Jim Fontaine, CEO, Tella Firma Foundations

There are big changes coming that will affect building and construction.  In part two of a two-part series, Jim Fontaine discusses future trends, including how technology is poised to transform the construction of foundations for residential buildings.

Start at Ground Level: The Foundation

Foundations represent one area where technology can step in and help eliminate some of the challenges we face in construction. Beyond the scarcity of labor felt throughout the construction industry, foundations are prime for disruption based on several factors.  First, building a foundation is an inefficient process, and inefficient markets tend to offer the greatest opportunity for change. Second, costs are increasing – not only labor costs due to demand for higher-paying jobs, but also materials costs including the concrete needed to build foundations. Third, in an attempt to keep up with demand, corners are often cut, reducing the quality of the foundation and potentially leading to foundation failure in the future.

Residential_Construction_TellaFirmaAlmost half the cost of installing a residential slab foundation is related to the cost of concrete, with the remaining costs from steel rebar, cables, and slab make-up labor.   Over half the cost of installing a concrete pier is driven by labor. But what if there was a way to consistently install a high-quality foundation while reducing both concrete and labor costs?

Our company’s work during the past few years proves that an advanced foundation solution – utilizing technology to reduce both labor costs and the amount of concrete used – can offer a cost-effective alternative to traditional construction methods. This approach utilizes a hybrid model featuring an elevated slab-on-grade foundation that introduces a commercial quality solution to residential construction.

One key to this solution has been the introduction of a helical pier rather than a concrete- or steel-cased pier, which offers a number of benefits:  faster installation, less dependence on weather, and reduction of labor-related errors. It also uses less concrete and is less dependent on labor than other methods. As such, the cost is reaching the tipping point where the investment in technology is cost-competitive with more traditional options.

Is There a Drone in Your Future?

Are there other areas of construction where we should be looking for similar solutions?  Most certainly, and we should embark in that direction. We’re already seeing an impact from the use of drones for surveying and tracking progress at building sites, and some builders are beginning to examine the potential for pre-fabricated construction more seriously. 3D printing may hold promise for future construction of various types of projects, while other advancements in automation – robotic bricklayers, for instance – could one day improve productivity on site.

These developments hold some promise. And while some builders may choose a trade-off, perhaps sacrificing quality and reliability for lower cost, our goal as industry leaders should be to achieve the highest quality available for every project. I’m convinced we can achieve this result, while also reducing materials and labor costs, through improvements in technology.

The impending housing shortage indicates that demand for construction will be strong for the foreseeable future, yet the building industry will be competing with other sectors of the economy for a limited labor supply.  The time is right for us to harness solutions that can revolutionize the building industry, reducing costs while improving quality.