‘Carpenter’s salaries’ is chapter 25 of Insights from the Future, a book I’m writing about technology, innovation, and people … from the perspective of the future. THIS IS NOT NEWS; IT IS A PROJECTION OF FUTURE NEWS. Subscribe to my newsletter to keep in touch and get notified when the book publishes.
August 30, 2047
Housing prices are up.
And, housing prices are down.
The accommodations industry is a tale of two cities today as prices race in opposite directions. And while there’s always been divergence between high-end and low-end in construction, this is something different. Now, it’s divergence between modern and good old-fashioned wood stick construction.
“Over the past decade we’ve seen a massive divide in the housing industry,” Jennifer Wong, CEO of Constellation Construction, told me yesterday on the TechFirst podcast. “You’ve got hyper-modern on the one hand, with on-site 3D printing or modular pre-built construction bolted together on-site by assembly bots. On the other hand, you’ve got traditional wood-frame construction made by framers and carpenters.”
Thanks to two decades of innovation, 3D printing and modular construction are both significantly cheaper options. They’re also faster, often putting together significant 330 square meter homes (about 3,000 square feet) in just days or weeks. And increasingly, builder are using both technologies at the same time: assembly bots putting together large sections of wall, floor, and roofing, mobile 3D printers coming in after and finishing off custom elements.
For an average-sized house, this can be done at perhaps $35-65,000.
But some hearken back to older ways.
“I like Star Trek, but I don’t want to live on the Enterprise,” says video producer Vince Dangerfield. “Call me a traditionalist, but I’d like a home similar to what my parents designed and built.”
But traditional wood-frame construction is getting more and more expensive as the skilled trades who know how to build homes this way age out and retire. Construction cost alone is easily ten times 3D printing or modular assembly, and while robots are helping in some aspects, traditionalists typically value hand-made structures.
“I grew up cutting wood, hammering nails, making architect’s plans work in the real world,” one 60-year-old carpenter told me on the site of the Dangerfield’s new home. “No robot can do all that, especially when you’ve got to problem solve because nothing quite fits.”
That’s exactly the problem that modular construction affcionados say their preferred construction technology avoids. In modular construction, build bots and assembly machines get designs straight from architect’s plans and product everything in manageable, moveable sections, with only nanometers of variance.
Nothing ever “doesn’t quite fit” in modular construction, fans say. And with 3D printing on-site for any last-minute changes, construction is as personalized as you want it to be while still being fast.
The Dangerfields want a traditional home, and they can afford to pay for it. But with only a few hundred thousand carpenters left in the U.S., down from almost 1.5 million 30 years ago, they’re getting hard to find. And when you find them, they’re expensive.
The median carpenter salary today? $150,000/year for a typical 30-hour work week.
That has carpenters happy, but not homeowners. At least, not those who want good old-fashioned wood frame construction. But in a diverging industry, it’s perfectly fine for most who simply want quality homes that are built quickly and last a long time. And … are much less expensive than the alternative.
Again, this is a chapter of Insights from the Future, a book I’m writing about technology, innovation, and people … from the perspective of the future. Subscribe to my newsletter to keep in touch and get notified when the book publishes.