The Future of Energy Efficiency in Off-site Construction

As we look forward on housing demand, how can we use what we’ve learned in energy efficiency over the years and apply it to the future of the building industry?

The Future of Energy Efficiency in Off-site Construction

When I take a look around the construction industry today, I admit I’m pretty surprised if a builder has not implemented some kind of energy efficiency standards into their building practices.  Of course, this was not always the case.  The emergence of many of the energy efficiency programs in the 80’s and 90’s were a direct result of the energy crisis in the 70’s.  Policymakers in Washington were motivated by a new level of environmentalism as efforts were made to reduce America’s dependence on fossil fuels.

A specific challenge drove the industry to work on solutions.

And even with the strides that have been made in the energy efficiency sector, it still remains far from perfect.  But that’s what progress is all about, right?  It’s solid, incremental changes, and constantly pushing the bar higher.

The most dire challenge currently facing the U.S. (and other countries around the world) is housing affordability.  Both in our inability to create it fast enough, and the inability to create it at an attainable cost for average income earners.  I’m not solely focusing on “low-income” housing, but it is alarming that over 11 million Americans pay more than half their salaries for monthly rent. This is an increase of more than 30% over the last five years.2

So what does all that have to do with energy efficiency?  Everything.  When you have a monthly housing budget that comes with an inconsistent energy bill, it can be unnerving.  Applying practical, energy efficiency standards helps make housing more attainable, but alone, isn’t enough to deal with the growing affordability gap.

Off-site construction methods (volumetric, panelized, etc.) have increasingly come into sharper focus as a viable solution for the housing attainability crisis.  But with that, we need to take what we’ve learned over the last 40 years in the energy efficiency sector and figure out how to utilize factory methods to make off-site constructed housing as efficient as possible.  And we need not stop at energy efficiency.  With factory methods, we have an opportunity to utilize technology, and its data, in a way that has never been done before.  For the foreseeable future, builders will be looking at HOW they build (off-site) relative to WHAT we build (energy efficient and sustainable products).  Off-site construction affords an opportunity to rethink energy efficiency.

The National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) recently announced a 3-year project where they will be partnering with Factory OS (Mare Island, CA), Vaughan Buckley Construction (Philadelphia, PA), and Full Stack Modular (New York) to look at how to maximize energy efficiency in the factory process.

“As the emerging off-site modular sector continues to expand, we are seeking to embed energy efficiency and grid-interactive building concepts into the factory design, construction, and assembly process,” says Shanti Pless, Senior Research Engineer at NREL.  “We see a big opportunity to meet the challenges of affordability and low energy costs in the multifamily sector through the integration of high performance building strategies into the advanced building manufacturing industry.”

In addition to partner-factories, the project is also forming an Advisory Board whose purpose will be to provide guidance and technical support for the project as well insight and support for the development of modular industrialization standards that will be shared with other industry players.  Members of the Advisory Board will include players from technology integration, data/software, systems, building envelope, site assembly, automation/advanced manufacturing, codes, and standards.

If you’re interested in learning more about the project or the Advisory Board, contact or


1Joint Center for Housing Studies of Harvard University 2017.



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