by Rita L. Seraderian
Can Precast Concrete Systems Reduce Inefficient Construction in Affordable Housing?
The nation is struggling with a housing affordability crisis where income growth can’t keep pace with skyrocketing housing prices, forcing the construction industry to grapple with cost cutting measures.
Housing affordability varies across the country, but the two main factors that affect the cost of every construction project are the high cost of labor and materials.
Exacerbating the cost burden is the inefficiency of traditional building materials and methods. The slightest uptick in efficiency could result in savings for the construction industry.
Using modular methods like precast concrete design and construction push time and cost out of a project. Producing components off-site reduces the expense of transporting and storing materials to the job site, improves quality control, and requires fewer trades on-site.
Demonstrating how dire the situation is in some areas, Prospect Plaza in Brooklyn, N.Y. received over 40,000 applications in the housing lottery for 110 units. The key to the New York City Housing Authority’s (NYCHA) new housing facility? A precast concrete building system which includes hollowcore slabs, precast concrete beams, interior and exterior wall panels (with thin brick finish) and precast stairs and landings which were used to construct four-story walk up, townhouse-style buildings and a five-and-a-half story elevator building.
In addition to the precast concrete structure, 117 bathroom pods were part of the new housing facilities. Prospect Plaza will help set a new standard for low-income housing and reinforce the belief that quality, sustainability and affordability are not mutually exclusive with a precast concrete solution.
Precast concrete efficiencies and technology improve the bottom line in creating affordable housing. Such was the case in the West Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago where they are creating scattered-site, infill, affordable housing developments. The 2019 PCI Design Award winner, Nelson Mandela apartments, is 72 residential units in 13 three-story buildings on previously vacant lots turned to a 100% precast concrete design for the speed of erection.
The precast concrete floors deliver excellent sound mitigation while the energy efficient thermal envelope features highly insulated walls, windows, and roofs, which should help lower utility bills for residents. A project emphasis on insulation and air sealing was simple to achieve with a precast concrete system. The use of precast concrete helped the buildings earn Energy Star and Enterprise Green Communities certifications.
Building affordable housing is not really affordable. There is a huge gap between what these building cost to construct and maintain and the rents most people can pay. By trimming schedules, reducing trades, the precast concrete manufacturer can keep costs and risks to a minimum.
During these difficult and unprecedented times, PCI Northeast is available to help as most of you are working from home. There are many technical resources and design aids available on the website. Also, for those that are interested in continuing education, PCINE can offer programs for your office as a GoToMeeting. Those attending can interact with the speaker and will earn continuing education credit. A list of programs is available at www.pcine.org.
Rita L. Seraderian is executive director at PCI Northeast.