BuildLabs Promises To Bring Homebuilding to the 'Next Level' - 27 East

Residence

Residence / 2235955

BuildLabs Promises To Bring Homebuilding to the ‘Next Level’

icon 9 Photos
A crane drops and two workers position a premade wall section in place. Lag bolts as preinstalled in the floor below to secure the wall exactly where it is meant to be. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

A crane drops and two workers position a premade wall section in place. Lag bolts as preinstalled in the floor below to secure the wall exactly where it is meant to be. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

A crane drops and two workers position a premade wall section in place. Lag bolts as preinstalled in the floor below to secure the wall exactly where it is meant to be. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

A crane drops and two workers position a premade wall section in place. Lag bolts as preinstalled in the floor below to secure the wall exactly where it is meant to be. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

A crane drops and two workers position a premade wall section in place. Lag bolts as preinstalled in the floor below to secure the wall exactly where it is meant to be. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

A crane drops and two workers position a premade wall section in place. Lag bolts as preinstalled in the floor below to secure the wall exactly where it is meant to be. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

A crane drops and two workers position a premade wall section in place. Lag bolts as preinstalled in the floor below to secure the wall exactly where it is meant to be. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

A crane drops and two workers position a premade wall section in place. Lag bolts as preinstalled in the floor below to secure the wall exactly where it is meant to be. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

A crane drops and two workers position a premade wall section in place. Lag bolts as preinstalled in the floor below to secure the wall exactly where it is meant to be. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

A crane drops and two workers position a premade wall section in place. Lag bolts as preinstalled in the floor below to secure the wall exactly where it is meant to be. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

BuildLabs is assembling a factory-built home in Hampton Bays.  BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

BuildLabs is assembling a factory-built home in Hampton Bays. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

The view from inside the Hampton Bays home. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

The view from inside the Hampton Bays home. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

Hold for electrical and plumbing are predrilled. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

Hold for electrical and plumbing are predrilled. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

The view from inside the Hampton Bays home. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

The view from inside the Hampton Bays home. BRENDAN J. O'REILLY

Brendan J. O’Reilly on Mar 6, 2024

A crane slowly lowers a package of six sections of 10-foot-tall walls onto the second story of a house being assembled in Hampton Bays fronting Great Peconic Bay.

Two workers free one wall section from the package and help the crane guide it precisely into place. A code printed on the wall tells them where it belongs, and bolts preinstalled in the floor allow them to secure it in seconds before moving on to the next wall.

The walls, floor and roof were all manufactured in a factory in Germany in three weeks, before being shipped to New York and assembled on-site by a crew of four in just two weeks.

Punit Chugh, the founder and operations director of BuildLabs in Bridgehampton, says he believes this method is the future of construction.

BuildLabs makes timber frame homes that are prefabricated down to the holes through the studs where the electric wiring will be installed and the pilot holes where sections are screwed together. Houses are assembled on-site working within an eighth of an inch tolerance throughout. “Our dimensions are true to what we are building,” Chugh said during a visit last week to the Hampton Bays construction site.

This method is not modular or panelized construction, he said. It is an open wall system, and subject to all the same on-site inspections as a stick-built home is. But rather than building a home one stud at a time, he explained, the BuildLabs process involves piecing a house together like a puzzle.

“A complex house can be easily put together into its elements,” he said. “So for us, it’s wall elements, floor elements, roof elements.”

He called the BuildLabs process “next level.”

“We are integrating what traditional construction does in an off-site facility,” Chugh said. “We assemble it seamlessly here. So that saves a lot of on-site time, management, transaction and costs. So when the project comes here, it’s a pure play of execution. There is not a lot of discussion. A team of four people are assembling this entire project.”

The timbers are made from an engineered wood known as glulam, which is short-hand for glued laminated timber. BuildLabs gets its glulam from Denmark, where it is made with old-growth wood. Chugh said it’s the strongest timber with a guaranteed home lifespan of 100 years.

“We are trying to make it the benchmark of new construction because our competitive advantage is not just about getting you the cheapest product,” he said. “We want to be cost efficient, but also provide quality for the cost.”

The timbers are fit together with dovetail joints, which Chugh noted is one of the strongest connections in timber construction.

The studs are 5.5 inches and the plywood thickness is three-quarters of an inch.

“If there was a hurricane or a big disaster, we always promise that this house built by us will be the last home standing,” Chugh said.

The windows and 10-foot sliding glass doors, weighing about 850 pounds each, also come preinstalled.

“We prepare the walls for electrical conduit so that you don’t have to cut in on site. So everything is prepared,” Chugh noted.

Once the mechanicals and electrical are installed, the walls are insulated. The roof comes preinsulated.

For the Hampton Bays project, and for the first time in the United States, BuildLabs is using cellulose insulation, made from recycled natural materials.

“We’re not doing spray foam that is quite toxic and pretty much banned in a lot of the countries in Europe,” Chugh said.

Because the house will be tight and well insulated, it will hold its temperature exceedingly well, surpassing New York’s stretch energy code, with 0.8 to 1.2 air changes per hour compared to the maximum allowable of three.

“We are able to achieve passive house standards with our construction,” Chugh said.

He pointed out the lone dumpster on the site, which was nowhere near full.

“This is the only dumpster, 10-yard, that we have used from the start of the project,” he said. “And we have no waste, no extra cuts, nothing. All the elements are produced in our factory, and they come pristine ready to go.”

Among the benefits of the method that he touted, the materials are not exposed to the elements for a long time before the house is sealed, there is cost certainty — there are no charges for missed scope of work, he said, because nothing is missed during planning — and clients and architects do not have to visit the site to solve problems because all problems are addressed during the planning stage before fabrication begins.

“As a company at BuildLabs, we take full accountability for the project,” Chugh said. “So it is a stress-free process for the clients. It’s an easier win for the architect because all the questions and everything are answered up front, so you’re not having a lot of field transactions and field communications and long meetings trying to solve onsite issues.”

The architect on the Hampton Bays project is Val Florio of Sag Harbor, who said on Friday that he was also the first architect in the country to work with this product, when he designed a Sag Harbor farmhouse.

Florio said that since that time, he’s done five projects with Chugh, ranging from a small music studio to an 11,000-square-foot ultramodern.

“The approach is very similar in terms of the design,” Florio said of the BuildLabs method compared to conventional home design. “The execution of the work, there lies the difference, because of all the decision-making is done upfront.”

The design process mitigates any potential unknowns and front-loads questions with the client before the house goes into fabrication, he said. “After the house is in fabrication, the road has been paved for a very smooth and pleasant building experience.”

He finds that the quality of the construction eclipses conventional stick framing and is “highly environmentally friendly” because there is no waste at the job site.

“Construction is a matrix of time, quality and cost, and usually only two of those ingredients can be achieved at once,” Florio said. But this method achieves all three, according to Florio, who said that the cost is rather competitive.

“The standard of excellence with this far exceeds everyday basic American building methods,” he said, noting that the strength of the framing members surpasses building code by five times what’s required.

Hurricane code calls for coastal Long Island houses to withstand 140 mph winds, while these homes, bolted together with 2-foot-long lag screws rather than fastened with nails, can withstand up to 200 mph, he said.

Florio also noted that the triple-glazed windows and the walls being thicker than the typical 2x4 studs, net a higher R-value — a measure of the effectiveness of insulation — and provide a home that’s quiet, “like a sound isolation chamber.”

“You can set the thermostat at 55 and it will hold that temp for a week,” he added.

Florio also praised glulam for how it doesn’t shrink the way that U.S. lumber begins to once the heat comes on in a new home for the first time.

“I see this as the future of construction,” he said.

Where required for longer expanses, steel beams are used, which Chugh highlighted as an example of the BuildLabs system’s flexibility.

“Unlike any system that you ever come across — whether it’s modular, prefab — they have their limitation,” he said. “Our system has no limitations because we are basically saying that your imagination is a limitation. Go for it.”

Florio agreed. “There is no limit to what you can do with the product,” he said.

The building method is also a timesaver, according to Chugh, who said that while typical builders work in 14-,16- or 18-month cycles, BuildLabs talks in terms of 8, 9 or 10 months.

Florio said that less than 12 months is otherwise unheard of in the custom home industry.

BuildLabs achieves time savings in a number of ways, including the fact that the entire structure can be produced in the factory while waiting for building permits to be obtained. Once the permits are in hand, the foundation can be poured, and as that’s in process, the elements can be shipped from Germany, which takes two weeks.

“This project is slated for delivery this summer, and we just started,” Chugh said, noting that the house was produced in the factory in just three weeks.

The house is built on a concrete foundation that will result in a finished lower level with 10-foot ceilings. The first and second floors are also 10 feet tall, and the roof will be walkable.

“The roof deck has become the quintessential ingredient in taking advantage of the waterview,” Florio said of today’s waterfront homes.

The house, with a “beach modern” theme, will be clad in clear cedar siding, which he said will fade to a beautiful driftwood gray color.

In addition to the factory in Germany, a new 20,000-square-foot BuildLabs factory is being built in North Carolina. BuildLabs is also in the process of acquiring 100 acres in North Carolina for a nearly 1-million-square-foot “gigafactory.”

Machines cut, then nail together, every floor, wall and roof section, and make pilot holes. They can build a 10-foot-by-30-foot wall in 21 minutes, including sheathing, and also print a code on each section, corresponding with the architectural drawings. “It’s a roadmap so we don’t have guesswork on our job site,” Chugh said.

The factory system is almost AI-driven, he said, with software that optimizes for no timber waste. Any leftover pieces are used for blocking and spacers.

“Look at how clean the job site it,” Chugh said. “… Nobody’s hustling. It’s a zen mode. Everybody’s peaceful.”

BuildLabs has completed about 15 projects in the Hamptons since Chugh founded the company 10 years ago, in sizes and styles ranging from large traditional and modern homes to a small contemporary accessory building.

“The initial phase of people accepting this new technology was slightly slower, and now it’s quite rampant,” Chugh said. “We’re getting a lot of calls on a daily basis. So just for this year, we have about five to six homes lined up already. And in North Carolina, we are targeting 100 homes for this year.”

The gigafactory is intended to serve the entire United States for single-family, multifamily and commercial building. It will use the same glulam from Denmark currently used at the German factory.

The company is planning for rapid growth over the next few years, producing 300,000 square feet in 2024, 2 million in 2025 and then 5 million to 10 million square feet, or 3,000 homes, annually from 2026 onward.

You May Also Like:

The April Ramble

April got off to a typical start. For most of the first two weeks of ... 18 Apr 2024 by Andrew Messinger

AIA Peconic Presents 2024 Design Awards

AIA Peconic, the East End’s chapter of the American Institute of Architects, recognized outstanding design, ... 15 Apr 2024 by Brendan J. O’Reilly

A Complicated Task – The Renovation and Addition to Temple Adas Israel

For any architect, the renovation and addition to a temple like Adas Israel would be ... by Anne Surchin, R.A.

Plant Radishes Now

As you may have discovered from last week’s column there is more to a radish ... 11 Apr 2024 by Andrew Messinger

In Praise of Trees

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time ... 9 Apr 2024 by Marissa Bridge

PSEG Reminds Customers To Call 811 Before Digging

As National Safe Digging Month begins, PSEG Long Island reminds customers, contractors and excavators that the law requires them to call 811 before digging to ensure underground pipelines, conduits, wires and cables are properly marked out. Striking an underground electrical line can cause serious injury and outages, resulting in repair costs and fines, PSEG stated in an announcement this week. Every digging project, even a small project like planting a tree or building a deck, requires a call to 811. The call is free and the mark-out service is free. The call must be made whether the job is being ... by Staff Writer

Capturing the Artistry of Landscape Architecture

Pink and white petals are unfolding from their fuzzy bud scales, hyacinths scent the air ... by Kelly Ann Smith

AIA Peconic To Hold Design Awards Celebration April 13 in East Hampton

AIA Peconic, the East End’s chapter of the American Institute of Architects, will hold its 2024 Daniel J. Rowen Memorial Design Awards celebration on Saturday, April 13, at 6 p.m. at the Ross School Senior Lecture Hall in East Hampton. The work submitted to the Design Awards will be on gallery display. The jurors included Deborah Burke, Joeb Moore and Omar Gandhi, and the special jury adjudicating the Sustainable Architecture Award: Anthony Harrington, Whitney Smith and Rives Taylor. The awards presentation will include remarks by AIA Peconic President Edgar Papazian and a program moderated by past AIA Peconic President Lori ... 4 Apr 2024 by Staff Writer

A Brief History of Radishes

The madness will begin. Adventurous souls have had just one day too many of cabinus ... by Andrew Messinger

Good Things Come in Small Packages

While large houses offer more space to spread out in, a new home in East ... 3 Apr 2024 by Brendan J. O’Reilly