April 12, 2016|

How Rockets Might Reinvent the Housing Industry

  • Reiventing the Housing Industry with Rocket Innovation
Reiventing the Housing Industry with Rocket Innovation

Ready to Launch. Colby Swanson rethinks the residential construction industry. Image by Danny Warren via Imgur.

It would seem that rockets and houses have absolutely nothing in common, but they do. Or, rather, they will in the near future. Let me explain.

It costs between $300M – $600M to launch a satellite or the space shuttle into space. That’s each and every launch, and this is just the cost of the rocket booster portion of the flight. It doesn’t include the cost associated with the payload, satellites, international space station supplies, or even the crew.

 

These rockets, sometimes called “boosters”, really began to be developed after WWII by both the Russians and U.S. governments. What interesting to note is that this time period parallels the first mass produced housing subdivisions, the most famous of which was Levittown. Rocket science and technology saw rapid growth and improvement throughout the 1950s and 1960s, culminating in with Apollo 11, when Neil Armstrong famously walked on the moon in 1969.  Yet, by the late 70s, rocket programs began to flatline. Until now. 

Indeed, a “rocket revolution” is occurring again after 60 years and it is upsetting the old guard, manufacturers like Boeing, Lockeed Martin, JSC (Russian).  Whereas the old guard is spending hundreds of millions of dollars per launch, industry disruptor, Space X, has driven their rocket launch cost down to  $50M per launch. Meanwhile, performance is improving thanks to some visionary folks like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson whose fresh perspectives are igniting the rocket building business.

All of which makes me wonder: Can the housing industry do this?!  

Of course it can! The tape industry used the developments of the Apollo space program to improve duct tape, and every day new adhesives are being introduced into the market that are improving the air tightness and/or durability of our homes. But, at the core, we have been building houses the same way since Levittown with little to no improvement in speed and efficiency.  Our industry subsists with on-site construction that uses trade partners to assemble thousands of components, like lumber, drywall, windows, roofing, siding, cabinets, flooring, etc.  In 1950, Levitt & Sons built an average home (1,500 sq.ft.) home in 45 days, with the average dry-in time being approximately 21-25 days. The average home today ( approx. 2,300 sq. tt.) takes production builders 75-90 days.

So… why can complicated rockets meant to go further, faster, be built for 6-10 times cheaper, yet our homes are not only more expensive, but they take longer to build?  

All we need is a shift in thinking, and it starts here:

  1. As an industry, we need to broaden our exposure to the next generation of builders and skilled trades. Get them engaged, excited and empower them to try things differently. Volunteer to teach a class or help teach a class at any grade level and talk about the opportunities in construction.
  2. Take a step back from your day-to-day activities and take a look at some of the amazing things happening in industries like space, airline travel and banking … they are all undergoing substantive changes with the help of fresh new outside perspectives … check out Futurism or Singularity University.
  3. Attend a non-construction conference such as the Consumer Electronic Show, explore Singularityu.org and Springwise for new technologies or scour the wave of new start-up’s related to construction at Kickstarter.

I would love to hear your thoughts on disruptive innovation in construction … so let us know what you think and leave a comment.

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