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HAUS Builds the Way

Interdisciplinary Student Team Finds Solution to Construction Woes

A University of Idaho student team that worked with construction professionals to solve costly and labor-intensive industry hurdles earned $10,000 for its first-place win during the 2020 Hacking for Homebuilding reverse pitch-style competition.

The competition, hosted by Boise State Venture College, challenged students to find solutions to construction issues.

The U of I team developed the Home Access Utility System (HAUS), a steel frame that sits between the wall studs and floor joists of a structure and allows for easy utility access through a collapsible or detachable baseboard.

The frame allows homeowners to make house repairs without the costly need to remove and replace drywall via an access system that can easily reach the wiring and other utilities in homes. The concept paves the way for easy install of future home technologies and makes the installation of services on the job site simpler for the construction team.

A colorized sketch depicts the Home Access Utility System between a wall section.
HAUS is a steel frame that sits between the wall studs and floor joists of a structure and allows for easy utility access through a collapsible or detachable baseboard.

The interdisciplinary team included masters of Architecture students Lyndsay Watkins, Kelsey Ramsey, Sterling Jones and Reggie Mace (U of I Boise) from the College of Art and Architecture, and Mechanical Engineering undergraduate Evan Allen from the College of Engineering.

“We spent a lot of time brainstorming,” said Ramsey, from Portland, Oregon. “We interviewed industry professionals and really tried to understand the problem before beginning to design a solution. So, rather than designing a product around a problem, we designed a product around specific pain points we heard from contractors, architects, homeowners and construction workers. In this sense, the product does more than just ‘fix’ a problem; it ‘solves’ one.”

In addition to saving on drywall repair, which can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars to patch, HAUS saves on installation time with no need to drill through studs to run wiring.

Through his analysis, Allen concluded HAUS can be used in load-bearing walls. He generated the computer and mathematical models and identified appropriate materials for the design concept.

A black and white sketch of the Home Access Utility System.
A rough sketch of the Home Access Utility System.

During the competition, students were given proposal pitch training by the Venture College and connected with an industry mentor and an industry problem sponsor. The team pitched their project several times to different panels of judges of industry professionals.

The students wanted to come up with a “rational, viable and physical solution that addressed the problem directly,” Watkins said.

“The industry really needs to start implementing more organized and streamlined solutions to utilities access and repair,” the Boise native said. “With the implementation and industry adoption of solutions like ours comes greater expediency, efficiency and hopefully quality in construction.”

The team “took a hard look at the adoption of the solution into the construction industry” and tried to make it something that would benefit everyone from the builder to the homeowner, said Watkins.

The industry really needs to start implementing more organized and streamlined solutions to utilities access and repair. With the implementation and industry adoption of solutions like ours comes greater expediency, efficiency and hopefully quality in construction. Lyndsay Watkins

“It was really great as a student to connect our ideas with industry professionals,” said Ramsey. “In the classroom, you’re coming up with and considering ideas, but with this competition, we had the opportunity to actually test one of those ideas against industry standards. It was exciting to be a part of that.”

The team achieved something incredible with their interdisciplinary approach and solution, said Dwaine Carver, assistant professor of Architecture.

“Their solution proposes an alternative building standard extremely useful to building industry professionals as well as future owners and occupants,” said Carver. “Their solution for building flexibility over the course of a building’s lifecycle, a recurring and persistent problem in architectural design, is really exemplary.”

The reward was split evenly among the team, and Watkins will continue to research and develop the project.

“I’m actively engaging with a broader range of individuals in the construction industry to get more feedback on the project to help develop it further,” Watkins said. “I think our team came up with a really interesting solution to a pressing concern, and I’m excited to continue our work.”

Article by Kassandra Tuten and Alexiss Turner, University Communications and Marketing.

Submitted photos.

Published January 2021.

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Email: arch@uidaho.edu 

Phone: 208-885-4409

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Boise, ID 83702
arch@uidaho.edu

Phone: 208-885-6781

Urban Design Center