Prefabricated Homes – The Way of the Future, Even for Skyscrapers

Prefabricated homes have been popular in the United States since the early 1900s. A new generation of homes are now coming online in the past decade. They’re architecturally well designed, they’re sexy and they’re green. They’re NOT your double wide trailers of years past! With modules made in a factory and assembled onsite, prefab homes are cost efficient and can be built much faster than standard site-built homes.  They are not exposed to the elements and skilled craftsman have much more oversight and quality control options. They can take on any size or form. Think of them as Lego’s for home construction. Over the past few years, prefabricated homes have become increasingly popular among those interested in sustainable living – the carefully-planned manufacturing process produces significantly less waste, and reduced time and activity spent onsite lessens the environmental impact of the building process.  Many companies provide basic designs which customers can alter according to their tastes.

Image courtesy of cocoon9.com

Image courtesy of cocoon9.com

Cocoon9’s prefabricated cabin is made from sustainable materials like FSC certified bamboo, cerused oak and low-e insulated glass with thermally broken aluminum frames to minimize the need for artificial heating and cooling. At just 480 square feet, these modular units have floor-to-ceiling windows to make them feel spacious.

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Adelaide Images courtesy of livinghomes.net

The first Livinghomes, designed by Ray Kappe, FAIA was installed in eight hours and was the first home ever certified LEED® Platinum by the United States Green Building Council since then, they have built more Leed Platinum homes than almost any other design firm.

They currently offer three lines of single and multi-family homes by Ray Kappe, KieranTimberlake, the AIA 2008 Firm of the Year, and designers at LivingHomes. They recently introduced their C6 and CK series, which are both their most affordable LivingHomes — and they feature their most comprehensive environmental program. The first home above is the LivingHome C6/CK series and are the lowest cost LivingHomes. Designed by LivingHomes staff in collaboration with Make It Right, the  nonprofit founded by Brad Pitt and architect William McDonough to build 150 affordable, sustainable homes in New Orleans’ Lower Ninth Ward they combine clean, modern design with Z6, LEED® Platinum level environmental program and Cradle-to-Cradle CM inspired materials.

LivingHomes are available in standard or customized configurations to builders, developers and individuals.

Photo courtesy of stillwaterdwellings.com

Photo courtesy of stillwaterdwellings.com

The miniONE and miniTWO homes from Stillwater Designs measure 400 and 585 square feet respectively. While there are three finish packages to choose from, the “Original” has lots of natural wood and light, airy colors, making the space feel larger and more open. Starting at just $49,000 for the miniONE, these energy-and-space-efficient homes are also incredibly affordable.

Photo courtesy of methodhomes.net

Photo courtesy of methodhomes.net

Method’s homes can be built to obtain LEED, ENERGY STAR, Living Building Challenge, Passive House, and other environmental certification standards. Method uses locally harvested lumber, and there is no UA formaldehyde present in any of the building materials. Finished with low or no VOC paints and adhesives, these homes also produce less chemical off-gassing than standard homes. The M Series has models starting at 834 square feet and $162,000 which are outfitted with pre-wiring for solar power.

Photo courtesy of greenpoddevelopment.com

Photo courtesy of greenpoddevelopment.com

GreenPod Development builds sustainable homes with “healthy” interiors and furnishings. Their WaterHaus design selects only sustainable, socially responsible and traceable sourced material for interior and exterior construction. GreenPod also provides design services and environmentally-friendly products for the interiors, which utilize moveable walls and moveable glass to visually enlarge living spaces. The home’s environmental footprint is only 450 square feet,  and models start at just $60,000.

Photo courtesy of treehugger.com

Photo courtesy of treehugger.com

As prefabricated homes become a popular way to build and live sustainably, we’re starting to see larger, multi-family developments. Broad Sustainable Building has constructed a 57-floor skyscraper in China called Mini Sky City, which houses 800 apartments and was built at a rate of 3 floors per day. The project was originally meant to reach 97 floors, but was limited to 57. As the world’s tallest prefabricated construction, the energy-efficient Mini Sky City could pave the way for similar tall, energy-efficient buildings that can be constructed at unprecedented speeds. New York City hasn’t gotten there quite yet but is no stranger to prefabricated homes; The My Micro New York Project is currently prefabricating NYC’s first micro-apartment complex in a Brooklyn Navy Yard warehouse.  The My Micro NY, which will roll out this Spring, is a pilot program whose success will help inform future decisions about how and where to construct micro-units in the city, an initiative that de Blasio is rooting for in order to achieve his goals of affordable housing options and sustainable living practices for New Yorkers.  I look forward to seeing how this unfolds.  It seems the sky is the limit in terms of what can be done with prefabrication in New York City and beyond.

Image by Chang W. Lee for The New York Times

Image by Chang W. Lee for The New York Times

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