 2004

Panel Modular Plant Tour May 23-25
Want an in-depth look at some of the most cutting-edge panel and modular producers in the United States? Then attend the Building Systems Councils annual spring tour of factories, tentatively scheduled for May 23-25 in South Bend, IN.

Please note the actual dates of the tour are different than the tentative dates announced in the previous issue of Building Systems Magazine. Notre Dame’s commencement schedule forced the change to May 23-25. While all the tour stops have not yet been finalized, the BSC has commitments from several companies to participate in tour stops. So far, Aggregate Industries, All American Homes, Crest Homes, LaSalle Bristol, Patriot Homes and Pinnacle Building Systems have tentatively agreed to allow participants to tour their facilities.

For details, contact the NAHB’s Office of the Registrar at 800-368-5242, ext. 8338.

Record Turnout for IBS Panel Seminars
As noted in this issue’s Modular Briefs, conventional site builders are more than familiar with the panel building system. Perhaps, that’s because conventional site framers are in short supply—or, perhaps panelization is viewed as the easiest system to adopt by conventional builders. In either case, the panel seminars at the International Builders’ Show received the most attendance of any of the seven building systems educational segments. In some instances, it was standing room only as contractors were eager to learn how to use this system to reduce construction cycle time and improve quality.

After the seminars, a quick survey of a handful of builders revealed that many were interested in using panelization to simplify construction scheduling, build more homes, guarantee pricing and enjoy more flexibility in design.

Simplify Construction Scheduling
“I’m here to hopefully reduce the brain damage that comes from scheduling subs and then not having them show up,” says one builder from Southern California. On-time completion has become increasingly elusive because of a lack of subcontractors, skilled or not, who rarely show up when scheduled.

Build More Homes With The Same Overhead “My partner and I just pulled the trigger on our first subdivision and cash flow may be a problem. So we want to build out models as fast as we can, as well as create some sales momentum,” says another builder from the Phoenix market.

  • Guaranteed Pricing “I’m losing my shorts on bids because of lumber increases,” claims a builder from Austin, TX. “Some of our projects are six or eight months out and lumber prices have been volatile—especially OSB.”
  • Design Flexibility “I like the idea of using a system. But I don’t want to be limited in customization. I think panels is the way to go,” says a builder from Baton Rouge.

Advice from the Front Lines of Panelization
If you’re interested in pursuing this form of systems construction, builders who have made the switch say you should shop manufacturers carefully, know what’s selling in your local market and stop thinking in the site-built mentality if you want to succeed.

“My advice to other builders? Know your numbers inside and out and streamline your documentation. That way, you can concentrate on earning more sales,” says Bill Lewis, owner of Forest Homes of Westconn (Shelton, CT), a site builder who switched to panelization in 1997. He chose to employ Forest Homes (Selinsgrove, PA) as his largest subcontractor, so he could increase his volume while decreasing his overhead and hassles.

“It’s the entire system approach to building,” says Lewis. “It allows me to do more homes with less effort. Forest Homes performs much of the administrative work for me. Plus, they allow me to have tremendous purchasing power because they purchase their materials in bulk. With the system they have in place, it’s very detailed and comprehensive. Plans, estimating, scheduling, contracts—it’s all bundled together. In terms of materials and administrative tools, they’re supplying 60% to 70% of any given project. It saves me tremendous time and effort.”

“Forest Homes has introduced a new software package that ties everything together, everything from crafting the specifications to estimating, scheduling, takeoffs, billing, contracts—all on the same system. This is vitally important to me because the markets I’m targeting are so diverse. So I can fine tune my pricing and factor in the subcontractors’ percent, breaking it down by labor and materials, whatever. I had a fairly sophisticated system before of my own design, but this brings my operation to a whole new level. Frankly, it spoils you rotten. It’s the main reason why I’m able to pull off the number of projects I’m doing by myself.”

If you’d like to learn more about panelization or building systems in general, be sure to fill out a subscription form to keep this magazine coming to your desk. Our May/June issue features our “Step-By-Step Guide to Being a Systems Builder,” everything you need to know to shop for a manufacturer and pick a system (or a group of systems) that will enable you to succeed in your local home building market.

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