One of the most beautiful, flexible, and complex prefab systems we’ve covered in the last year is the Ray Kappe designed Living Home. For better and worse, it was covered this week in the LA Times by writer Christopher Hawthorne in the article “Such a deal?” Although he addressed several shortcomings that bother us about the current prefab industry, we can’t help but feel he cast a harsh light on prefabs in general based upon this high end model.
“…the last thing the fledgling prefab movement needs at this point is aggressive marketing or more hype. What it needs is a reality check.” –Christopher Hawthorne, LA Times
Yes, there’s a lot of prefab hype. We admit it; a bit of a prefab bubble, yet to be filled. But we consider this an important weekly topic for two important reasons. First, a handful of designs in the not so distant future will emerge at the head of the pack and deliver quality sustainable design – and we want to be at the front of this curve. The second, and perhaps more important reason for the massive amount of publicity is to convince the general public (and the design community first) that prefab can be an affordable, livable, reliable, and environmentally conscious alternative to the entrenched system of building a home.
Ask the average person on the street “what’s a prefab home?” and you’ll likely get a description of a mobile home. Then, ask them if they would be willing to pay a thirty year mortgage on something that just rolled out of a factory and was built in 15 days. Given its huge potential for reducing the environmental impact of construction- while providing housing for people at all economic levels, we feel the deluge of marketing is essential to help educate the public and create a dialogue between what home owners want and what the manufacturers can provide.
Yes, the Living Home is expensive. Look at it! I can’t believe it’s under $2 million; this is the Cadillac of current prefab designs. Don’t knock it on approachability and affordability, because that’s definitely not the target market which Kappe was designing for. This “product” offers a beautiful, spacious, and quick move-in design for those with sophisticated modern tastes- and relatively deep pockets. There are many other prefab models in production that do provide a more affordable housing option. Tiny ones like the Weehouse, several designs by Michelle Kaufman, and the sub-$100,000 option by Rocio Romero are all good examples.
So what about “Sloping lot affects cost?” Hawthorne is merely pointing out the obvious here. If you can figure out how to locate a structure on the side of Pike’s Peak for the same price as one on rolling prairie, you’ll become a billionaire over night. The issue of site is always an unknown – no prefab manufacturer would give you a quote for site work unseen, because every site is different. All construction requires custom site work, including footings or foundation preparation, drainage considerations, and utility requirements; this is not particular to prefab.
“Greenwashing,” admittedly, is becoming a commonplace problem. However, whether it’s a single solar panel, or a complete zero energy design- the green marketing comes in response to consumer outcry. Americans are finally getting sustainable alternatives, having voiced a willingness to pay a premium for products that are healthier for ourselves and the planet. And while many prefab projects tout their superior green features, by far, what makes the most difference is the reduction in waste and energy that is possible through mass production, delivery, and offsite construction.
Part of our frustration, as part of the home buying public, is that what we’re seeing now is the infancy of the prefab construction industry. Yes, we all know it ain’t perfect, but many talented minds are toiling away to produce the next best rendition, to deliver what the twenty-second century market wants, and what the planet needs. Of course, they wouldn’t mind becoming the Henry Ford of the prefab home, either.