LTU prof, alumnus use digital fabrication to cut cost of new home in Detroit

SOUTHFIELD—A Lawrence Technological University architecture professor and his onetime student are partnering on a new approach to housing construction they say could cut the cost of building new single-family homes by 20 to 25 percent, reduce construction time by 50 percent, and significantly shrink the home’s environmental footprint.

The company leading this effort, called houm PLLC, pronounced “home,” was co-founded by Scott Shall, associate professor of architecture at LTU, and Breck Crandell, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in architecture from LTU in 2014 and 2016 respectively. After years of research, the company is building its first home on Cochrane Street in Detroit’s North Corktown neighborhood using its novel building techniques. (The two are pictured above at the Cochrane Street building site, with Crandell at left.)

The home is constructed of a prefabricated panelized system and a digitally fabricated “service core” containing plumbing and electrical systems,  creating a structure that can be assembled in just days once the materials arrive on a prepared building site.  Their approach also radically reduces the waste normally associated with housing construction

Shall and Crandell point out that the typical wood-frame house uses building techniques unchanged for centuries. “We’ve been banging sticks together with rocks for hundreds of years,” Crandell said.

And Shall added: “A lot of potential homeowners are locked out of the market because the use of antiquated construction methods inflates the cost, time, and environmental resources required to build a home.”

Combining a novel form of exterior cladding—essentially super-strong plastic foam—held together with steel framing, and wood components that are built offsite, so they fit perfectly with minimal waste, isn’t actually new technology, Shall said. “We’re not actually inventing anything,” he said. “We’re just talking to a lot of really smart people and networking their knowledge and tools in ways that have never been done before.”

The aim, Shall said, is “to bring cost-effective, sustainable, high-value housing to the city of Detroit.”

A key element to their savings is the use of prefabricated components for the most expensive parts of the house–the kitchen, bathroom, laundry, and mechanical rooms, where all the plumbing and most of the electrical systems are located. The rest of the house is built around this core.

The house on Cochrane Street, on a block largely comprised of beautifully restored early 20th Century homes, will be built over a few days in November and ready for occupancy by April, Shall and Crandell said.

Crandell is also director of design at Three Squared Inc., which designs and builds multifamily and mixed-use buildings out of upcycled shipping containers. A project of Three Squared, a three-story container building that has the Three Squared and houm offices on the first floor and two apartments on the second and third lfoors, is located a few blocks away on Trumbull just north of I-75.

 Lawrence Technological University is one of only 13 private, technological, comprehensive doctoral universities in the United States. Located in Southfield, Mich., LTU was founded in 1932 and offers more than 100 programs through its Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Business and Information Technology, Engineering, and Health Sciences, as well as Specs@LTU as part of its growing Center for Professional Development. PayScale lists Lawrence Tech among the nation’s top 11 percent of universities for alumni salaries. Forbes and The Wall Street Journal rank LTU among the nation’s top 10 percent. U.S. News and World Report list it in the top tier of the best Midwest colleges. Students benefit from small class sizes and a real-world, hands-on, “theory and practice” education with an emphasis on leadership. Activities on Lawrence Tech’s 107-acre campus include more than 60 student organizations and NAIA varsity sports.

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