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In the last decade, "prefab" has come to mean something quite different from the "manufactured" (otherwise known as trailer or mobile) homes of the past. Innovative architects and builders, even "starchitects," are now designing homes that can be prefabricated. These modular components can be built off-site in quality-controlled factories, then transported and constructed to the worksite in a matter of days.
Now, designers are also innovating prefab homes that are LEED, Passive House, or Net-Zero ready. Dodge Data & Analytics recently released a report entitled the Prefabrication and Modular Construction 2020 SmartMarket Report. It compiles information and insights from designers and architects, engineers and contractors already working within the prefab industry.
The report's authors write that prefab and modular construction are on the rise as the "industry seeks to improve safety, productivity, quality, cost, schedule, and sustainability performance." In particular, they add, "Construction sites are greener due to less waste being generated, and safer due to working with assemblies and modules produced off-site."
We agree and are equally enthused about prefab's potential. So much so that we'd like to share with you our favorite prefab manufacturers and models and why we're fans. Let's get started.
The company, based in Rialto, CA, is the first custom modular and panelized home builder dedicated to sustainable building, materials, processes, and operations to achieve B Corporation certification. "As a socially responsible business, we've always been committed to wedding purpose and profit in our work," said Steve Glenn, founder, and CEO, in a press release.
They went on to say that they used the US Green Building Council's (USGBCs) LEED program for many years to secure third-party verification of their sustainability and performance. They consider B Lab to be an equivalent authority to measure the company's impact. They have an extremely comprehensive process and require that companies undergo verification every three years to maintain compliance.
Moreover, Plant Prefab believes "everyone deserves to live in a well-designed, beautiful, functional, and healthy home. We believe that you should never have to sacrifice form for function, aesthetics for efficiency, or style for sustainability." In partnership with architects, including Douglas W. Burdge, Brooks + Scarpa, Ray Kappe, and Geoffrey Warner at Alchemy Architects, Plant Prefab manufactures an array of modern sustainable prefabs, including Alchemy's lightHouse ADU (accessory dwelling unit).
In February 2020, the company debuted its own ADU, LivingHome 10, during Modernism Week in Palm Springs, CA., designed and built according to Plant Prefab's Z6 environmental health and sustainability framework. The company also offers larger homes through its LivingHome series, such as this one in rural Sonoma County. The home includes many sustainable features including:
Well-known for its round-house prefabs, Deltec works with clients to achieve the level of sustainability they're seeking. Whether homeowners are simply seeking energy efficiency or aspiring to net-zero, the company designs homes that seamlessly connect the indoors and outdoor landscape. The prefabs are fabricated in a factory powered by 100% renewable energy. Based in Asheville, NC, the company also has a recycle and reuse program that diverts more than 80% of waste away from landfills.
Ahead of the curve, Deltec won a US Department of Energy's DOE Housing Innovation Award in 2019. We featured one of Deltec's non-circular, net-zero panelized homes from the Renew Collection, which uses two-thirds less energy than a non-sustainable home. The homeowners upped the ante by powering their all-electric home with 18 solar panels.
We recently found out about Phoenix Haus, which has its own plant in Grand Junction, CO, where the company fabricates its net-zero, Passive House prefabs. That's quite a combination—and it works. On your next trip to the Rockies, you can experience one of the projects, H19, which is now on Airbnb.
After working through numerous iterations, Phoenix Haus came up with Passive House design and construction underscored by its certified Alpha building system. H19's super-insulated roof and wall panels, triple-pane doors and windows, heat pump, and 12 solar panels powering the electric house are quite the winning combination.
Based in Pahoa, HI, this fascinating prefab company creates the "only internationally certified, permit-ready bamboo homes and buildings in the world," according to Bamboo Living's website. Durable, low-maintenance, pest- and insect-resistant, and able to withstand hurricanes with winds more than 200 mph, these prefabs are built for resilience.
The sustainability key here is bamboo, which the company uses in its prefab construction instead of wood. Bamboo is a fast-growing natural material and provides options for building practices that save forests and natural resources. Bamboo, the company says, is a renewable resource that requires less energy and creates less pollution and waste. The tiny-home model, delightfully named Bonsai, is an excellent option for off-grid living.
The architecture firm behind FabCab's stellar sustainable homes offers two "timber cabin" style prefab homes: TimberCab and ModCab. Both have broad expanses of glass that bring the outdoors inside and high ceilings made possible by modern shed or gable roof designs. Wood's the thing in these prefabs. The homes utilize exposed Douglas Fir timber framing and SIP panel construction.
Based in Seattle, WA, FabCab incorporates universal design principles into its prefabs for gracious living as homeowners age in place. The home packages are sold as a kit of precision-cut and labeled parts. These can be purchased as parts only or as complete homes, including assembly, finishes, foundation, site work, and permits. Interior features options include bamboo and recycled carpet flooring, in-floor hydronic heating, and energy-efficient appliances.
The models offered by this Pittsburgh, PA, company are all Passive House certified. This means that the prefabs are built to PHIUS specifications that include an airtight building envelope, high-performance windows and doors, and thermal bridge free construction. ERVs provide continuous, fresh, filtered air for a healthy home. The team has also selected building materials that are healthy, recyclable, and free of toxic chemicals and other contaminants.
The homes are also ENERGY STAR compliant. Models range from a traditional four-square style to modern takes on the classic mid-century ranch, chalet, one-level universal living, the farmhouse, and Craftsman style.
Yes, modern luxury is possible with Dvele, which has its own factory in southern California for production for West Coast customers. With four customizable "mini" prefab homes (perfect for ADUs), and nine other customizable prefab templates ranging from a cottage-sized version at 888 square feet to multi-level homes at more than 3,000 square feet, all options are sustainable.
The company sources sustainable materials and works with partners who do the same. These Passive House certified homes are constructed and insulated to be airtight and energy-efficient. Solar is always an option to take the house to net positive. The electric homes also include high-efficiency hot-water heaters and induction stoves. Dvele also, for each dwelling it finishes, plants 10,000 trees.
Dvele recently announced DveleIQ, its five-step, smart-home approach to prefab. In a press release, Dvele pointed out that smart thermostats and integrated systems like Alexa or Google Assistant are Level 3: DveleIQ is Level 5. Matt Howland, the president of Dvele, said that they wanted to help push the industry forward. To do that, they built the first fully integrated, intelligent, software-defined home that complements their self-powered home product. The system includes 300 data feeds (via sensors) that measure VOCs, formaldehyde, carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and other particulates and toxins that are immediately reduced through fresh-air delivery.
The Pittsburgh-based company blends clean, fresh, modern design with modular construction, giving homeowners the option to build a home that’s zero-energy ready quickly. Module opened for business in 2016 and has continually refined its product with customer research and feedback. The Berkley accessory dwelling unit (ADU) compresses complete living into 265 square feet. The multi-level Indy, Tallboy, and Moonlight models are perfect for urban infill sites.
This California company innovated the Flex House, a small footprint, energy-efficient, factory-built smart house that’s cost-effective, healthy, sustainable, and delightful to inhabit. Designed by modular housing pioneer Jim Gregory, the Flex House includes:
Inspired by homes they enjoyed in Europe, the founders of Urbaneer designed three modular home models (with more to come). All three allow homeowners to live large in 300 to 1,800 square feet—due, in part, to innovative convertible spaces. The Huron has a hidden wall-bed system. The Grand is a one-bedroom, two-level home with a movable-track wall system that easily converts rooms from one use to another. The Tioga started it all with its European-inspired design and the patented room-transforming innovations for which Urbaneer is now known.
What's your style? Whether mountain modern, alpine cottage, ranch, coastal contemporary, Pacific Homes works with homeowners to design their home from one of Pacific's plans or with customization. Based in British Columbia, Canada, but available all over North America, the company uses its own Pacific SmartWall® System. The wall assembly is up to 128% more energy-efficient than traditional construction. It provides high and effective R-values for floors, ceilings, and walls. The system also reduces noise and increases air quality. We're especially enamored with an off-grid home built by one of the employees in Cowichan Valley, BC, an energy-efficient cottage on Vancouver Island.
Within Linwood Homes' eight model collections (which include ranch-style, post-and-beam, and modern homes, as well as cottages and cabins), are a wide variety of designs. Using prefabricated materials and paying close attention to site characteristics, the Canadian company also customizes its models to meet homeowner wishes.
Based in London, Bert & May has joined forces with Box 9 Design to create Bert's Boxes, turn-key pods constructed from shipping containers for homeowners wishing to increase their living space or add a small dwelling to their property. Modular and modern, the models range from a 160-square-foot office box to a two-bedroom home with Met Therm windows, sustainable insulation, a photovoltaic system, and weathered barn siding.
Honomobo's prefab shipping-container homes are factory-built using rigid steel. They feature floor-to-ceiling windows and a sleek, minimalist style that integrates indoor and outdoor living. The H Series ranges from a plug-and-play home office or studio to a four-bedroom, three-bath, 1920-square-foot home comprised of 6 x 40' shipping containers and large glass walls. The California company also can outfit the homes with solar arrays to make them net-positive.
The Koda is a free-standing compact house designed to be installed and uninstalled in various locations and for an array of functions. Kodasema, based in Estonia, created the timber-frame, factory constructed houses to leave a small footprint in terms of transport pollution, worker safety, construction waste, and urban noise. The homes are delivered with a trailer in one piece. Installation takes less than a day. From the micro-loft to the Koda Float (a micro-house on pontoons) to the popular Koda Concrete (constructed with CLT), the offerings are small, beautiful, and sustainable.
A certified Passive House builder, Bensonwood takes sustainable prefab to a new level with its PHlexible Passive House wall system. The New Hampshire company utilizes its scalable, panelized building enclosure system combined with proper site orientation, square footage, and size and types of windows to achieve Passive House standards. In collaboration with LakelFlato and KieranTimberlake, Bensonwood has also created OpenHome with three models. Built to Passive House standards and without toxic interior finishes, the three models are also customizable.
The Maine company Ecocor offers prefabricated, architect-designed homes built to meet Passive House standards. The company sources materials locally. Natural wood is prioritized, but engineered materials are used when they serve a specific function. Heating and cooling, indoor air quality, and moisture are controlled by the Ecocor Passiv Wall, which includes 8 inches of continuous insulation installed in the factory and in the field for no thermal bridging. The Solsken models range from ADUs to four-bedroom homes.
The Canadian company, Thoma Holz100, uses a cross-laminated, prefabricated, 100% solid wood building system in its modular homes. A Cradle-to-Cradle product, the system provides high thermal insulation, fire safety ratings, and electromagnetic radiation barriers. It also achieves Passive House standards for energy use and airtightness. The mobile wood homes are especially captivating, with their airy interiors and light-wood walls. The prefab units are a turn-key product that's quickly installed and can be added to when homeowners are ready to expand.
With its selection of simple, classic house designs — all of which are net-zero — Brightbuilt Home (based in Portland, Maine) seamlessly blends a fresh, contemporary aesthetic with sustainable technologies. The homes are powered by photovoltaic solar cells, all finishes comply with low-VOC requirements, and fixtures are ENERGY STAR rated. The ERV, a heat-pump water heater, and solar inverter are tucked into the basement. Air-source heat pumps provide heating and cooling.
The Maine company has a portfolio of sleek contemporary designs that range from a 600-square-foot single-bedroom cottage to a 2,500-square-foot, four-bedroom family home. All GO Logic designs are optimized for comfortable open-plan living, low operating costs, and durability. The super-insulated, air-sealed building shells on these prefabs have been designed to use 80% less energy than a conventional new house. An efficient energy-recovery ventilation system delivers a continuous supply of fresh, tempered outdoor air to every room in the home. If the site has good solar exposure, the company can add a photovoltaic array for a zero-energy home.
Autonomous, self-sustainable, intelligent, and mobile: The glass-walled prefab pods offered by this Seattle prefab company include an off-grid studio with a kitchen and bath and a two-bedroom house. Move-in ready and 100% furnished, the homes need neither a construction permit nor a foundation. The remote-controlled models are solar-powered and include HEPA air quality controls. Put these pods anywhere and enjoy a cloud-based monitoring and central diagnostic system that locates maintenance issues before you do. They are made with a durable 3-D composite polymer frame and energy-efficiency up to 20 times the average American home.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the Seattle company has provided prefab structures for emergency medical and shelter facilities. The custom manufacturer of precision-engineered, prefabricated, modern structures also collaborates with architectural firms to create distinctive prefab homes with design flair.
Take a look at the HOMB Series, for instance, based on 100-square-foot triangular modules. The Simpatico series (a zero-energy home that includes the solar voltaic system in the base costs), Annata series (single-level, to bring the outdoors in), and Elemental series all feature a modern sensibility. All can be built to obtain LEED, ENERGY STAR, Living Building Challenge, or Passive House certification.
The company, which has offices in Canada and the US, builds its models using a patented steel structure and high-performance rigid and foam insulation (walls at R-28.5, ceilings at R-30 or higher) for net-zero ready homes. By significantly reducing the home's energy requirements, the BONE Structure construction system allows homeowners to reach net-zero easily.
High-performance floor-to-ceiling windows and doors complete the thermal envelope. The minimalist, inviting models in the OS Collection have open plan living inspired by the Scandinavian concept of Hygge.