Five new innovations that could change the building industry

An innovative five-storey, luxury apartment building, called Clearwater Quays, is under construction at Christchurch's Clearwater Resort.

The push to boost housing supply will continue this year, and with that has come a growing number of technological innovations set to shake-up the industry.

While new home consents are at record levels and evidence of the building boom is inescapable, construction industry capacity constraints are starting to weigh on the pace of development.

But the pace of technological invention has also accelerated and a host of innovations designed to improve and enhance the industry are hitting the market.

Here’s a selection of five new products that could help to change the building game.

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Utecture: the timesaving “gamechanger”

A new digital platform has the potential to give builders cost and time savings of 60 per cent in the sales cycle, and its developers say industry heavy-hitters are signing up for it.

The cloud-based platform, Utecture, allows merchant suppliers and builders to accurately plan and cost a job in significantly reduced time, down to around an hour from the current average of 11 days.

This means it can provide quotes and close contracts in half the time, which will speed up the production process and also improve affordability in new build projects.

It does this with virtual pre-construction house plans. Users interact with the plans and can make changes. The technology re-renders the plans with each change, and costs are quantified immediately.

Donovan Group chief executive Kyle Donovan says Utecture helps cut time and money in the pre-construction process.
Donovan Group chief executive Kyle Donovan says Utecture helps cut time and money in the pre-construction process.

Donovan Group chief executive Kyle Donovan says it gives contractors the ability to make real time decisions on what something looks like and how much it costs.

In contrast, when working from traditional plans any changes could take weeks to get them done, signed off and priced, he says.

“This cuts down on time, saving money in the process, while providing the client with instant certainty on specs and costs. It seems simple, but it is transformative for clients as they can make better decisions.”

It is also a game-changer for builders, he says. “They can meet client demands for transparency in the pre-construction phase, and get quotes to clients more quickly, increasing the likelihood of winning a job.”

Donovan says the two key markets are merchant suppliers and group home builders, and the company has now signed up six group home builders, and some big manufacturing suppliers.

Working Spec: the interactive installation aide

The spectre of the leaky homes crisis still haunts the building industry, but a new app aims to beat cladding issues with high-tech installation instructions.

Free for download, the Working Spec app converts 2D installation instructions from roof, window and cladding manufacturers into animated, interactive, 3D models. It also links users' devices to manufacturers’ packaging and documentation with QR-Codes.

Users can then interact with a model and timeline on site to understand installation and how components fit together at any moment from any viewpoint.

Poor cladding installation can be avoided with the help of the Working Spec app.
Poor cladding installation can be avoided with the help of the Working Spec app.

Working Spec director Paul Naude says correct installation prevents leaks in homes and commercial buildings, and that is the core objective of the app because installation can be tricky.

But making it faster and easier for products to be assembled or applied correctly saves time and money, and results in better quality buildings.

“Our goal is to help with the delivery of information. The information provided by architects and manufacturers is good if you can understand it, but it needs to be translated into the language the people who install the products speak. And the app does that.”

The app works with all sorts of building products, can also be applied in the engineering industry, and will eventually be available for flatpack products.

Naude says some big manufacturers, such as James Hardie and Rosenfeld Kidson, have signed up, but the goal is to develop the system to allow contributors to create their own 3D models for the platform.

HouseMe: the fast turnaround, transportable home

Mass production line processes are nothing new, but combining them with new high-tech machinery to create good quality, transportable homes remains novel in this country.

HouseMe constructs built-to-order housing units ranging in size 20 to 45 square metres, out of New Zealand made and locally sourced materials, with Colorsteel EPS Panel as a main component.

All units meet building code standards, and have a council-issued Code of Compliance where applicable. They are double-glazed, exceed insulation requirements by 20 per cent and designed to be lived in, with bathrooms, kitchens, bedrooms and storage space.

The interior of a transportable HouseMe home unit.
The interior of a transportable HouseMe home unit.

HouseMe national marketing manager Bryce Glover says the process applies a standardised approach to manufacturing which means it can build the units quickly for a competitive price. Now it is scaling up to boost production.

HouseMe has built a new 4000 sqm factory and invested heavily in new plant and more staff, so it can keep up with high demand for homes, he says.

“People are looking to our homes as an alternative to the traditional dwelling. It is possible to get a 29 square metre home, which is bigger than many CBD apartments, for $75,000 including GST, for example.”

Buyers include first-home buyers who put units on family land, homeowners wanting “granny flats” for older family members, farmers who use them for workers accommodation, people wanting to put a bach on some land, and people looking to generate rental income.

Glover says traditional housing costs affect people from all walks of life, and his company wants to help those struggling to afford housing to meet their needs.

“Units only take three weeks to build on-site, although we regularly have a 14-16 week lead time due to volume and popularity. And we can then transport them to most parts of the country.”

Currently, the company builds 40 units a month, which is 480 a year, but the scaling up of production ability will allow it to build about 1000 units a year, he says.

DreamSpace: the virtual reality real estate experience

Visualising what a new-build home will look like based on traditional 2D plans is difficult for many people, but one developer is offering a virtual reality option to make it easier.

The DreamSpace virtual, 360-degree “immersion lab” with 3D renders, drone footage, and surround sound.
The DreamSpace virtual, 360-degree “immersion lab” with 3D renders, drone footage, and surround sound.

The DreamSpace apartment project offers pre-purchase inspections via a virtual, 360-degree “immersion lab” with projected 3D renders, drone captured imagery and surround sound. It aims to show what each apartment will be like.

Developer Annelies Powell says this allows buyers to virtually experience all aspects of the property from the size to the interior design scheme to the views from the private balconies.

Buying property off the plans can be daunting, so she wanted to eliminate the perceived risk and show people what they are buying, she says.

“It’s a truly immersive experience, enabling buyers to walk around different rooms and floor plans while seeing the home projected right around them. And they don’t need an awkward VR headset.”

The technology, which was created by digital engineering experts asBuilt, allows people to see different colour options and furniture layouts.

Powell says it helps people create an emotional connection to the space. “They can visualise sitting on the deck with a glass of wine looking out to the sea, or where they can set up a workspace.”

Feedback from potential buyers on the technology has been enthusiastic, she says.

PDL: the affordable smart home option

Smart home technology was once the domain of the ultra-wealthy, but there are now new affordable options for everyday Kiwis.

Affordable smart home technology can be operated via smartphone apps.
Affordable smart home technology can be operated via smartphone apps.

The PDL smart home solution is a smartphone application which helps users navigate and integrate scalable smart technology on their own terms.

While the system can be customised to a high-end level, basic options include smart motion sensors, lighting control, and timers offering options around such appliances as under-floor heating, exhaust fans and heated towel rails.

Schneider Electric home solutions consultant Robert Knight says what can be done depends on what each user wants, but the technology brings it all together so it can be controlled by a phone tap or a spoken phrase.

Due to the pandemic many people are renovating to create additional space or to make their home a real haven, he says. “Smart home technology is not just about safety any more, it can positively influence the critical design elements of your home.”

The technology, which can be installed in any type of home, is affordable, easy to use and simple to have installed, Knight says.

“With so much home improvement going on, uptake has been overwhelming. Homeowners love it because it is only smart when it needs to be and only as smart as you want it to be.”