Hammer & Hand’s High-Tech Take on Construction

When we talk about innovation and technology, our minds naturally go to touchscreens, microchips, and software — but carpenters can be technologists in their own right. “The most forward-looking of them are dedicated to improving and perfecting building technologies,” says Zachary Semke, director of business development at Hammer & Hand, a general contractor that’s using the latest technology to innovate construction. “Hammer & Hand has also been a gathering spot for folks who are passionate about the tradition of carpentry as a living, evolving practice,” says Semke.

When Hammer & Hand got their start in the mid-90s, they were fixing up classic Craftsman homes in Portland, Oregon. Today, they have 60 employees and have expanded to Seattle as well. Their focus has extended to architect-designed custom homes, residential remodels, and commercial build-outs for creative agencies, restaurants, and boutique retailers. But they’re best known for their cutting-edge “Passive House,” a construction approach that routinely cuts energy needs by 70 percent.


Using Tools to Manage Complex Projects

Hammer & Hand wanted to use technology to improve the customer journey. In construction, the customer journey is complex and extended. Constructing a building involves month after month of give-and-take between project owner, architect, and builder. “It takes the most diligent communication, rigorous project management, perseverance, and good humor to pull off successful projects,” Semke says. “Ones where both the finished product and the process of getting there delight the client.”

And to create that delight, Smartsheet has become Hammer & Hand’s favorite tool, from lead intake to construction and project close out. Smartsheet’s cloud-based software keeps all team members on the same page with real-time updates. This allows for nimble course corrections on budget and schedule. It also enables transparency with clients, says Semke, “buttressing an open-book approach to project management that we had already been nurturing for two decades as a construction company.”

Powerful Software In the Office & In the Field

Twenty years ago, the field staff at Hammer & Hand were still using pagers, but as the company has grown and evolved, they’ve made their brand synonymous with cutting-edge technology. They’re not just looking to make a name for themselves, either. Hammer & Hand is out to transform the industry and make buildings part of the climate solution. Currently, the building sector is responsible for nearly half of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. “The good news,” says Semke, “is that thanks to recent advances in building science, we now have a field-tested, cost-effective means for revolutionizing building energy performance.” In other words, Passive House.

For these high-performance building projects, everything starts with PCs running powerful modeling software. The company uses programs like THERM and WUFI to analyze thermal resistance of building assemblies. This software helps them dial in the most cost-optimized solution with hundreds of simulations of building performance, all via a parametric analysis that allows for the tweaking of various elements, like glazing, building orientation, and building shape. Once construction begins, the staff uses mobile devices including smart phones and tablets to access models and plans at a moment's notice.

As Hammer & Hand looks to the future, staying on the cutting edge of building and project management tech is key. “New building technologies are emerging constantly, from weather-resistive barrier systems, to heat recovery ventilation technology, to the latest in heat pump technology,” Semke says. “But the opportunity for superior energy performance, durability, and comfort being brought about by this flood of new technology makes the vetting process worth the effort.”

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