Incremental house build

Inspired by the concept of incremental housing- low-rise high-density developments built in South American cities with the possibility of expansion (Gaudio created the documentary “Within Formal Cities” with Abe Drechsler on the topic), Gaudio moved home to his parents’ home in Pittsburgh tailor the idea to the U.S. Module’s first home was built for a couple who wanted an in-law unit for their parents’ to move into when necessary. Over the course of just two days, the wall and roof panels (manufactured by Bensonwood in Keen NH) were erected in a LEGO-like assembly process by crane. Gaudio hopes that this process can be replicate with thousands of homes to actually make a dent in the national housing crisis.




Pittsburgh is a city that was the steel capital of the world at what time and we had at least twice the population that we have today now in the 80s the steel industry left as the steel industry left thousands of homes were torn down and so now what exists in Pittsburgh is over 27,000 vacant lots kind of like missing teeth if you will in the neighborhood those are opportunities those are the kinds of Lots in neighborhoods that we want to be building is let’s go for a walk inside the left the front kitchen area the bar and you walk around back here now I actually have a backyard or something nice then you access that through the bedroom and in this garage will come down or stay I just going down so that starts next week so we had a two-car garage on this site it’s a lot of kind of grass and overgrowth took all that out demolish the garage and now we’re building we’re starting to dig for foundations essentially over the next couple weeks this is going to turn from a vacant lot into a fully enclosed a one-bedroom one-bathroom home so it’s really transforming pretty quickly today’s set day so we’ve got the panels that have been shipped from New Hampshire so they’re on the back of this truck here this is the first load we’ve got a crane that can probably see it there it is the crane is gonna pick the panels off this truck and then we’re gonna set the wall panels one by one onto the foundation hey encore how many panels we have I think six panels six wall panels in total you know this is months of work designing an engineering and now it’s time to see the shell go up how much room we got over here can I spin it because this is an urban infill site we have garages to the left we have the clients house to the right we have to be very kind of precise with bringing machinery in almost like a surgeon would really keep spinning we’ve been building homes the same way since the 40s with the suburban subdivision and Levittown New York being the first one of those sticks and bricks over time a lot of other industries have progressed a lot faster than the construction industry we were one of the least productive industries on up up a little bit while we have in Pittsburgh autonomous vehicles driving around the city we’re still building homes with a hammer and a nail we have a labor shortage a construction labor shortage here in the US as our labor force construction labor


Latham House info:

Factory footage: Bensonwood Homes hitps://

South American footage: “Within Formal Cities” — Abe Drechsler and Brian Gaudio

Pittsburgh open shots: Johnny Sanphillipo


Text of video continues below.

force is aging there is not another a younger demographic that’s moving into the labor force on the construction side of it and our housing needs to change to accommodate that table down he’s beautiful cable down there’s nothing on that plate right who knows and so off site is a much more efficient way to build modules homes it’s in a factory controlled environment so you know we have a semi-automated manufacturing facility that’s building our first home where we’re sending them our 3d models they are turning that into shop drawings and instead of guys standing out in the rain to do framing and being delayed by that in a city like Pittsburgh where it’s raining a lot our walls are being manufactured in a weather controlled environment and through a semi automated process to show you we use cellulose insulation and this goes in at a pallet at a time and has an elevator that brings it to the top so some of those machines like the CNC routers are able to make cuts and some of their nailing machines are a lot faster and more precise than what’s done on site when we call it stick building on site we do have to rethink how we build homes how do we build homes more like cars through an assembly line through a factory controlled environment to drive the cost out so off-site construction better quality control better precision also less time on-site if you think about it the same time that we’re building the foundation in Pittsburgh we have our factory doing the framing the insulation the windows and doors and so those things can be basically they used to have to be done one after the other now they can be done in parallel so we’re able to shrink the construction time on-site yesterday we said all the wall panels today we’re setting the roof panels logistically they were a little hard to get here based on site restrictions with wires alleyway turns but once they’re here it’s essentially like putting together a big Lego set and he doesn’t like putting together Legos got my side the line up bad boy ready you see the bodies in the line when we think about in Pittsburgh the housing needs a lot of the new construction homes are going for $600,000 to a million dollars there are 2,000 square feet they may have one or two car garages but that prices out a lot of people in Pittsburgh who want something new I think they’re supposed to be electric and water outside there’s water to see on that one family yeah that green that’s a hole for the water yeah making just fish SATA they actually like you to play behind the OSB even silver at the top that we mate you seem a little bit elastic one down low yeah for lights yeah because we don’t have that in our other house our clients home is here in the corner this property is a separate property while the purpose of the home is like an in-law suite as their parents are gonna eventually move in here it’s on its own property when I think about the demographics of our country is something that we study at our company the number one household in the u.s. is a single person living alone number 2 household is two adults living together and that’s a huge portion of the US households but a lot of the single-family homes that are being built are actually being built for what we call the nuclear family mom dad and three kids so six bedroom home three car garage is typically what the average home builder is building in the u.s. today but that’s not serving the actual real needs of the demographics of our country what’s really critical about our company is whenever we work with a home buyer we want to make sure that their house is the right size for them we realize that person as they’re going through stages of life their needs will change but today their home can’t and so we’ve created a solution where your house can evolve as your needs change throughout your life and we’re saying you don’t need to buy a bigger house by the amount of house you need today and add on as your needs change don’t pay as you go if you will as we’ve been developing our technologies and company we’ve designed a removable roof and wall system so we have patents pending on a removable roof system in a wall system that makes the addition process easier and faster easy oh okay he said good he’s in yeah he’s in there’s only one so when you think about typically adding on to a home what do you have to do you have to rip the roof off typically the shingles are glued and nailed and it’s just a really messy process that can take a long time what we’ve done is we designed the roof to be removed and reused and then with our wall system in the backs of some of these homes because we’re working on infill Lots if you see here in Pittsburgh the Lots are not that wide so we’re not adding on to the side we’re really adding on to the back and so when you think about adding on to the back it’s thinking about the flow of the floorplan if another room were added on and so thinking about that but then also having kind of a framed out opening for where that pass-through will be and then what we’ve thought about is the floorplan of that floor where the roof is currently sitting on how do we size the room in the back so that we can add a stair to go up to another story alright so we just finished panel install so all the roof panels all the wall panels are up and now the shell of the building is centrally done so this has been a basically two mornings in two mornings we did this a two day effort I think that’s a huge value add for Pittsburgh or anything about working on construction projects in the wintertime this like yeah we had two nice days we were lucky to get two days in a row but this was huge to get this house up in two days basically the concept of this incremental house this house that can grow if you actually grew out of some studies that I was doing with a friend in South America a friend when I got this traveling fellowship to travel to five cities in South America and we went to try to understand how architects and designers were trying to address the housing crisis in those cities we came across a couple of projects that basically were designing incremental housing so in Peru there was a project called previ that proyecto experimental davy bien de and that project was in the 1960s it was bringing architects from around the world to design medium density low-rise housing in the city but all of the homes were finished so that people could add stories on top of the house and the reason they did that is because a lot of people who were going to live in these spaces used to be living on sort of the informal settlements around the city and they were used to building their own homes so what they would do is they didn’t have enough money or there was no mortgage so they had to save up enough money to build one room and then put rebar through the roof and add more stories on top so that concept incremental housing was then used by these architects in Lima on this previe project and then it was further progressed in some projects in Chile called elemental and Alejandro Aravena who actually won the Pritzker Prize in 2016 and a lot of his work was building off some of that stuff that was done in the 1960s improved but now in Santiago and other areas of Chile in that project in Chile the government only had a small amount of subsidy so with that little amount of money they could either build a normal sized house with really poor materials or they could build half of a good house and let the residents kind of build out the rest and so they did that it was a really interesting project to see how residents were adding on spaces onto that existing kind of starter home and that provided a lot of kind of context for our project I thought this is a good kernel of an idea but how do we apply it in the United States okay so someone comes to our website all of our homes are designed to grow how our customers can add on to the house is through what we’re calling our digital platform check out different addition options maybe a kitchen bedroom so essentially this is a tool through our website that enables our customers to buy the amount of house they need today and then add on as their needs change it’s been very shocking to have a structure top of because the waiting it took a long time to get the foundation done once that was done the structure just appeared like I you know two days later right in our backyard like literally you know we look out I get my cup of coffee in the morning I’m looking at the house so what about the buyers a lot with the intent or original intent was actually to remodel the garage we then decided that my parents are starting to get a little older and they’re looking for an option for housing and started looking around and talking to various architects and builders about you know what we could do on the lot it was actually not zoned for a dwelling at all so one of the variances we needed to get was to I could build a house on such a small lot and I think there’s definitely interest in the city to make smaller housing available especially fill housing this is an ally essentially more or less with a lot of garages on either side and it’s about 25 feet by 100 feet as the property it’s an infill site we’ve got a community garden right across the street so our client Annabelle and Jason they work in this community garden they care for the community garden and it’s kind of part of their backyard almost if you will so you’ll notice this blue facade a couple different shades of blue on this facade and and we were playing off the eyeball of the octopus in the octopus garden if you look at this side of the house you can see when the lights hitting it that we’ve got a bunch of different shades and textures here and it feels almost like the octopuses arms the Dragons arms in the garden in the entryway should feel comforting and so this warm cedar is a way to kind of bring start to bring some of the natural limits in and that warm texture and color and so this is essentially the front door so come on in and we’ll show you guys a little bit of the house so it’s an open living and kitchen so the living space starts to bleed into the kitchen so we call this the nook you know they love looking at that garden space out there and you’re just getting to see that garden and just you would appreciate it this nook is custom so there are built-in furniture also these built-ins they’re more under-seat storage in all of these they’ve got some extra pillows in here so this is also wide enough that you could have an extra person sleeping sleep on this – yep someone it’s nice and light and I like that the living room light fixture cuz it just kind of scatter sculptural shape to it the ceiling is a natural knotty pine ceiling and I think it’s really unique when we look at you know the typical new construction home everything’s dry wall but this ceiling actually brings warmth into the space yeah that also helps to lighten up the space and it kind of echoes the wood in the entry the exterior entryway right you notice we have these warm LEDs and they are surface mounted so they’re not canned lights they’re actually surface mounted LEDs so that’s a smart switch company you can actually turn on and off the lights with your smartphone but they also come with this kind of fun dimmer where you can set the mood so when we talk about the kitchen we’ve got the microwave here we have the oven and all of these are IOT connected as well so you can kind of pre-heat your oven from your phone as well when you’re if you’re coming home so the dishwasher is nice and quiet works really well so everything’s very high-end but small or fits into the space well and I like the built in the cabinet depth fridge yeah I like how it blends in matches with the cabinetry everyone’s always surprised with it’s right here you got yeah kind of limited choices when you have a small space yeah but we picked out this apron front sink my favorite part of the kitchen though is the backsplash yes that was one of our splurges as far as doing that having it fit in again with the community garden and the whole space and then the floating shelves I like that too so we kind of maximize the storage without like having too many I thought having cabinets would be a little too heavy so yeah when you’re dealing with a tight space it’s important to have open you know as many open areas as you can every few inches of open space makes the room feel bigger so the window so this is a big window and why it’s so big is because our client was designing two passive house standards so with passive house you’re trying to optimize what we call the thermal performance of the building so anytime you have a piece of structure that doesn’t have insulation on either side of it then it’s a it’s a way that heat can be lost through the building so with passive house we’re trying to minimize those penetrations through the building envelope whether that screws or whether that’s a 2×4 or whatever and so could this have been three windows throughout this facade yes but this minimizes the actual holes essentially we have to put into the building envelope and so having one large window you know you have less seams to essentially protect because there was no existing foundation here slab on grade was the most cost-effective solution one of the challenges of slab on grade is that when it’s cold outside all the heat basically just passes through the slab outside and it’s really cold when you’re walking in your home in the dead of winter and in Pittsburgh gets pretty cold so what we did is we created an insulated slab where we have six inches of rigid blue board foam insulation under the slab and then we have two inches of exterior insulation all throughout the slab so really what we’re trying to do is eliminate heat loss from when the house is nice and warm and toasty to when the outside temperature is really cold that insulation helps prevent heat loss the slab is a polished concrete and we poured this in the dead of winter in Pittsburgh which is a really damn tough you’ll see these exhaust exhaust valves for lack of a better term because the building envelope in this house is so efficient and so tight that air could get stale in this space and so what we actually put and it’s in the walk-in closet above the ceiling it’s called an energy recovery ventilator an ERV it constantly is cycling out stale air out of the building through these vents so there’s vents here and then there’s a vent I believe in the bathroom so this is pulling stale air out of the building and then there’s a vent over here at the top of that wall which is pushing in fresh air and so as the stale air is coming out of the building the freshers coming in it’s actually pre conditioning the air so more or less if the stale air in the building is cooler and the air out here is warmer like today it’s trying to precondition that air so that the the our-our mini-split system has less work to do because this house is so well insulated there’s a ridiculous amount of insulation in the foundation and the walls and the roof we only needed really minimal heating requirements so we have this ductless mini-split system which because the house is so tight doesn’t even need to be on very often we had a whole week here where it was I think it was 5 degrees was the high for a couple days and literally they had a space heater in the closet set at 63 degrees and when you walked in it was 63 degrees it was pretty amazing yeah that really showed the energy efficiency you know we had like breezes in our 120 year old house as opposed to you coming over here and having a deep perfectly you know exactly the temperature set on your space heater right it was really nice moving into the bathroom when people walk into this space they’re like wow this feels a lot bigger this bathroom feels big for the size of the house and it is and we designed it because we thought about you know a person with a walker maybe or someone who’s older trying to get into this shower so going from there to here so you notice that there is no step so you just walk right in so there’s no tripping hazard there and this the shower is actually a Schluter system so it’s this system where a lot of the components are pre-built and then we did the penny tile on the subway tile obviously on-site utility closet here so this is a condensing dryer washer/dryer combo and hyper-efficient it doesn’t even have a vent so it’s using a lot less heat than the typical dryer does and then this is a hybrid hot-water heater if the ambient air in here is a little bit hotter than the water then it will actually pull some of the ambient air to try to heat up the water before it kicks in with the electrical so this hybrid hot-water heater was an interesting feature and we think will help this homes utility bills stay low okay so here we are in the bedroom and this is a pretty big bed it’s a king sized bed so for a small house we’re able to fit a big bed in here that’s the where we have the energy recovery ventilator which is in the ceiling here this vent actually pushes out fresh air into the building our client asked for these custom barn doors and so this is spalted maple it’s by a local artist here in Pittsburgh out of Bridgeville Pennsylvania and this this tree actually was struck by lightning on our artists parents property and she grabbed the tree and then turned it into this beautiful piece and so the barn doors slide like this and you know it’s saved space because you don’t have that door swing that bedroom feels a little bit bigger and also I imagine because their family will be here they’ll be entertaining a lot and so you know being able to open this barn door up from the front door you can essentially see through to the back of the house and you’re gonna kind of get a glimpse of that porch in the back so we felt that they saved space and they’re a fun they’re a fun detail this space is significant size for a bedroom and we size the bedroom slightly larger because in the event our client wanted to let’s say our client in 20 years wants to move into the house so after Annabelle and Jason’s parents are living here Annabelle and Jason want to move in then we’ve sized this room so that we could add a stair so a stair back here and then would add a second story and so once the stair comes into this space essentially this would turn from kind of a master suite into a guest bedroom and then we would add likely two bedrooms in another bathroom on top of this house alright so as we walk outside onto the back porch because you’re on this alleyway this is a little bit of the sanctuary I’ll call it in the house I just like sitting out here and listening to the trees you know the ruffle and the wind and you start to see the sunlight just peek through and I just this would be a great place to hang out I think on a Saturday afternoon just be a lot of fun a morning cup of coffee here would be pretty great I think sitting down and so the so really when you look at how tight we are and you’ll see that there’s doors on the fences here this piece of property actually has an easement so all of the neighbors who own homes here actually have an easement to walk through the property and access their backyard so when we’re building this house we had to think be cognizant of the neighbors and how this affects the community cuz you’ll see who rule it literally in the backyard of all these other folks and then you’ll see here you’ll see that the foundation of the old garage or at least the exterior walls that old garage you can just see the remnants here so actually where we’re standing right now was where that existing garage on the property was so eventually what Annabelle and Jason would like to do I think is more or less if you imagine cutting a hole through that garage from this side through that we’ll have a pass through onto this property and can have family parties and functions right out in the front of this house so this is actually the exterior insulation on the slab so behind this concrete is that two inches of rigid exterior insulation so that wraps the entire facade again to keep that much more thermally efficient this is again aren’t facade and it’s just kind of fun and playful and it directs your attention toward the garden I remember and we started this company three years ago I moved back to my parents house I was living abroad in the Dominican Republic and I moved back to my Pittsburgh my hometown and living with my parents and I had these little architecture models that I went to my old high school shop I asked them hey can I hop into the shop and make some little models of these ideas and so for the first year I was basically living with my parents and had a bunch of architecture models in a shoebox and was walking around the city saying hey I’ve got this idea so we’re pretty proud as a company that we’ve turned that into a real project then cities like Pittsburgh our neighborhoods are changing quickly we want to make sure that everyone can live in the city who needs to live in the city who needs to work in the city because our goal isn’t to build one house our goal is to build thousands of houses throughout the United States our goal is to make the average homebuyer that’s thinking about homeownership to be able to work with us to design a right-sized energy-efficient starter home house that meets their needs today and then work with us as their needs changed

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