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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.
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