Five Commercial Construction Trends To Watch In 2015

Ic_trending_up_48px.svgWe’ve put together a list of five commercial construction trends that should have a major impact on the industry in 2015. Look for more technology showing up on the jobsite, healthier buildings being designed and constructed and an increase in construction activity that should push construction spending for the year over the $1 trillion mark.

Improved Growth

2015 should be another year of positive growth for the commercial construction industry. Most industry analysts expect growth to be about 8% for nonresidential construction. Total construction put in place was at $884.6 billion through November 2014 which was 5.7% higher than the same period of time in the previous year. The annual rate of construction spending in November was $975 billion and if that rate holds through to December after all revisions are made to the numbers it will be about a 7% increase over 2013. On the private side, look for office and retail construction to see significant increases and on the public side there should be a jump in educational and healthcare construction.

According to the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC), 80% of construction firms are planning to hire more workers in 2015 with only 7% expected to reduce headcounts. This could be challenging since AGC also reported that 87% of companies have reported having difficulties filling positions, especially skilled craft workers. Expect to see a big push for funding apprenticeship programs to entice more workers to the construction industry. Construction companies would be smart to either team up with local community colleges to host programs or start programs of their own. We’ve already seen some signs of this with the Iowa Workforce Development doling out $4.3 million from federal grants to four training programs. Rhode Island is considering legislation with a bill that would prohibit companies from bidding on public construction projects valued at $1 million or more if they don’t have an apprenticeship program.

Major Influx of Technology Use

Over the past couple of years there has been a paradigm shift with commercial construction moving from being an industry reluctant to change and slow to adopt new technologies to being an industry that embraces new technology as it comes to market. You’d be hard pressed to find a major construction project that isn’t using BIM technology these days.

With the recent Microsoft HoloLens announcement and the news that Google is working on a new Glass product that will emphasize a business-focused program, wearables and augmented reality (AR) could see more widespread adoption in the construction industry. Smart watches have potential, but adapting for use on the construction site could be challenging. Some options could be using the NFC in a watch to work as a time clock, pushing safety tips to workers, monitoring vital signs of construction workers and for making phone calls from the field. Two companies, Daqri and Atheer Labs, are working to be the first to bring a smart hard hat to the market. Both would feature a heads-up visor display with AR capabilities.

Other technology that will impact the construction industry in 2015 includes the use of drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles, on jobsites. We’ll see more software as a service (SaaS) and cloud computing solutions geared to the construction industry as more companies move to paperless solutions which also means seeing more tablets and phablets being used at construction sites. 3D printing will continue to play a bigger role in the industry as well as virtual design and construction (VDC) seeing greater implementation.

More Tall Buildings

According to the Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH), 2014 was the “tallest year ever” with 97 buildings of 656 ft (200 m) or higher being completed during the year. Currently they are showing 175 buildings of 656 ft or higher expected to complete construction in 2015 based on what has already been completed, topped out or is currently under construction.

In the U.S., we saw 10 buildings of 492 ft (150 m) or taller completed in 2014 with the tallest being the One World Trade Center in New York. At 1,776 ft, One WTC was the tallest building in the world completed in 2014 and is currently the fourth tallest worldwide. The number of buildings of 492 ft or higher completed in 2013 and 2014 in the U.S. was 17 and that number is expected to more than double to 37 for building completed in 2015 and 2016.

New design and construction methods have been developed that allow us to continue building higher and higher which is important in areas with limited real estate, because if you can’t build out, you can always build up. Another factor in being able to build taller is the advancement in elevator technologies made over the past few years. Not only are we seeing elevators that go faster and feature double decker elevator cars to move more people up and down at a faster rate, we’re also getting elevators that can go higher thanks to technology like KONE’s UltraRope which is lighter than traditional steel cables. ThyssenKrupp is expected to provide the construction industry with the first cable-free elevator system with its MULTI elevator that will utilize maglev technology, will be able to move vertically and horizontally and allow for multiple cars to occupy the same shaft.

Collaborative Construction

Expect the use of Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) to continue to grow as construction projects continue to become more complex. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) defines IPD as a “project delivery method that integrates people, systems, business structures and practices into a process that collaboratively harnesses the talents and insights of all participants to reduce waste and optimize efficiency through all phases of design, fabrication and construction”.

In order for IPD and other methods of construction project collaboration to be effective it’s going to mean eliminating disparate and localized sets of data and improving communication among all team members. This means having a centralized and integrated software solution where all drawings, BIM documents, project documentation, change orders, etc. can be accessible by all of the lead team members from any location to facilitate collaboration. Companies like Procore and Viewpoint Construction Software offer cloud-based project collaboration software solutions to help you collaborate effectively and deliver projects on time and under budget.

Healthier Buildings

The health and well-being of building occupants will continue to drive owners, architects and developers to design and construct healthier buildings. We should continue to see a push to improve the indoor environmental quality in new construction and renovations with a focus on things like improving indoor air quality, providing more natural light and using building materials like carpeting and paints that don’t contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs).

We are starting to see an emphasis on acknowledging the importance of building products transparency so architects and owners can make informed decisions when specifying construction materials. To build healthier buildings we need to know what’s in the materials and supplies being used and the health effects that those items pose to building occupants. This is forcing manufacturers to innovate and develop more eco-friendly and health conscious products and provide building product declarations like environmental product declarations (EPDs) and health product declarations (HPDs). LEED v4 has credit points for building product disclosure and optimization. The Living Building Challenge requires construction projects to be free of building materials chemical on their Red List that includes items such as lead, mercury and PVC.

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