Rockets and Houses

It costs between $300M - $600M to launch a satellite or a space shuttle into space. That’s each and every launch, and this is just the cost of the rocket booster portion of the flight. It doesn’t include the cost associated with the payload, such as satellites, international space station supplies, or even the crew.

These rockets, sometimes called “boosters”, really began to be developed after WWII by both the Russian and U.S. governments. What is interesting to note is that this time period parallels the first mass-produced housing subdivisions - the most famous of which was Levittown. Rocket science and technology saw rapid growth and improvement throughout the 1950s and 1960s, culminating with Apollo 11 when Neil Armstrong famously walked on the moon in 1969. Yet, by the late 70s, rocket programs began to flatline. Until now...

Indeed, a “rocket revolution” is occurring again after 60 years and it is upsetting the old guard - manufacturers like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and JSC (Russian). Rocket costs have dropped to $50M per  launch, and yet performance is improving thanks to some visionary folks like Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson whose fresh perspectives are igniting the rocket-building business.

The housing industry, on the other hand, is becoming more expensive. RealtyTrac put out a report showing that in 2000, 70% of single-family homes were being sold for under $200,000 [1]. In 2016 that rate has dropped to 48%. In booming housing markets like Seattle, market trends have shown an increase of $75,000 in median home sales in just the last year [2].

All of which makes me wonder: Can the housing industry change?!

Of course it can!

The tape industry used the developments of the Apollo space program to improve ducting, and every day new adhesives are being introduced into the market that are improving the air tightness and/or durability of our homes. But, at the core, we have been building houses the same way since Levittown with little to no improvement in speed and efficiency. Our industry subsists with on-site construction that uses trade partners to assemble thousands of components such as lumber, drywall, windows, roofing, siding, cabinets, flooring, etc.  

The average size of a new home in the early 1950’s was under 1,000 square feet - a period where Levitt & Sons were “producing one complete house every 12 minutes.”[3] According to the United States Census Bureau, the average size of a newly built home in 2015 was 2,467 square feet [4]. The NAHB referenced their 2014 Survey of Construction showing the average time to complete a home at around 180 days. This, of course, is dependent on the geographic location. For example, in Denver the average time it takes to build a home can run from anywhere between 80-120 days [5].

Rockets consist of complicated elements but continue to improve on performance and are being built to go further and faster at 6-10 times less cost. Our homes, on the other hand, are not only more expensive - they also take longer to build. How do we change this?

All we need is a shift in thinking, and it starts here:

  1. As an industry, we need to broaden our exposure to the next generation of builders and skilled trades. Get them engaged, excited, and empower them to try things differently. Volunteer to teach a class or help teach a class at any grade level and talk about the opportunities in construction.

  2. Take a step back from your day-to-day activities and look at some of the amazing things happening in the airline travel, banking and space industries. They are all undergoing substantive changes with the help of fresh, new, outside perspectives.

  3. Attend a non-construction conference such as CES (the Consumer Electronics Show), explore and Springwise for new technologies or scour the wave of new start-up’s related to construction on Kickstarter.

I would love to hear your thoughts on disruptive innovation in construction. Please leave a comment or email me at