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LI firm using video game technology to build homes

Ian Hintze demonstrates his virtual reality home design

Ian Hintze demonstrates his virtual reality home design software at a house he's building for a client in Woodmere. Credit: Jeff Bachner

Virtual reality has become a popular tool to allow people to tour a home for sale before actually setting foot in it. But one Long Island construction company has taken that 3-D technology to the next level by enabling future homeowners to don virtual reality goggles and "walk'' through their house, going up stairs, opening doors, seeing the way the light enters a room in the morning.

Ian Hintze, owner of Lynbrook-based Brayjam Construction, collaborated on the idea with his brother Ryan, who used to work for a company called Unity, which offers a platform for developing video games. The brothers hired two developers, who used the Unity platform to build virtual and augmented reality software that lets clients get a real feel for their future abode. Hintze Virtual Realty, or HVR, is the name and they market the service to other construction companies. 

While some developers offer virtual tours of soon-to-be-built apartment buildings, Ian Hintze says the new software is unique for the home construction industry. “Instead of going to an architect and having him draw something and figure out if you like it, we can create drawings of something you know you’d like,” he says. “This is exactly what you would see in a virtual tour of a home that is built — but this isn’t built.”

The software can be used to create a virtual design, which would later be finalized by an architect or engineer, or a 3-D model can be created by inputting an architect’s already completed computer-aided design and drafting drawings. The 3-D scanners capture the data on shape and color of an object, such as a door, wall, kitchen countertop, light fixture, furniture and artwork, and creates renderings that are added to the model.

The client can then put on a virtual reality headset and “walk through” the 3-D model of the home, opening doors and kitchen cabinets and picking up things. Based on that experience, clients can decide whether they want to change details of the layout they might not have noticed by looking at blueprints.

“It’s basically like being inside a video game,” Ian Hintze says.

The 3-D model even shows the home at all times of the day, so the client can change the location of windows if there’s a glare on the TV, Hintze says. There is also GPS embedded in the software, so if someone dons a VR headset on the job site, they can look at the virtual family room in the actual space where the room will be. 

The software can even help homeowners make decisions on finishes more quickly, he says.

Hintze used the software for the first time for a 6,000-square-foot home in Woodmere he is building for a client, attorney Joseph Ehrenreich, who calls the technology amazing.

“The first time you put on those goggles and hold something, you really feel like you’re in your space,” says Ehrenreich, who is paying nearly $2 million for the home. He says he expects that the center hall transitional Georgian, with features such as pocket doors and smart home integration, will be complete in January.

Ehrenreich used the software to change some aspects of the house design he discovered he didn’t like. For example, after he virtually climbed the stairs to the second floor, he was faced with three doorways, one of which opened to a bathroom, which Ehrenreich says looked awkward.

The plans were then changed to turn the three doorways into two, one with a hallway that leads to the bathroom.

“Now the hallway is totally symmetrical,” Ehrenreich says. He also had a custom bookcase, which a designer had sketched out for him, rendered in the software.

Using the software to create a 3-D model costs about $2,000, depending on the size of the home, Hintze says. That can seem like a small price when compared with the cost of changing the design later, during construction.   While there is a charge to make alterations to the 3-D model, Hintze estimates that $600 in changes to the design of Ehrenreich’s home would have cost $60,000 if they were made during construction.

Architectural plans from the virtual model are also likely to be less expensive since fewer alterations are being made to the blueprints.

“Some of it, you couldn’t measure in money,” Ehrenreich says, “because you wouldn’t be able to fix it.”


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