Prefab houses are as varied as the people who purchase them: There are round homes, Georgian homes, log homes, conventional homes and detached studios. But they all have one thing in common—most prefab homes are an energy-efficient and environmentally sound alternative to traditional homes. In prefab factories, excess wood is used for other projects. “In ‘stick building,’ [traditional on-site building] material is wasted and tossed into a dumpster,” says Tony Gacek, executive director of the Building Systems Councils of the National Association of Home Builders. Prefab homes also tend to be more efficient and better insulated post-construction and often feature Energy Star-rated appliances.
New Meets Old
Most of the people buying modular homes (with rooms fully built) from Handcrafted Homes in North Carolina are “empty nesters between 50 and 60 years old, building primary residences and vacation homes,” says general manager Bill Murray. Customers locate an approved builder on the company’s website, and select homes in sizes from 1,200 to 3,000 square feet. Many opt for the Cape style. “We sell through builders because we know that the builder is capable of finishing the project,” Murray says, adding that “because modular homes can be built efficiently and quickly, it is not unusual for builders to finish houses within 60 days, 90 days at the outside,” compared to up to nine months for a traditional house.
Connor Homes, based in Middlebury, Vermont, builds homes modeled on 18th and 19th century farmhouses, carriage houses, salt boxes and Greek revivals. Wall panels and “trim elements such as entry systems, porch columns and eave cornices” are prebuilt in a factory, says CEO Mike Connor. Besides minimizing waste by pre-building, the homes meet Energy Star standards if built to spec, and can be built to satisfy the more rigorous Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, too. Connor says a completed house costs about $225 per square foot including plumbing and foundation.
A Rounder Perspective
There are two major advantages to going with a round prefab home from Deltec Homes—they are much better at withstanding hurricanes and they’re energy efficient. “Round homes use the least amount of material necessary while providing exceptional strength,” says Steve Linton, director of sustainable technologies at Deltec. The homes—which allow for dramatic panoramic views—are built using wall, roof and flooring sections preassembled in the factory. Linton estimates that a package for a structural shell for a 1,678 square-foot house totals about $45,000, or less than $30 per square foot.
And the round structure enhances energy efficiency since, as Linton says, “Heat is lost from a home through every square foot that touches the cold outdoors in the winter.” And then there are the views. “Customers like the connection to the outdoors,” he says.
Shelter-Kit in New Hampshire sells a pre-cut kit for assembling your own green home (or barn or shed) on site. The company’s owner, Dave Kimball, says that only two people are needed to assemble the homes, but many customers call on assorted family and friends to help out. “Everything is pre-cut, you are not dealing with cranes and there are no complex corrections,” he says.
Their most popular model is a 1,600 square-foot home called the “Barn-House,” priced at about $42,000 minus windows, doors and customization. The house can easily be adapted to green specifications, including the use of local materials and energy-efficient windows.
Shelter-Kit walks home builders through the process over the phone or by e-mail if any issues arise, free of charge. “No one has been permanently stuck,” Kimball says. He recalled one farmer who constructed a large home by himself, saying: “He called a few times from his cell phone for clarification.” And Kimball adds that even his handiest customers usually hire someone for foundation work, plumbing and wiring.