Are Builders Innovators?

posted Jul 29, 2014, 11:32 AM by Andrew McCoy   [ updated Jun 27, 2016, 4:42 PM ]

Drew Sanderford, Matthew Keefe, Dong Zhao and I recently presented the paper "Adoption Patterns of Energy Efficient Housing Technologies 2000-2010: Builders as Innovators?" at Penn State's 2nd Annual Residential Building Design and Construction Conference.  

Here is an excerpt from the talk:

Based on research produced over the last ten years, it appears that the idea of the builder lagging behind others in the housing creation chain is losing its luster. Instead of considering builders as innovation laggards, researchers are able to 1) use increasingly more robust data to analyze around the decisions builders make about the choice to adopt innovative technologies, 2) deploy best data management practices and analytical methods in processing this data, and 3) see more clearly the continuous innovations that have been made in individual products assembled by the builder. So, where scholars can ask new questions of new data, it appears that they are finding that builders are not necessarily innovation laggards—especially with respect to green and energy efficient technologies. 

Instead, one theme that appears to have emerged from building construction innovation is the builder as a selective risk taker. As the builder is an assembler of various components, they are a rather different agent than typically analyzed in information technology or other areas of innovation research. The builder as the assembler is not responsible for creating the innovations but rather identifying, economically and safely combining innovations that work together in systems to meet the needs of the occupant/buyer. These are influenced by market conditions, the availability of credit, qualified appraisers, climate, and a number of other complicating risk factors. Where innovations such as green certifications have been shown to reduce some of the market and performance risks in housing, we see builders moving towards these innovations. 

So, the builder as an innovation laggard may, at one time, have been a useful paradigm for the construction industry. However, where this paradigm often paints all builders with a broad brush, we find evidence that in some cases, builders are using more innovative products than traditional products (Koebel et al, 2013). In fact, as building science scholars adapt best research practices from their counterparts in information technology (e.g., patent analysis—see (Altwies and Nemet 2012; Johnstone et al. 2010; Johnstone et al. 2012), the prevailing notion of the builder as laggard may begin to crumble.

The Future of Housing, A Speech at HUD

posted Aug 4, 2013, 4:23 AM by Andrew McCoy   [ updated Jun 27, 2016, 4:49 PM ]

The following is a speech I gave at the National Housing Research Framing Agenda of The US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), L'Enfant Plaza in Washington, D.C. in May 2012:

A few years back I had the opportunity to work on the Solar Decathlon 2009 and 2010 entries for Virginia Tech. As part of the process, I was fortunate enough to meet many talented faculty and, of course, young students. One of these students, an engineer named Matthew Capelli, was like EF Hutton in the old commercials. Do you remember the ads that said “when EF Hutton talks, everyone listens”? Well, that was Matt.

Matt and I worked for months on lifecycle analysis and a market viability report for the team. One day, Matt leaned back, looked up at me and said “you know what, in the future people will worry less about how their home looks and more about how it performs”. A simple idea, yet I find it profound. 

Before I go any further, let me say that my wife, a designer and artist, does not like this quote. She thinks it negates design in our world. To the contrary, I believe Matt meant that the trend is towards performance and I could not agree more. Designers and aesthetes, like my wife and, me I must admit, should not worry less. Quite the opposite: design is at the center of building performance. And, I believe, we are starting to see this trend in numbers around the Architecture, Engineering and Construction industry. Let’s look at some of those numbers, many of which, I am sure, you have heard before. My hope is that they will provide a picture of the trends in housing today. 

[Some statistics on housing trends, many from a 2009 EPA report on “Buildings and Their Environment”]:

- Nearly 133 million residential housing units currently exist in the U.S. (1Q2012).
- Urban land area quadrupled from 1945 to 2002.
- The annual mean air temperature of a city with 1 million people or more can be up to 5°F warmer than its surroundings. In the evening, the difference can be as high as 22°F. 
- On January 1st, 2011, Baby Boomers started turning 65, with an average of 10,000 more a day for the next 19 years. 
- “Desire for maintenance free living” and “lower living costs” were recently listed as the number 1 and 3 reasons, respectively, for re-location of housing, with the smallest percentage of people moving FROM central city residences. [2010 study by the Society of Certified Senior Advisors] 
- In a recent poll, 26% of people are planning to remain in their homes for 16 to 20 years. [National Association of Remodelers Institute] 

Our portfolio is vast, we are trending towards density, and our urban spaces are generally warmer. Today, more than ever, an increasing percentage of our population is of retirement age with a need for fixed costs and services. Many us are choosing to remain in our homes. 

[Some statistics on energy and water use in housing, again mostly from a 2009 EPA report on “Buildings and Their Environment”]:
- Buildings accounted for 38.9 percent of total U.S. energy consumption in 2005. Residential buildings accounted for 53.7 percent of that total. 
- Building occupants use 13 percent of the total water consumed in the United States per day. Of that total, over 74 percent is used by homeowners. 
- Americans now use an average of 100 gallons of water each day—enough to fill 1,600 drinking glasses. 
- On average, Americans spend about 90 percent or more of their time indoors. Sources of indoor air pollution may include: combustion sources; building materials and furnishings; household cleaning, maintenance, central heating and cooling systems and humidification devices. 

Much of our time is spent indoors, where building air quality can be a problem. When in residential buildings, individuals directly contribute a considerable portion of the total energy and daily water use. 

[Now some statistics on trends that affect affordability from a 2009 EPA report on “Buildings and Their Environment”]:
- The average household spends at least $2,000 a year on energy bills — over half of which goes to heating and cooling. 
- Out of the total energy consumption in an average household, 50% goes to space heating, 27% to run appliances, 19% to heat water and 4% goes to air conditioning. 
- Indoor water use contains the following percentages: toilets, 27 percent; clothes washers, 22 percent; showers, 17 percent; faucets, 16 percent; leaks, 14 percent; and other uses, about 5 percent. 

We have a pretty good handle on where, within residential buildings, we are spending our energy. 

[Finally, some statistics on technology trends]: 

- In 2009, the solar market grew 62%, 67% in 2010 with an even higher figure predicted for 2011 and beyond.
- Research suggests that knowing how the energy management products work and having quantifiable energy savings are key for homeowner engagement. [2012 Pike Research “Smart Grid Consumer Survey”] 
- The largest reported, by auditors, energy savings in the home are through: sealing air leaks; installing interior storm windows; insulating the basement ceiling under the heated space; and adding more insulation to the attic. [90 homes audited, Midcoast Green Collaborative in Maine] 
- Simply by using efficient fixtures, one can cut graywater production to about 16 gallons per person per day. [systemic benefits can be realized, According to Builder Online] 
- Technologies, such as energy efficiency in lighting and air quality, are already being utilized in healthcare management, with many more high tech opportunities on the horizon. [responding to the aging market] 
- The installation of green roofs jumped 115% in 2011, with Washington DC at the top of the list by building 800,000 sf. [not necessarily relevant to affordable housing] 
- Scientists continue to develop materials and metamaterials to renew or conserve energy. [Metamaterials bend light, for example, which increases solar efficiency] 

So, what does this mean for affordable housing? That is what we are here today to discuss together, so I will not propose much. I will say this: I believe, as of right now, there is more opportunity than ever before to realize performance out of homes and leverage this performance towards affordability. The technologies available to us are many and so are the possibilities. The design, construction and operation of these technologies are the path towards creating affordable options that support community. 

As you read in the framing paper (below), our industry is vast and complex. Significant efforts are currently being made to explore energy efficient technologies and their incorporation into many materials, systems and facilities. Harnessing these efforts towards innovation in affordable housing is one key and remains a challenge. Further, environmental stewardship requires greater efficiency in energy use, shifts to renewable energy sources, and reductions in the negative impacts of housing on our air, water, land and energy resources. These challenges are likely to become increasingly urgent as the effects of Green House Gasses, severe weather events, and climate change become more evident throughout the world. In closing, I will repeat Matt Capelli. “In the future people will worry less about how their home looks and more about how it performs”. I could not agree more.

A New Way To Picture 
America’s Aging Assets

posted May 17, 2013, 10:39 AM by Andrew McCoy   [ updated May 17, 2013, 10:39 AM ]

Opportunities for electrical work in infrastructure 

Published: February 2013
By Fred Sargent and Andrew McCoy

Try not to think of pink elephants. That silly proposition makes us chuckle when we hear it because we know that, as soon as someone says, “pink elephants,” we will unavoidably visualize pink elephants. We think in pictures. Hearing or reading words triggers mental images of what they mean.

Even a nondescript term such as “infrastructure” conjures up something in our mind’s eye. Most people associate infrastructure with roads and bridges—a natural response in the automobile-centric society in the United States.

In the context of this article, we are talking about civil infrastructure. As a matter of fact, you might decide that a better term for it would be civilization infrastructure. That’s a mouthful, but it better conveys the idea that the level of civilization, which all of us are able to enjoy every day in this country, heavily depends on the integrity of our so-called civil infrastructure, which means more than roads alone.

A New Way To Picture 
America’s Aging Assets

posted May 17, 2013, 10:34 AM by Andrew McCoy   [ updated May 17, 2013, 10:34 AM ]

Opportunities for electrical work in infrastructure

Developing Additive Construction

posted May 3, 2013, 5:59 PM by Andrew McCoy   [ updated May 3, 2013, 6:01 PM ]

The basic premises applied to electrical service work

Published: December 2012
By Andrew McCoy, Fred Sargent

There’s an old joke about Michelangelo in which he explains how he was able to create his enormous 6-ton, 17-foot-high sculpture of the young, biblical hero David: Michelangelo shrugs his shoulders and confesses, “I just chipped away everything that did not look like David.”

Although it is a joke, that explanation comes close to describing what Michelangelo actually did. From 1501 to 1504, he steadily carved away at a huge block of marble, in what could be regarded as a “subtractive” process: removing significant portions of the basic material on which he was laboring to configure it into the finished product that he wanted. The Renaissance sculptor was employing a method that parallels ways in which today’s ECs perform their work.  To read the full article, please go to the following address: .

Developing Your Customer Base on the Cheap

posted Dec 18, 2012, 8:06 AM by Andrew McCoy   [ updated Dec 18, 2012, 8:08 AM ]

The penny-wise ways of a “hot-dog marketeer”

Published: October 2012
by Andrew McCoy , Fred Sargent

"John Spellman never dreamed the day would come when he would be thought of as a “hot-dog marketeer,” whose down-to-earth business techniques would be touted to the country’s best electrical contractors as ways to improve their service-related efforts and results. He never imagined that well-established firms much larger than his own budding business would copy his oh-so-simple strategies for building a loyal customer base. But because John—starting from scratch—built a base of a few hundred repeat customers in only three months, with low-cost and sometimes zero-cost methods, we thought he had a story from which every service-oriented electrical contractor could learn a thing or two."  To read the full article, please go to the following address: .

Lessons Learned From Leon Leonwood Bean

posted Sep 1, 2012, 9:21 AM by Andrew McCoy   [ updated Sep 1, 2012, 9:21 AM ]

How a healthy obsession can lead to successful business

Published: August 2012
In 1911, Leon Leonwood Bean (better known to his friends by his initials “L.L.”) stomped in from the chilly Maine weather with cold, aching feet after a long hunting trip. He had a fierce, personal obsession to design and manufacture a more comfortable boot for hunters and outdoorsmen. He dreamed of marketing it across the United States through a mail-order catalog. Not only would he offer better footwear than any other available at the time, he would stand behind the quality with a 100 percent money-back guarantee. To read more, please go to: .

The Three-Ring Rule

posted Sep 1, 2012, 9:19 AM by Andrew McCoy   [ updated Sep 1, 2012, 9:19 AM ]

A quick way to create customers for life

Published: June 2012

It never fails. Five minutes before the end of the workday on Friday, the phone rings. Just as the last remaining people in the office are ready to rush out the door and head home, a customer calls with an urgent problem requiring immediate assistance from one or more of the electricians who all left work to begin their weekends at least an hour ago.  To read more, please go to: .

The Customer Comes Second

posted Sep 1, 2012, 9:16 AM by Andrew McCoy   [ updated Sep 1, 2012, 9:16 AM ]

A service-oriented business strategy proves successful

Published: April 2012
by Andrew McCoy , Fred Sargent

“Companies must put their people—not their customers—first,” writes Hal Rosenbluth, CEO of an international travel management company, in his 1992 classic book, “The Customer Comes Second.” At first glance, these words read like heresy against the great body of advertising that, for decades, has ostensibly made a religion out of the primacy of customers and their every concern. We think that what Rosenbluth has to say, beyond that tongue-in-cheek title, is the basis of worthy advice for all electrical contractors who are dedicated to operating a successful service-oriented business. How does it apply to electrical contracting, though? For that, we must begin with a little history. To read more, please go to: .

Who Let the Dogs Out?

posted Sep 1, 2012, 9:13 AM by Andrew McCoy   [ updated Sep 1, 2012, 9:16 AM ]

Unintended actions and their lasting impressions

Published: February 2012
by Andrew McCoy , Fred Sargent

Mike, an anonymous electrical contractor, is almost to the point where he can laugh about an incident that occurred last summer. However, right after it happened, it felt as though he relived his initial frustration each time the subject came up. The other week, he retold the story and chose to emphasize its moral: actions that have little or no relationship to the core values of quality, cost or schedule on a project can end up being the most unforgettable part of a job (or, at least, it’s what the customer will always remember most about it). To read more, please go to: .

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