A man holds a digital controller in one hand, as a 28,000 pound section of a module home begins to glide over an air-rise surface. Further down, a material feeder places studs in precise location as a fifteen foot wall section is simultaneously nailed, top to bottom. Next, a laser beam scans the wall assembly for possible defects in flatness and form. A wall section that would normally take a two-man crew thirty minutes can now be built in less than five minutes and with greater accuracy. And in just ten minutes, a wall section has insulation, wiring, and dry wall, ready for assembly. These are just a few changes integrated into the high-technology construction of a modern system-built homes.
The goal to become energy efficient has increased insulation requirements throughout the country. For example, Michigan recently raised their minimum requirements for all new construction for insulation to R-value 21 for walls and R-value 49 for the roof. Higher Michigan energy code requirements combined with electronically controlled efficient furnaces, is a major trend in housing. These changes not only cut energy costs to the homeowner, but also conserve energy resources and are a key solution to the problem of reducing emissions.
High technology electronic systems will bring comfort and ease in the next generation home. Another change we can expect to see in the housing industry is in the application of electronic systems within the home. Electronic systems can now be designed to enhance energy efficiency and integrate our hand-held devices to control appliances in the house. Most of this is possible through a new wiring system called, structured wiring and for the hand-held device, the use of a wireless cellular network. Structured wiring is a multi-strand, multi-purpose wiring harness for high-speed data distribution, for all home controls and your electronic equipment. Everything from your lights and door locks, to your home theater will run through this conduit to its distribution panel. It can turn on the fireplace on a cold day or close the garage door if you forget. You can remotely program the system to lift the window shades to gather heat or turn off lights in rooms that are not in use. This system can also deliver phone, Internet, and cable capabilities, to any room in the house.
Lighting will bring a radiant change in the next generation of efficiency homes. The incandescent light is now giving way to a whole new way of illuminating our homes. The most common incandescent light only produces about 15 lumens for each wattage of power. Some states, like California, want to phase out the use of incandescent bulbs. An improvement is the twisted energy-efficient CFL (Compact Fluorescent Lights) that produces about 45 lumens per watt. The next generation of LED (Light Emitting Diode) is for home use, and will likely produce more than 70 lumens per wattage in most application. Looking just around the corner and still experimental for home use, is the Plasma Bulb. This tic-tac size bulb produces light using radio frequency (RF) power and emits a spectrum similar to sunlight. The Luxim plasma bulb produces 140 lumens of light per watt. This is almost a ten fold improvement over the traditional incandescent bulb. These and other improvements are coming forward to the housing industry that will reduce energy use without sacrificing lifestyle or functionality
Traditional wood will construct homes for several years to come, but many new products are gradually making their way into the building industry. One product is a recycled wood-plastic composites (WPCs). These are primarily used in assemblies such as window and door frames, exterior moldings and outside decks. Wood plastic composite is from recycled wood fibers and plastics and require less maintenance, highly resistant to rot and are environmentally friendly. Composite wood comes in many forms depending on the use. There are solids, hollow and structural solids, as well as ornate formed architectural details. As the cost of these products comes down, expect to see more in use.
The future of modern homes will become creative, efficient, and more convenient. Some of the changes are available now for a modest cost, others will be available just around the corner. The construction site for our homes may change, the systems and materials will certainly be improved, but our homes remain one of our biggest investment of time and money.