Home building and Robots: now and then

WiseHomeBuilding - ZeroLabor Randek robots
ZEROLABOR® automates the construction process in high-end plans.
In a recent new deal with modular construction Katerra, Swedish firm Randek brings its automated workforce to the U.S. home building market.

Perfect squared walls and studs without any bowing. Window and electrical openings placed according to CAD in pre-fabricated walls. Conduits and insulation installed in a control temperature environment. Minimal waste to be handled. Yes, we are talking about the HOME BUILDING 2.0: an era of robots taking care of the home building business.

Despite the majority of home builders today can’t use this technology, it is already a reality for some companies that would like to work with this innovation. Faster process to build walls, roofs and trusses, with computer precision, maximizing the labor time. That’s the goal, and believe you or not it is starting to gain more and more adepts.

A perfectly framed wood home can be built by a team of two robots: precisely as designed by the architects and engineers, in record time, without delays or injuries.

ZeroLabor Robotic System® is one of this multifunctional application of mass-produced robotics with the ability to produce framed buildings. The first one was installed by  Moelven (a Norwegian forest products company) at its plant in the western Sweden in 2016, and the plant saw productivity increase by 5 times without any increase in staffing.

Photo from Randek website: http://www.randek.com/en/wall-floor-and-roof-production-lines/zerolabor

Swedish company Randek, which makes high-performance machines and systems for prefabricated house manufacturing in 36 countries and developed the world’s fastest wall line for Toll Brothers in 1992, is bringing its robotics revolution to U.S. production home building: Menlo Park, California (modular construction company Katerra recently purchased three ZeroLabor units, to be delivered next spring).

The robot screws, staples, nails, glues, and cuts out openings for windows and electrical as needed. It even straightens studs before nailing and marks building components using an inkjet printer. At the end of the task, the robot automatically separates waste and places it in the appropriate bins.

The future is coming, faster than we expected.

(OBS: to write this post we use information provided by the builders.com website)


Gas explosions: understanding the complex system behind natural gas delivery

In New England we were very worry about gas explosions that happened last week, and it is quite natural to become curious about WHY it happened. To better understand some possible source for the problem, we have to understand how the gas system works.

A house on fire
Photo Credit: theatlantic.com

The gas flowing from higher to lower pressure is the fundamental principle of the natural gas delivery systems. From the well, the natural gas goes into “gathering” lines, which are like branches on a tree, getting larger as they get closer to the central collection point. A gathering system may need one or more field compressors to move the gas to the pipeline or the processing plant.

From the gathering system, the natural gas moves into the transmission system, which is generally composed of about 272,000 miles of high-strength steel piper. These large transmission lines for natural gas can be compared to the interstate highway system for cars. They move large amounts of natural gas thousands of miles from the producing regions to local distribution companies (LDCs). The pressure of gas in each section of line typically ranges from 200 pounds to 1,500 pounds per square inch (psi), depending on the type of area in which the pipeline is operating. As a safety measure, pipelines are designed and constructed to handle much more pressure than is ever actually reached in the system. For example, pipelines in more populated areas operate at less than one-half of their design pressure level. Many major interstate pipelines are “looped” — there are two or more lines running parallel to each other in the same right of way. This is important to provides maximum capacity during periods of peak demand.

Another important part of the system are the compressor stations located approximately every 50 to 60 miles along each pipeline to boost the pressure that is lost through the friction of the natural gas moving through the steel pipe. The majority of the compressor stations are completely automated, so the equipment can be started or stopped from a pipeline’s central control room. The control room can also remotely operate shut-off valves along the transmission system. The operators of the system keep detailed operating data on each compressor station, and continuously adjust the mix of engines that are running to maximize efficiency and safety. Natural gas moves through the transmission system at up to 30 miles per hour, so it takes several days for gas from Texas to arrive at a utility receipt point in the Northeast. Along the way, there are many interconnections with other pipelines and other utility systems.

When the natural gas in a transmission pipeline reaches a local gas utility, it normally passes through a gate station. Utilities frequently have gate stations receiving gas at many different locations and from several different pipelines. Gate stations serve three purposes. First, they reduce the pressure in the line from transmission levels (200 to 1,500 pounds) to distribution levels, which range from ¼ pound to 200 pounds. Then an odorant, the distinctive sour scent associated with natural gas, is added, so that consumers can smell even small quantities of gas. Finally, the gate station measures the flow rate of the gas to determine the amount being received by the utility.

From the gate station, natural gas moves into distribution lines or “mains” that range from 2 inches to more than 24 inches in diameter. Within each distribution system, there are sections that operate at different pressures, with regulators controlling the pressure. Some regulators are remotely controlled by the utility to change pressures in parts of the system to optimize efficiency. Generally speaking, the closer natural gas gets to a customer, the smaller the pipe diameter is and the lower the pressure is. Distribution lines typically operate at less than one-fifth of their design pressure. Sophisticated computer programs are used to evaluate the delivery capacity of the network and to ensure that all customers receive adequate supplies of gas at or above the minimum pressure level required by their gas appliances. Distribution mains are interconnected in multiple grid patterns with strategically located shut-off valves. These valves minimize the need for customer disruption to service during maintenance operations and emergencies.

Natural gas runs from the main into a home or business in what’s called a service line. Typically, the natural gas utility is responsible for maintaining and operating gas pipeline and facilities up to the residential gas meter. All equipment and gas supply lines downstream of the residential meter are the responsibility of the customer. When the gas reaches a customer’s meter, it passes through another pressure regulator to reduce its pressure to under ¼ pound, if necessary. Some services lines carry gas that is already at very low pressure. This is the normal pressure for natural gas within a household piping system, and is less than the pressure created by a child blowing bubbles through a straw in a glass of milk. When a gas furnace or stove is turned on, the gas pressure is slightly higher than the air pressure, so the gas flows out of the burner and ignites in its familiar clean blue flame.

As you can see, the system is complex, and depends a lot of computers and physical connections, working at different pressure. We don’t know what causes the problem here in Massachusetts, but probably it was related with a high pressure entering a connection system within some pipe that was not prepare to absorb the pressure safely.

(Source: American Gas Association website)

Prefab and Timber Frame Homes

Timber frame homes have unique concepts that bring the beauty and warmth of wood into your home. All or part of your home’s structure can contain timber framing. They’re structures vary, drawn specifically for each house and each homeowner, including yourself.


Wood for these homes are often cut by a CNC machine, all based on the drawings from your original designs. That’s what makes this type of house so unique: precision with beauty.

Another key advantage to choosing a timber frame home is your layout. With strong beams and powerful joists your house is in no need to have load-bearing walls cutting through living spaces. You nearly have complete freedom in designing an open-concept area for your family to cook, entertain, play, and watch a movie. It’s up to you. This is your new life and you deserve to get what you’re asking for. If open-concept living has been a dream of yours then we highly recommend looking into timber framing your new home.

More than the aesthetic beauty of open floor plans and exposed wood, these houses are generally much stronger and safer than your average house. Surprisingly, they also fair better in a fire than modern homes today. This is due to the thick timber supports, which are harder to burn through than the thin panels of wood that are conventionally used.

Here is a cross section of a simple timber frame home:

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We recently had the opportunity to visit Davis Frame Co, based in Claremont NH and discuss projects not only dealing with timber but paneling (a cheaper option) as well. Steve and his team were wonderful hosts and we hope to work together in the future.

WhatsApp Image 2018-04-15 at 9.38.46 AM (1)

Timber frame houses are strong, unique, customizable, beautiful, safe, and they can be yours. From a country mountainside corner, to victorian style, rustic or even the clean feel of a modern New England home, timber frame homes can take on any lifestyle. Will they take on yours?

Do we have a bubble in real estate market?

Many people are asking this question, and for me we are not in a situation like that. At least in New England. Normally a bubble happens when you have prices going up without the demand going up during the same time. This is not happening (yet).

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In a country perspective, some data released yesterday was and indication of some relief. After falling for two straight weeks, mortgage application volume rose 2.5 percent in the week of July 2nd (seasonally adjusted) compared to the previous week. The increase was driven entirely by purchase applications. But the total volume is 4.3 percent lower than a year ago, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association, due to continuing weakness in loan refinancing.

For this year the average mortgage rate will be around 4-4.5 percent, but we expect that the number will be around 5% next year, and after this period we maybe expect some decrease in mortgage application. Because of prior regulations the banks are siting in a lot of cash now, and if we don’t have more houses in the market it can be a problem in the near future.

The strong economic growth is one of the responsible for that situation, fortunately. More jobs mean more money available for people to apply for a mortgage, but the home inventory available in the market is very low.

That’s the biggest problem we have now: the low inventory of houses in the market. But also we have the inflation of some important products for building. Prices are going up in a lot of sectors. Last week I talked to a well-known lumber vendor that told me some prices went up more than 30% since last year.

Economic cycles are normal, and up and downs are expected every 8 to 10 years. We are now approaching this time in the US economy. Let’s see what the future brings.



Use standard dimensions to save money

Home design is a complex process that sometimes lead you to hundreds (or thousands) of decisions. But if you are a more practical person and would like to save some money preferred the standard dimensions while planing your house building.

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Ceiling Height

Normally in the US the standard ceiling height is about 8 feet. You also have standard materials to build a 10 feet ceiling but other that that you can have trouble finding some materials for framing. For the basement are a 8 feet height is pretty comfortable, but in some old houses you will see a lower height.

Doors and windows

Doors have a standard height of 80 inches and also have various standard widths. Windows are the big issue here, because you have a lot of variations depending on the brand you will chose. Take care during the windows selection, this one is an important item that have implications also in the comfort of your house during extreme weathers.

Interior doors usually will be hinged swing doors. These doors are limited to a maximum of 36 inches. Remember that if a person with disability will be living there the minimum width is 32 inches. With swing doors the effective opening normal is about 2 inches narrower than the door itself. Door to walk in closets have to respect a distance of 24 to 28 inches.


The minimum corridor width is 36 inches, but a more convenient width is 44 to 48 inches.


Kitchen counters normally have a standard height of 36 inches. Cabinets, ranges, ovens and dishwashers are standardize to this height. The width increments normally offered are 3 and 6 inches. If you are thinking about a unique kitchen cabinet with different measures be prepare to spend more money.

Understanding this process is really important if you want to save money while designing your new house. This decision, among many others, can help you to be align with a budget, and you have to think about that during the preparation phase. You can use this concept in other places of the house. Size the rooms, for example, to be align with the furniture. Identifying the appliances and furniture that you want to fulfill the kitchen and all other rooms will save a lot of money.


5 questions that help save you money when buying a new house


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Tons of options are available in the market if you are a buyer. New home buildings are soaring during the last 5-7 years, and the inventory is low. Unfortunately for home buyers, new residential construction is coming at a steeper price. Nonetheless, there are still ways you can save money when buying a new home. Try to ask these questions for your builder:

  1. Which are the standard finishes and the options you have if we change our mind?

You have a lot of options for faucets, appliances and fixtures. A builder that is really interested on serving your needs will show all options and you both can decide how to better adapt the budget. Sometimes small modifications in these part of the building process for a new home can save you a lot of money.

2. In this region what are the Home Owners Association (HOA) rules?

HOA sometimes have very restrictive rules. Some states clear that, for example, is not permitted to build homes with a vinyl siding. Each HOA have its Declaration of Covenants, and you have to read them before take any decision on buying a house in that neighborhood. You have HOA that don’t allow storage sheds in the backyard, some of them don’t allow the installation of solar panels, or even have limitations for private fences and landscape design.

3. What are the options we have for the HVAC equipment?

Energy efficiency is a new tendency for all new homes, but in the majority of the cases this comes with a price. HVAC that use heat pumps are one of the most energy efficient ones, but they can cost 2 times more than a simple system that use natural gas. Discuss with your builder the options that are available in your project.

4. What are the financial incentives that you have for us if we use your preferred lender?

Builders normally have good contacts with lenders, and some of them have good deals to offer. You can also negotiate prices or upgrades some features in your house – like upgrading your floor of deck areas, for example.

5. What are the warranties that you have for us? Can you increase your warranty time?

Builders normally offer 1 year of warranty but you can always negotiate more time if you are ready to close the deal. Also take a careful read on the warranty. Remember that wood frame houses will be accommodating during the first years, and some problems can occur. But the builders are expecting them. Nonetheless if is difficult to find your builder during this time it will be a problem for you in the future