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2024 Construction Trends to Watch For

With the dawn of 2024, the U.S. construction industry continues to battle high inflation and interest rates, material price volatility, a skilled labor shortage and increased labor costs.

But despite all this, the economic forecast is relatively bright with Dodge predicting a 7% increase in construction starts, led by strong growth in multi-family, hotel and manufacturing.

Along with this welcome increase in construction activity, noted trends anticipated to share the limelight are growing applications in modular construction and technology, from BIM to digital twins to AI to drones.

Building teams will also need to engage in strategic procurement practices to stay ahead of the price volatility and material shortages curve in 2024.

BIM, Digital Twins and AI

Significantly improving design and construction efficiencies, BIM is now being used extensively by U.S. construction firms. According to the 2022 AIA Firm Survey Report, 91% of firms use it for design visualization, 86% utilize BIM for presentations and renderings, 84% tap its coordinated construction documents capabilities and 80% use it for sharing models with consultants.

Mandated for federal building projects, the U.S. General Services Administration has a network of BIM technology vendors, professional associations, government agencies and research institutions supporting its implementation.

Kicking things up a notch, the implementation of BIM-powered digital twins is also expected to continue developing in 2024. A virtual model of an actual construction project, updated in real time as the project is built, a digital-twin model enables teams to simulate different scenarios, providing key insights for contractors on the most efficient ways to construct a building.

By leveraging artificial intelligence technology, this improves the accuracy of these digital twin simulations and can also help owners and facility managers predict and plan for maintenance and repairs down the line.

Drones and CMS

As drone technology, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) continue gaining traction, they are finding more applications on construction sites. For example, site surveying and mapping is enabling teams to better plan and manage construction. And drone inspections provide a much more comprehensive overview of a project, thereby supporting worker safety. This critical information can help identify potential hazards and prevent accidents.

Drone-gathered data can also be fed into 3D modeling software to better visualize a developing project and identify potential problems.

Yet another application of drones, UAVs and robots is the delivery of materials to construction sites.

Construction management software is also expected to be adopted by more contractors in 2024. This advanced, cloud-based software acts as one source of truth, enabling subcontractors and designers to communicate and collaborate in a highly efficient manner. The end result is increased efficiencies, time savings and reduced costs. 

As construction projects continue to increase in complexity, and an increased cost of building materials and higher interest rates drive demand for more productivity and efficiencies in projects, the need for all of these technologies will increase in importance.

Modular Systems

The above-mentioned variables will also drive interest in pre-fabricated materials and systems this year.

By assembling and testing products and systems in a factory-controlled environment, manufacturers can reduce material waste and increase quality control. In turn, contractors benefit from reduced labor costs, reduced waste and shortened project schedules as the modular systems arrive all ready for installation.

As reported by the Modular Building Institute, modular construction projects have tripled since 2015. In addition to the associated cost and schedule predictability and savings, modular systems and construction supports worker safety and offers environmental advantages.

According to a recent MBI survey, 88% of general contractors and construction managers named waste reduction as a key sustainability benefit driving modular construction.

Early Procurement

Another important strategy on the rise is the strategic procurement of materials to mitigate construction risk. Early procurement is one of the best ways to soften the potential negative impact of material shortages and price escalation. When wait times are too long or too expensive, identifying alternate materials and equipment is another viable strategy.

While the supply chain continues to recover from the effects of COVID-19, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act is creating a new wrinkle. As part of the funding and tax credits currently available for energy-efficient building initiatives, qualifying projects must abide by Build America, Buy America provisions. With more projects seeking parts and materials for purchase in the U.S., this further tipping the supply and demand scale, creating additional pressure on domestic procurement with less availability.

At the same time, the IRA is incentivizing buildings to invest in energy-efficiency improvements including insulation, lighting and HVAC systems, with more than $1.7 billion plus tax credits available for qualifying projects.

Pricewise, the Associated Builders and Contractors reports that construction material costs increased 4.9% last year. While some materials like lumber have decreased, concrete products have increased, as have construction machinery and equipment.

Proceed With Caution

While 2024 portends to bring continued growth and opportunity, building teams are advised to increase their use of technology and closely watch and plan for constantly changing material availability and pricing.

About the author

Barbara Horwitz-Bennett is a seasoned architectural journalist, covering the design and construction industry for the past 25+ years. She writes for numerous industry magazines and creates content for AEC firms, product manufacturers and industry associations.