The use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) for commercial development has become a global standard in the architecture, engineering and construction industries. By digitizing the design and management of a building project, professionals can more easily track changes, material requirements, budgets and timelines. However, utilizing this technology for residential purposes is occurring at a slower adoption rate despite the advantages of applying its insight and savings potential throughout the project lifecycle.
BIM for residential offers advantages to both for-profit and non-profit organizations. It can help retain budgets, manage homeowner and contractor changes, visualize final builds, and reduce material waste. As urbanization continues to push cities to their limits, this technology will be essential to crafting efficient and affordable housing.
Rochester, NY-based Flower City Habitat for Humanity (FCHH) became one of the first organizations in its area to utilize cloud-enabled BIM and laser scanning for building and rehabilitating residential housing. FCHH decided to take the first step in its digital construction journey by employing BIM and laser scanning technology to streamline the building lifecycle and allow all project documentation to be stored in a single, accessible format.
The affiliate builds new homes, rehabilitates existing homes and offers repair services. While housing prices in Rochester are relatively affordable compared to larger cities in the region, household incomes are also lower with most housing stock priced high or in need of significant renovation. Locally, there are more than 6,000 abandoned homes and vacant lots, making the financial return on investment in many neighborhoods difficult to achieve without subsidy assistance.
In 2021, FCHH partnered with area contractor TiverBuilt to provide BIM services to help execute the design and construction process so that more houses could be renovated or built in a single year. TiverBuilt offers 3D laser scan and BIM coordination services to the residential construction market. Use of this technology allows for the creation of an as-built model that can be updated in a virtual environment.
“I have been with FCHH since 2013 and up until now, we’ve conducted business as usual,” said Matthew J. Flanigan, FCHH MPA & CEO. “The BIM technology that TiverBuilt proactively brought to us was unfamiliar, but it resonated with me immediately. Some of the biggest challenges we experience, BIM has solutions for.”
Autodesk’s Technology Impact Program, which grants its software to nonprofits and startups using design and engineering for social or environmental impact, provided FCHH with 80 three-year subscriptions for multiple BIM software products to retain the master model and store all associated documentation. Then, Autodesk Foundation training partner Microdesk, a global business and technology service provider for the design and construction industry, was enlisted to assist with onboarding BIM 360 to the cloud for optimized collaboration.
“TiverBuilt is focused on providing BIM to homeowners, so our mission aligned seamlessly with FCHH,” noted Lindsay Prichard-Fox, TiverBuilt CEO. “We also knew that to achieve the goal of full 3D BIM coordination, we’d need more support. Connecting with the Microdesk and Autodesk teams really gives us the tools we need to get more families in homes, faster.”
The FCHH team was eager to trial the new software on a project from start to finish. A rehabilitation project on Child Street offered the perfect testing ground. A smaller build in comparison to previous work, the 1,000-square-foot property contained one bedroom and one- and one-half baths. The abandoned house was covered in asbestos and needed to be fully remediated before remodeling could even begin.
While the FCHH team did not lack in enthusiasm for a new take on their usual project workflows, they knew they required training to leverage BIM technology to the fullest. FCHH would also need to replicate the processes going forward, which called for mentors who could train the group on best practices and guidelines, allowing them to take full ownership of future residential projects.
“This technology helps make our construction staff more efficient, more able to focus on the primary or obvious skills we need them to bring forth such as people skills; teaching untrained volunteers on a daily basis is its own ‘art,’” said Flanigan. “These gifts that have been brought forth will allow our teammates to do less back-office paperwork and that’s a very, very positive and welcome change!”
The goal was to form a complete, modern project team, including technology partners to complement FCHH’s local construction team of crews and volunteers. Laser scanning was integral early in the project development to achieve this goal. The project partners, structural engineers, architects, consultants all volunteering their time and often working remotely, used laser scan technology to ensure accurate information.
One of the key benefits of scanning was identifying structural weaknesses in need of reinforcement. Prior to submitting for permits, the project team was able to work with the City of Rochester to review the design overlayed with laser scans. This information improved the confidence of the consultants and streamlined the approval process.
“Making broad changes to large existing systems within the construction industry can be very difficult, while scaled introductions can be more effective,” said Prichard-Fox. “It’s our core belief that these smaller projects actually create a good opportunity to implement new methods, identify challenges, and demonstrate how to pivot or make adjustments efficiently and quickly.”
The BIM 360 platform deployed by the Autodesk Foundation and Microdesk managed the vast amount of information and modeling required for the extensive restoration. Rehabilitating Child Street proved to be an ideal challenge for the team to push their knowledge of BIM and laser scanning into a residential space.
“There were a variety of benefits to utilizing digital technology on the Child Street project,“ said Mallary White, Microdesk Project Manager. “BIM was helpful in creating more efficient building information and data visualization while saving time and materials going to landfills.”
Existing conditions required structural engineers or architectural consultants to come onsite quickly, so having the scan-to-BIM model and documentation ready for markups simplified their revisions. Change orders still occurred, but they were easily documented. The FCHH team was more prepared for the cost and extended duration of the project because changes and modifications were documented on the BIM database.
Jonathan, who would come to call Child Street home, was able to be a part of the design and build process, a level of ownership that was previously impossible due to traditional, complex architectural and structural drawings. His participation extended to using salvaged foundation rocks to build a custom garden in the backyard.
“BIM was helpful in creating more efficient building information and data visualization while saving time and reducing materials going to landfills,” said Clarke Morrison, Microdesk Client Success Manager. “We [conducted] this project in a manner that allows the city to access data that will help them with variances in future projects.”
The Child Street home was dedicated on October 29th, 2021, with the move-in on November 1st. What had once been an abandoned, boarded-up building was transformed into a fully updated and renovated home. By leveraging the industry knowledge and technical expertise of TiverBuilt, the Autodesk Foundation, and Microdesk, the Flower City Habitat for Humanity team was able to lay the groundwork to revolutionize the way they build and rehabilitate homes. The organization plans to not only replicate these workflows for future projects in the area but also share the newfound capabilities with other affiliates.
“Child Street is the first of many projects using this technology, for what will become a game changer for the local chapter, as well as have potential for use all across the country,” predicted Flanigan.