2021 Building & Construction Trends in Uncertain Times

To be honest, compiling a trend report in the midst of a pandemic feels reckless. And yet, COVID-19 had caused such unprecedented disruption, that all small businesses are eyeing 2021 with cautious anticipation. 

For the construction industry, business shutdowns, social distancing, supply chain breaks, cash flow disruption, and low interest rates have spelled change at every level. Those trends will continue to impact the industry for the foreseeable future, but that’s not necessarily bad news.

Here are some of the most notable construction trends we’re watching carefully. 

7 Building Trends for 2021

Safety Takes Top Priority. Jobsite safety is always a concern, but in the Covid-19 environment it rises to the top of the list. However, social distancing and separation are particularly challenging protocols to enforce on a jobsite where teamwork and cooperation are necessary. Anticipate smaller crews and the use of staggered shifts to keep job sites less crowded. Likewise, look for resource sharing, i.e. tools, hard hats, gloves, to come to an end. Trade workers will likely invest in their own personal protective equipment.

Drones Continue to Rise. Anything that promises that a task can be completed remotely is going to grow quickly. This is true for both building and administrative tasks in the construction industry, specifically as it relates to drones.

According to DroneDeploy, a drone surveying and mapping app, construction is the fastest growing adopter of drones technology. “By peering down at a project from above, contractors find invaluable information. Safety issues are quickly discovered, quantities of materials on site can be accurately estimated, and orthomosaic maps can be created making even the largest job site visible as a whole.”

3D Printing & BIM Goes Mainstream.  The promise of constructing a building in virtual space before building it in real life is just too great to be ignored by contractors, builders or architects.  For Architects, Building Information Modeling (BIM) has taken over the industry, replacing CAD. Programs like REVIT are not just drafting programs, they’re a fundamental re-thinking of the design and production process.

As for 3D printing, this trend, already popular in commercial use around the world, is expected to gain traction in the U.S. and Canada. Want to see it in action? Check out this time-lapse video of 3-D printing a 2-story building in Dubai.

Prefab is Fab. Modular construction and pre-fab building, which was already steadily on the rise, should see a huge boost in post-pandemic building.  Especially since modular buildings are done in enormous, airy buildings, with plenty of room for distancing.  And the equipment used — ceiling cranes, conveyors, and lifts — is specifically designed to let fewer workers move larger components, reducing worker proximity and labor costs.

Supply Chain Diversification. The disruption to supply chains has forced all businesses to scramble, especially builders and contractors who have been forced to find alternative suppliers and pay higher prices for materials. Unfortunately, experts predict this issue will continue to plague the industry for the next 3-5 years. 

As usual, this trend will come at a cost, and it will take intense coordination from suppliers, subs, generals, and owners to make timely, informed decisions on alternatives. Also worth noting: Future contracts will likely include escalation clauses to cover unforeseen cost increases; current contracts may need to be similarly revised; and watch for investors to work resiliency metrics into their valuations.

Residential Goes Up, Commercial Goes Down.  Here’s some good news: housing continues to be the bright spot in U.S. and Canadian economies. Growth can be attributed to low interest rates, a housing inventory shortage, and solid demand. Generally speaking, people are investing in moving, building, or remodeling, as opposed to vacation.

According to Dodge Data and Analytics, residential starts were up 22.6% from June to July.  However, non-residential building starts are down 31%. The AIA expects spending on non-residential buildings to decline in 2021 and the drop-off could be dramatic. As government debt skyrockets at every level, spending on infrastructure projects will most likely be delayed unless a works-related stimulus or infrastructure spending package is approved.

Health, Wellness, and Indoor Air Quality.  Is is any surprise, given COVID-19, that one of 2021’s top trends include indoor air quality?  In fact, 90 percent of most people’s time is now spent indoors, which has led to a spike in the conversation about IAQ.

Poor air quality is not new. In fact, it even has a name — Sick Building Syndrome, referring to the symptoms of poor air quality, such as headaches, dry cough, difficulty concentrating, and dizziness. While sick building syndrome is traditionally associated with commercial building and work spaces, it does happen at home.  As such, we’ll continue to a see a focus on air sealing as a means to control air barriers, ventilation, and indoor air quality. 

As with any shifting industry trends and remarkable innovations, we’re paying close attention. Our tape is widely used in the construction market, from seaming house wrap to air sealing to building insulation.  But we’re also paying close attention to other core market pivots, such as paper mills, non-wovens, and corrugate trends. We’re looking forward to a “post-pandemic” economy, but we recognize that small businesses like ours will continue to rethink, if not tweak, their business models in the wake of Covid-19. Companies will have to strengthen backup and safety plans, whether that’s succession planning, trimming overhead, deeper profit margins, or significantly expand supply chain networks.  We’re ready to meet that challenge.