Builder Profile: Allen Edwin Homes

BIM helps this company build entry-level homes while also differentiating itself with design and product options.

Affordable homes are often cookie-cutter products with little or no choice offered to the buyer. Portage, Michigan-based Allen Edwin is taking a different approach, with a line of new homes aimed at first-time buyers that also offers those buyers lots of design and product options. BIM is helping them manage those options and control costs.

Managing Choice

Allen Edwin is in its 26th year. Their market area extends from Central Michigan to Northern Indiana. They expect to complete 950 starts in 2019.

To position themselves for the next slowdown, they recently pivoted to affordable homes. Robbins says that the sweet spot for first-time buyers in that part of the country is $200,000 or less, and that they have been able to offer prices in some communities as low as to $150,000.

However, to remain competitive the company decided to give buyers plenty of choice when it comes to design and products. “We have 2,000 global options, and each floor plan has another 1,000,” he says.

Allen Edwin’s Approach to BIM

The company worked with CG Visions (now a Simpson Strong-Tie company) to implement software that includes Vertex BD for design and BIM Pipeline for material management and estimating. Pipeline uses the BIM data to directly drive detailed take-offs. “When we change an item in the model, Vertex sends the change to Pipeline where we keep all our key measures and options.”

Getting there wasn’t easy. Matt Robbins, the company’s CAD & Estimating Manager, says that the BIM system has been a great asset, but he doesn’t mince words on the commitment required to get it up and running. “It was worth the effort, but the effort was brutal,” he says.

Setting up the system and modeling the plans took about a year and required a full-time dedicated employee. It was another year to get everything running smoothly. “We contracted with CG to put all of our plans into the BIM model, then we worked at cleaning them up,” says Matt.


“By now, we have earned double what we paid for the BIM system.”


He advises builders starting down this road to spend time thinking through their plans. For instance, they may want to start by modeling their best sellers only. “Some of the builders I’ve spoken to have 150 floor plans total, but their core is around 15 or 20.” He also advises creating a base model with options that represent different plans. What used to be 15 separate plans in the catalog can be modeled as one plan with 15 elevations.

Matt also says that it’s not worth going crazy when modeling option details. For instance, the exact rough opening dimensions for a nominal 3-0 x 5-0 window may differ by brand and model. Rather than populating the BIM database with hundreds of window types, it might be easier to plug the exact window files after the customers make their selections.

Allen Edwin’s overall cost for the implementation was roughly $1 million, including staff time and CG’s fees. However, the system more than paid for itself within a couple of years. “By now, we have earned double what we paid for the BIM system.”

Part of the savings was from payroll. The company reduced staffing needs from 6 or 7 estimators and drafters doing 15 homes per week to three estimators and drafters doing as many as 30 homes per week.

Variances have also been reduced. “If the framer is consistently short one stick on each house, we can add the change to the model and it will correct all P.O.s going forward.

The system’s precise material estimates have also helped the company get lower subcontractor pricing. “For instance, on a smaller house we will have less linear footage of wall framing and subflooring and roofing. With roofing we can dial in the exact amount of starter and valley shingles,” he says. “This level of detail makes it easier to negotiate.”

Future benefits include an easier transition to panels. “For townhomes and duplexes we’re looking at prefabbing the walls,” he says. “Vertex will automatically spit out the panel drawings.”


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