American Homes Due for a Technology Boost
Innovation reigns in the marketplace, except when it comes to housing. Though new technologies can make a dramatic improvement in the affordability and quality of America's housing, it still takes 10 to 25 years for an innovation to fully penetrate the market. While expansion in the new construction and remodeling sectors has driven economic growth in recent years, there is very little investment in housing technologies.
The Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH) is working to change the way Americans live, not only by increasing the quality and affordability of America's housing, but also by helping to ensure that the housing industry is a dynamic innovative force far into the 21st century.
For the full story, see the draft
PATH Strategic Plan.
Established in 1998, PATH is a voluntary partnership between the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and members of the housing industry. These partners are dedicated to accelerating the development and use of technologies that will radically improve the durability, energy efficiency, environmental performance, and affordability of America's housing.
The pace of innovation in the housing industry is greatly delayed by the number of participants and variety of drivers. The housing industry consists of homebuilders, consumers, product manufacturers, researchers, financial institutions, and government agencies, all of which encounter unique barriers to technological innovations.
- Homebuilders may hesitate to use a specific technology in their developments because of financial risks and regulatory hurdles.
- Consumers need information to make educated choices about efficiency, quality, or durability when purchasing a home.
- Product manufacturers require resources to develop innovative ideas.
- Researchers seek connections with industry leaders to help them apply the latest research in the field.
- And financial institutions must understand the impact of a new technology on home appraisals or mortgage rates.
PATH is working to address these opportunities and advance housing innovation.
PATH works to educate the public about new technologies through multiple venues, from Web sites and conceptual models to trade journals and industry events. Highlights of these efforts include:
- ToolBase Services is the housing industry's resource for technical information on building products, materials, new technologies, business management, and housing systems. It hosts PATH's Technology Inventory, which provides an overview of almost 200 new and emerging technologies that have the capacity to improve quality, durability, energy efficiency, environmental performance, affordability, disaster resistance and safety in America's homes. PATHnet provides policy and marketing information to the homebuilding industry.
- PATH "Tech Sets" are a new resource to help builders implement innovative technologies in manageable, systems-based packages. Released quarterly, these "technologies in a box" offer maximum performance when used in conjunction with each other. Each Tech Set offers an options package, so builders can use them all, or just a few. The first set demonstrates elements of resource-efficient plumbing; the second Tech Set helps builders create a durable building envelope.
- What if a high quality, affordable home could be built in 20 days; accommodated your changing lifestyle; adapted to technological advances; was easy to repair and remodel; and looked like custom-built? The PATH Concept Home is an architectural model of a home that shows builders this vision of the future. The home includes innovative ideas and technologies that can be adopted into current building practices and also suggests some visionary components, challenging manufacturers and builders to translate these ideas into reality. PATH is working with its first Prototype Partner, Clever Homes, to develop blueprints for an actual Concept Home.
- Field Evaluations are conducted to assess and evaluate technologies listed in the Technology Inventory that are on the market and show potential for shaping the way America builds. PATH works with innovative builders to integrate selected technologies into home design; measure the cost of incorporating the technologies; evaluate how well technologies are accepted by builders, construction trade groups, and homeowners; and measure the technologies' performance. Larger projects fall under PATH's Demonstration Sites.
- PATH authors articles in trade journals and consumer magazines including Professional Builder, Professional Remodeler, Fine Homebuilding, Her Home, and many others.
Now! PATH is working with its partners to:
- Develop new housing technologies. PATH supports and performs housing-related technological research, including technology forecasting, research and development, market introduction, and support.
- Disseminate information about new and existing housing technologies. PATH coordinates the dissemination of information (on specific technologies and industry-wide technological information) that remains unbiased, technically accurate, and relevant to specific housing audiences. In doing so, PATH hopes to encourage the use of innovative technologies among homebuilders and homeowners.
- Study and establish mechanisms for sustained housing technology development. PATH investigates the institutional barriers that impede innovation, and proposes alternatives and negotiates improved services to overcome those barriers. PATH also develops networks and agreements among participants to implement these services.
Importance of the Housing Industry
The residential building industry is one of the largest and most important sectors of the U.S. economy. Residential construction stimulates the economy directly by generating jobs, wages, and tax revenues, and indirectly as the demand for goods and services created by the construction of new homes ripples through the economy.
According to the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), the construction of 1,000 single-family homes generates 2,448 full-time jobs in construction and construction-related industries; $79.4 million in wages; and $42.5 million in combined federal, state and local revenues and fees.
Remodeling expenditures by homeowners and rental property owners account for nearly 40 percent of all residential construction and improvement spending and more than 2 percent of the US economy. In 2003, these expenditures totaled $233 billion.
The housing market has sparked growth in a struggling economy. Housing starts climbed annually from 1.2 million in 2000 to 1.6 million in 2004. In January 2005, housing starts jumped 4.7 percent to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 2.159 million units, the highest pace in 21 years, according to the U.S. Commerce Department.
Importance of Innovation
Although there have been many strides in the housing industry, there are still many obstacles to achieving the American Dream of homeownership and to owning a quality-built home.
Cost is probably the most important concern for everyone involved in building and buying a home. Two out of three Americans are concerned about the cost of housing in their communities, according to a survey released in September 2003 at the National Summit on Housing Opportunities convened by the National Association of Realtors. HUD's definition of affordability is that a household pays no more than 30 percent of its annual income on housing. However, an estimated 12 million renters and homeowners now spend more then 50 percent of their annual incomes on housing. In 2004, housing affordability declined due to rising home prices.
Innovative technologies and construction techniques are key to making America's homes more affordable. By introducing builders to more cost-effective construction methods and promoting technologies that help reduce homeowner energy bills and increase housing durability, PATH is working to improve the value of America's housing.
Beyond affordability, housing innovations improve quality, comfort and livability. Today's ideal home is well designed, affordable, durable, and efficient, and it serves as solid long-term investment. Innovative technologies are a key component to delivering the kind of quality that consumers have come to expect.
PATH works with members of the housing industry to improve the main performance factors in a home that impact
affordability: durability, energy efficiency, disaster resistance, health and safety.
Building today's quality home begins with carefully selecting and correctly installing durable materials. Regardless of the home, housing products should last as long as possible, and be available for a price that's as low as practicable. The more durable the materials, the less homeowners will have to pay in maintenance and repair costs over the lifetime of the home. Correct installation is critical for maintaining the life of the product and avoiding builder call-backs.
Energy-efficient technologies and construction practices--from ENERGY STAR qualified products to advanced framing techniques--can dramatically reduce the energy a house will use after it is built, as well as the resources consumed during its construction. Energy-efficient technologies and practices can reduce a homeowner's energy bills by as much as one-third.
"Green" building practices reduce the amount of waste generated during construction and lessen the environmental impact of the built home. Environmentally-friendly products can improve living conditions by improving indoor air quality and eliminating toxic materials. By buying more energy-efficient homes and making existing homes more efficient, consumers can help reduce air pollution and lessen environmental problems such as global warming, smog, and acid rain.
The devastation caused by natural disasters over the past decade underscores the need to reduce the impact of hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, and fire on America's economy and its citizens. By combining new building technologies with quality construction practices, the threat of loss of life and property due to natural disasters can be greatly reduced.
Health and Safety
PATH is concerned about the health and safety of everyone involved in a home-the inhabitants and the builders. PATH promotes the ideas of universal design, which indicates products and buildings that are safe, accessible and usable by everyone, including people with disabilities.
PATH has three strategies for achieving greater quality, affordability, durability, and safety in America's housing: supporting R&D for new technologies, addressing the barriers to acceptance of innovative technologies and techniques, and educating the public about the benefits of such technologies and their current use in the marketplace.
To develop effective solutions for the housing industry, PATH seeks to understand the barriers to housing technology research and adoption. A primary PATH function is to review the issues associated with each barrier and develop potential alternatives or improvements. PATH activities to help overcome barriers to technology adoption include:
- Providing financial incentives for houses that incorporate innovations
- Supporting private investment in housing innovation
- Promoting codes that recommend use of housing innovation
- Encouraging insurance policies that reward use of housing innovation
- Promoting appraisal/market value accounting for housing innovation
Two recent PATH reports examine barriers to innovation in housing in depth.
Overcoming Barriers to Innovation in the Homebuilding Industry explores specific industrial, institutional, financial, and/or cultural barriers to the advancement of housing technology.
Removing Building Regulatory Barriers identifies and clarifies barriers and opportunities associated with the building regulatory process and provides suggestions to stimulate innovation.
Through its support of basic research, demonstration homes, and field evaluations, PATH aims to find and test production methods that make it easier to build efficient, durable, and affordable homes.
Since its inception, PATH has worked with the largest Federal research facilities performing housing-related work, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Products Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy's labs, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. PATH supports basic research on the development of specific technologies, and is working to develop a research infrastructure for housing in academia and among industry with academic grants and commercialization assistance. PATH partners with the National Science Foundation to promote basic research at the university level.
While much work remains to be done, PATH is ready for the homes and home technologies of the future. Are you?