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Panelized Construction

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By Litisha in Cumming, GA on 12/9/2009

I'm new to the O-B website and I've just completed The O-B Book and now started The Complete Guide to Contracting Your Home.  I'm currently on the topic of panelized construction.  It seems that this is a good method in that it expedites the process. I won't start building for about a year but wondered if this was really a good option to go with once we've decided to move forward.  It seems many people go with "stick built" but I wanted to know if this process really saves a whole lot more than the traditional methods.  Any advice?


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By Jeff in Hartland, WI on 12/12/2009

Hi Litisha,

We stick-built our house. Framing began around the end of October, and it took about six weeks.  A house down the street started pouring their foundation about the end of October (a month after we started ours), and the framing was panelized. The panelized house was framed at about the same time that ours was framed.  And since the windows were pre-installed, the panelized house had windows in place about a week before our house did.  So I'd say that panelizing can save you four to six weeks: the time spent framing and installing windows.  But only if you plan it right.  To get it right, you'll have to know how much lead time the panel company will need to engineer and build your panels. Ideally, you'd schedule it so that the foundation is ready (poured and cured) just a day or two prior to the time that the panels are ready.

The time savings in panelized construction comes from parallel execution of tasks that would otherwise be executed sequentially.  With stick building, you can't start framing until the foundation is poured, inspected, and cured. With panelization, the panels can be built while the foundation is being built, or possibly even before that.  Panelization is ideal for a builder who builds stock plans.  The builder can have the panels designed once, and then just order the panels when they sell a particular model. 

Panel suppliers argue that the quality of a panelized home is greater than that of a stick-built home. And I agree--the second, third, and fourth times a house is built, the quality will probably be higher. But for a custom home that is only being built once, I'm not so sure.  The panel supplier will make mistakes--possibly more mistakes than an on-site framing crew since they can't physically verify foundation measurements.Suppliers also argue that panelizing reduces weather related delays. Maybe, maybe not.

A couple other points. 1. You don't get the privilege of seeing the house go up as it is constructed  2. Any mistakes on the part of the foundation crew will almost certainly lead to additional cost: either to create new panels, or to pay the framer to fix the mistakes.

It's important to recognize that the amount of time you'll save by panelizing is directly related to your success at developing and executing a plan precisely.  That panelized house I mentioned at the beginning of my post was completed, and the owners moved in, less than a week before we moved into our stick-built home. Considering that the finish phase of my project was two or three times as long as that of a typical production builder (because I did most of the finish work myself), it seems that panelizing really didn't save the builder much time.  He barely kept up with a complete amateur.



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