Imagine if this were the case in construction, even “just” in the residential industry. As with any new ideas, there would be immediate push-back. Can’t do – houses are not cars. No indeed, cars have to provide weather protection, lighting, heating, and cooling … within a moving object. Only mobile homes have that stringent a requirement, but the majority of housing is not so constrained.
The very parameter of end-of-life would bring into question the anticipated service years of a building. This is not currently a design parameter for residential builders. At one point when I was working on a life cycle analysis problem, I contacted a bunch of production residential builders for their design service life. They hadn’t ever even posed that question. We don’t have any idea how long we anticipate the house to serve in its current configuration, nor do we prepare for eventual adaptive use.
NAHB identified the expected life of framing and structural systems to “last a lifetime”? Whose? In Designing for the Long Now, we discussed the need for this shorter term service elements to be accessible for easy repair. The same could be said for cars. For example, spark plugs – often a $5 part with a $100 service charge for labor, because they are buried under the windshield wiper fluid tank. But I digress… or do I?
Could the wiper fluid tank have been designed in a different place? Or in buildings, could our electricity be designed to NOT be buried inside all the walls? Or the insulation co-mingled with the structure? Could the components be separated? Is there a benefit? An environmental hazard avoided – or a value gained? These are very different design criteria, and could trigger some very innovative solutions.
The benefit is easily defined. For while we are enamored with the image of a permanent domicile, American’s will move 11.7 times during his/ her lifetime. We are a nomadic population, only we don’t bring our tipis with us. Instead, we leave old behind and expect our “new” homes is to have updated technology and style. If buildings were built with isolated components, they could be more easily refurbished. There is also a strong market demand for temporary housings - for mining or natural gas extraction sites, for Granny Pods, emergency housing for natural disasters. What if these could be sent out as a kit, assembled in a week and used for up to 5 years before they are reconditioned and re-used?
|Bensonwood - Wiring Raceway|
Off-site manufacturing has the advantages of building in controlled environments, to tight tolerances, and gaining efficiencies of process planning. When combined with computerization and modular design, it also makes it easier to customize and allow for owners to make their own changes throughout the life of the building. But it can also address the bigger question of embodied energy, of effective use of materials, and of addressing market demand for change.
For automobiles, it took an EU directive to push the change. This is likely to be needed in the construction industry, since the end-of-life costs are not tied to the same entity doing the new construction. But the market forces of opportunities may continue to lead the way in developing technology, innovative builders who are pushing the envelope. Cradle to Cradle, (still) a new way of thinking.