Is Standardization Coming?

Despite this variety, some progress has been made in recent years in standardizing materials and parts. There are fewer shapes and sizes of materials and parts that go into the average house. Manufacturers of standardized materials, therefore, do not have to make as many models, and thus can increase their turnover and improve their product. Dealers too stock fewer items, whether it be f ace brick, steel boilers, pipe fittings, lavatories, or sink traps, and therefore get quicker turnovers. Since both manufacturers and dealers have fewer models to sell, their overhead and selling costs are lowered.

However, in comparison with the automobile industry, it appears that little more than a good start has been made in standardizing building materials and parts. Greater standardization will probably save material and labor costs and therefore reduce the over-all price of houses.

The American Standards Association is working on this problem, and six special committees have been set up to study ways of further standardizing brick and tile masonry, wood doors and windows, concrete masonry, metal windows, natural stones, and structural wood.

A good deal has been accomplished in standardizing the design or plan of American homes. You have only to see the blocks of row houses in Baltimore and Philadelphia, the small flat buildings in Chicago, or the frame bungalows of Detroit—as like as peas in a pod—to realize this. Such standardization brings some savings. It lowers architects’ costs since one plan can be used for many dwellings. It also permits the builder to buy his materials in large quantities, and makes labor more efficient because the same crew can work on many units.

A drawback to standardized layout is the fact that such houses often lack beauty and appeal. But there have been exceptions that show that it is possible to combine standardization with beauty.

As a result of progress in simplifying and standardizing the house, greater use is being made of power machinery. Brick, cement, lumber, paint, and other materials and equipment have long been made with the help of machinery. In actual construction, however, machinery is only now coming into common use. For example, power-driven excavators and graders are to be seen on most building operations. These have reduced the cost of preparing the land and have allowed work to go on when the ground is frozen. Hoisting equipment and the pneumatic riveter have made it possible to erect tall buildings. Concrete mixers are now generally used and, somewhat less frequently, mortar and plaster mixers. The cement gun may be used for stucco and the spray brush for paint, where working agreements between builders and labor allow their use. Carpenters may use electric saws, power sanders, and electric drills. Also, materials made by machinery have cut down the need for hand operations at the site.

Despite all this progress, what someone said a few years ago seems to be largely true today, “Very few machines are used on light tasks. The work of the mason, roofer, tile setter, carpenter, plasterer and painter is commonly a hand operation.”

On large developments considerably more progress has been made in using machinery and standardizing building operations. Usually one or more model units are built to familiarize the workers with their jobs. The operations for the project as a whole are then systematized, laying the foundation, building the first floor, the framing, sheathing, roofing, and so forth. Special crews are organized for one or more of these operations, and they move from unit to unit.

On such projects a lot of work is done in the shop where lumber is cut and stairs, doors, and roof framing are built. Also, many of these parts are assembled in the shop. On the whole, builders of large developments are shifting more work to the shop and less to the site, thus saving time and money.