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Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

by Gregory La Vardera last modified Jan 05, 2006 11:10 PM
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Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at January 13. 2005

The question has come up time and time again on the message boards. I like the Dwell/Glide/etc House but it still costs too much..

There is no free lunch, but I do believe it is possible to make a less expensive modern modular house. The question is: Are the characteristics of a house of this type acceptable to you? If so I want you to entertain a proposal.

This thread began with this [url href=http://www.livemodern.com/Members/lavardera/lamidesigndevblog/costquestion]entry in my blog[/url]. Much detailed comment followed which you should read, but return here to comment.

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Marshall Mayer at January 13. 2005
Can we keep the conversation in this forum topic? The forum tools are much more ammenable to these types of discussions, as compared to the comment tools that are included with blogs (if I could make the blog discussions forum toipcs, believe me I would).

Anyway, would that be OK with you, Greg?

Marshall

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at January 13. 2005

I agree - it would be better to have a dialog here as the commenting interface does not lend itself to the long messages that followed this entry.

So, check out the blog and comments, but come back here to discuss.

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at January 13. 2005

><br>

At Marshalls suggestion I am posting a copy of the draft outline of a proposal from the Blog comments:

Our candidates for this common modular plan should be seeking a house in the range of $90-100/sqft and following the Sage's model that would include on site foundation and button up work, but not utilities, permits and other sitework.

The target size for this common modular plan should be a two module design using module space dimensions of 14-15ft wide and 60-62ft long. We can expect variations in that because of varying transport limits and factory bay sizes. A height limit of 12ft should be assumed to avoid a third module for roof volume. This results in a house of approximately 1600-1800 sqft which should plan out to a 3 bedroom, 2 bath arrangement with fairly generous living spaces.

I think its a leap for a group of 6 parties to enter into a design process hoping to come out with a result that all 6 feel meets their needs and taste - one design, six custom houses. I can offer that the planning will be in keeping with the common sense of my other designs, and the aesthetic a progression of the design themes I have been developing.

So that is the first filter - does this meet your program?


And the description of materials that would typify a house in this cost range:

Lets look at some of these items with the question in mind - are these things that I would be satisfied with in order to reach my cost goal. Keep in mind that this is a hypothetical material selections and it does not reflect the Sage's house, but is a combination of standard offerings from their manufacturer and other items which I have identified. (I will contrast these to materials we see in other prefab offerings)

Exterior of the house:

siding materials: vinyl or painted cement boards (vs galvalume, corten steel, wood)
roofing materials: asphalt shingles (vs metal roofing, flat/roof deck assembly)
windows: vinyl windows (vs aluminum, wood, clad wood)
exterior doors: fiberglass (vs solid wood, stainless steel)

Interior of the house:

wall finishes: painted gypsum wall board
major floor finishes: sheet flooring, carpet (vs hardwood, bamboo)
kitchen cabinets: knock-down cabinets like Ikea (vs solid wood construction)
kitchen countertops: plastic laminate (vs solid surfacing as corian, stone)
custom casework: knock-down casework like Ikea (vs custom fabrications)
bathroom fixtures: american standard brand (vs Kohler or other up-market fixture)
bathroom finishes: sheet flooring (vs ceramic tile)
interior doors: masonite faced (vs solid wood, wood veneered)

Is this is the reality of building at this price point? The Sage's house will be between 60-70$/sqft with the addition of a good amount of sweat equity on their part. If all of their self installed materials happened in the factory they would be looking at between 90-100$sqft. Many of the materials in my hypothetical list are less expensive than the Sage's choices. So it is clear we can reach this today, readily. We know at least that much with this factory.


><br>

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Marshall Mayer at January 13. 2005

Greg,

I think this is a good start. But a few things would need to be clarified first:

  1. Shouldn't we be attempting to define what is in the $90-100/sf target in the same way that traditional architects and/or builders do, so that consumers can compare apples to apples? I'm not sure that the "Sage model", as currently defined, gives us that. But then again, I don't think she received much comment on her blog question along these lines last week.
  2. Having said that, how would you accommodate for vast differences in terrian that the foundation would require in this price point model? Stem wall foundation costs will vary tremendously based on a number of factors, not the least of which are the terriain (steep vs flat) and the cost of local labor (urban infill vs desert). The "one size fits all" implied by the "Sage model" may not reflect actual reality for many consumers. In much of California (at least where modernists want to a primary residence), the sloped lots are all that's left, and their foundation prices could be 1/3 of your current target price point. Similarly, how would you account for transportatino and installation costs in this cost model?
  3. I would think that to get to any economies of scale, to reach the "affordable" price point, even on six units, that standard module dimensions would have to be adhered to. If there is any variation, the engineering and construction costs go up (not to mention the design costs). Similarly, the actual floor plan would be standard. Move a wall from the standard floor plan and all bets are off on meeting the price point. Finally, interior and exterior finish options should be minimized and costed to ensure that they are very similar in price. Want something else? OK, then there's no guarantee getting to that price point.
  4. Is $90-100/sf, however that is defined, really the sweet spot of affordable modernism? We've always said that "affordable" is what the market will bear, to eliminate the price point difference between modern and traditional options, but definied by the modernist market (i.e., customers). I'd be interested in knowing if this price point is still too high. I suspect it is. Perhaps we need to do a poll.

Anyway, these are a few thoughts (reposted with better formatting from your blog).

Marshall

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at January 13. 2005

><br>

And this is Marshall's comments on the proposal in italics which I will respond to:

Shouldn't we be attempting to define what is in the $90-100/sf target in the same way that traditional architects and/or builders do, so that consumers can compare apples to apples? I'm not sure that the Sage model, as currently defined, gives us that. But then again, I don't think she received much comment on her blog question along these lines last week.

Yes, but we are certainly not that far yet - first lets see if people want to learn more about the idea. A big part of achieving the low cost is working with the palette of materials in the work flow of the factory. So we can make up a hypothetical material list based on Irontown for instance but it will only be relevant if interested parties can use them, are in their serviced region.

Having said that, how would you accommodate for vast differences in terrian that the foundation would require in this price point model? Stem wall foundation costs will vary tremendously based on a number of factors, not the least of which are the terriain (steep vs flat) and the cost of local labor (urban infill vs desert). The one size fits all implied by the Sage model may not reflect actual reality for many consumers. In much of California (at least where modernists want to a primary residence), the sloped lots are all that's left, and their foundation prices could be 1/3 of your current target price point.

Yes, clearly the foundation is a variable. The Sages found a relatively flat lot that had other liabilities as we can see from the recent rain. But sloped sites are going to compound the foundation costs. Again I think this is something that needs to be distilled out of the customer set. If people step forward that are in California and are all facing sloping sites then from the outset the mission will be a compact footprint that can minimize foundation costs. California has a high local labor cost which makes a prefab from a distance even more appealing - I would not be surprised if that was where interest arose.

Similarly, how would you account for transportatino and installation costs in this cost model?

Again a variable, but Sarah has included transport in her numbers.

I would think that to get to any economies of scale, to reach the affordable price point, even on six units, that standard module dimensions would have to be adhered to. If there is any variation, the engineering and construction costs go up (not to mention the design costs). Similarly, the actual floor plan would be standard. Move a wall from the standard floor plan and all bets are off on meeting the price point. Finally, interior and exterior finish options should be minimized and costed to ensure that they are very similar in price. Want something else? OK, then there's no guarantee getting to that price point.

Yes, obviously if there is a change to metal roofing it represents a deviation that will drive cost up. But moving a partition to make one bedroom bigger, widening a doorway to make a study of a bedroom, we found Irontown to be very flexible in this regard. These are things that do not alter the engineering of the modules.

But I am coming at it from the opposite mind set as you Marshall. You are accustomed to managing the Glide House options and quoting the prices to the buyers. I am selling house plans where this is all in the customers responsibility - the product is loosely defined so they can make it fit their budget. This needs to be somewhere in between. I'll work with the manufacturer to optimize the base cost. People are free to ratchet it up at their discretion from there. If I can convince you to be involved you can take this on!

Is $90-100/sf, however that is defined, really the sweet spot of affordable modernism? We've always said that affordable is what the market will bear, to eliminate the price point difference between modern and traditional options, but definied by the modernist market (i.e., customers). I'd be interested in knowing if this price point is still too high. I suspect it is. Perhaps we need to do a poll.

I don't know if it is - this is the question at hand. If it is still too much then we all just have to wait.


><br>

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Jesse Leary at January 13. 2005

I'd like to hear folks' reactions to Greg's materials questions. (My own reaction isn't particularly helpful. I'm looking in an area - close-in DC suburbs - where the land is so valuable that other aspects of the cost of housing are secondary.)

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Zachary Anderson at January 13. 2005
there are all kinds of creative ways to use those materials. Exterior of the house: siding materials: i think it has been pretty well established that hardi-board can be cool. also, roofing felt and shingles have been used as siding before, with great results.
roofing materials: for a flat roof, of simple trusses, you could have it delivered sheathed (standard materials), then roll on something like acrylink.
windows: personally, i don't know what the deal is with everyone hating vinyl windows. what is that about? could someone explain?
exterior doors:if you build so a sliding door is your front door, then this should cease to be an issue (i know that there is a security issue here, and you would have to use vinyl, like the windows).

Interior of the house:

wall finishes: drywall white is modern. what about some thin plywood, too? couldn't modular builders do plywood?
major floor finishes: sheet flooring has a lot to offer these days, and there are a lot of "green" products there. is there any way to build modular on a slab (stained concrete floor)?
kitchen cabinets: yeah, it would be vital to keep cabinet costs to a minimum, and i think most people seeking a low-priced alternative could deal with ikea, at least until they could upgrade some day.
kitchen countertops: formica has tons of cool laminates. Mark likes red, and if the cabinet design was right, it could be a minimalist white, too. i was looking online at some older modernist houses, and it seems they were not afraid to use normal products like this in the kitchen. if we stop being such kitchen-snobs, then we could take off a large portion $/sf price.
custom casework: again, ikea-ish solutions can be worked out, or what about built-in stuff from the builder, out of mdf and the sort?
bathroom fixtures: again, we have all become kitchen snobs and bathroom snobs. my butt knows not whether it is on a high-end toilet or a gas-station equivalant. same when i'm sitting in the tub.
bathroom finishes: linoleum (sp?) can be really cool. i don't know how much it costs, but would this be more affordable than tile?
interior doors: maybe do sliding doors made of a simple sheet of mdf with formica. you don't even need more hardware than a drawer pull and the hanging track/rollers if you do this.

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Jeffrey Rous at January 13. 2005

How much do tradional designs by these manufactured housing companies cost per sq. ft.? I think they have become quite successful at that price per sq. ft. Say you find a modern design would cost x% more per sq. ft. than a traditional one. The question then becomes whether there is a large enough market of people willing to pay x% more for a modern design. If x is 5%, then I think the answer will be yes. If it is 40% more, than I think not.

Of course, the answer depends on how great the modern design is. If the design result is a double wide with a butterfly roof and flat panels doors, 1x4 mdf base mold, Schlage round commercial door knobs and vinyl siding, then I'm not sure too many will be impressed. But, if a 20% higher price gets you two rectangular forms that are stacked at a 90 degree angle from each other (like the Dwell house) or they are placed at 30 deg. angle to each other forming a courtyard, or if you stack them but offset them to form a 160 sq. ft. second floor roof deck on one end and a screen porch on teh first floor of the other end or offest them sideways so there is a 7' wide (60' long) second floor roof deck on one side and a 7' wide (60' long) covered porch on the other, or there is something else that really makes the house cool, then I think it will be a winner.

To work, I think this thing has to create a fundamentally different experience from other choices.

As far as an acceptable pallet, I think painted cement board trumps vinyl siding (unless there is some vinyl siding out there I do not know about). How cheap is sheet vinyl flooring? Linoleum is about $5 per sq. ft. installed, but that is probably still double what vinyl is. In every other way, I think the pallet listed is a great one.

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Marshall Mayer at January 13. 2005
Not to belabor the point (I come at this from a marketing perspective), but the other cost that would have to be factored into target of $90-100/sf (and picking up from a comment in your blog), is sweat equity. I agree with you, the assumption should that the owner will want minimal opportunity to contribute sweat equity. But someone has to do all of the management of the project (usually the role of the general contractor or architect in traditional custom residential building). Is that cost also factored into the $90-100/sf target price?

Marshall

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at January 13. 2005

Jeff,
This may just be a factor of the way IronTown does business, but I don't believe there was any artificial mark up for a modern house. There were additional engineering costs that you would not have with a house they have built before, but I think they treated the Sages on the level. A house destined for California carried a higher unit price to anticipate stricter codes, but I saw nothing to make me think the style of the house was a cost penalty.

Marshall,
You are absolutely right - project management is another area that the Sages have invested Sweat in their project. And in this proposal I think that this is something the buyers have to be prepared for - unless again, I can persuade you to participate and the buyers will see the value in that! In any case you can see from the blogs here that even the purchaser of the Glide House has their hands full of things they have to manage on their end, from site work to septic.

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Marshall Mayer at January 13. 2005

><br>[quote:lavardera format="text/plain"]And this is Marshall's comments on the proposal in italics which I will respond to:
> <br>Shouldn't we be attempting to define what is in the $90-100/sf target in the same way that traditional architects and/or builders do, so that consumers can compare apples to apples? I'm not sure that the "Sage model", as currently defined, gives us that. But then again, I don't think she received much comment on her blog question along these lines last week.
> <br>Yes, but we are certainly not that far yet - first lets see if people want to learn more about the idea. A big part of achieving the low cost is working with the palette of materials in the work flow of the factory. So we can make up a hypothetical material list based on Irontown for instance but it will only be relevant if interested parties can use them, are in their serviced region.[/quote]
> <br>My point was not so much about the palette, in comparing apples to apple, but in what actually is included in the apple price. It's a methodological questions to that we can be sure that we are actually meeting the right price point.
> <br>[quote]Having said that, how would you accommodate for vast differences in terrian that the foundation would require in this price point model? Stem wall foundation costs will vary tremendously based on a number of factors, not the least of which are the terriain (steep vs flat) and the cost of local labor (urban infill vs desert). The "one size fits all" implied by the "Sage model" may not reflect actual reality for many consumers. In much of California (at least where modernists want to a primary residence), the sloped lots are all that's left, and their foundation prices could be 1/3 of your current target price point.
> <br>Yes, clearly the foundation is a variable. The Sages found a relatively flat lot that had other liabilities as we can see from the recent rain. But sloped sites are going to compound the foundation costs. Again I think this is something that needs to be distilled out of the customer set. If people step forward that are in California and are all facing sloping sites then from the outset the mission will be a compact footprint that can minimize foundation costs. California has a high local labor cost which makes a prefab from a distance even more appealing - I would not be surprised if that was where interest arose.
> <br>Similarly, how would you account for transportatino and installation costs in this cost model?
> <br>Again a variable, but Sarah has included transport in her numbers.[/quote]
> <br>That's why we need to be consistent on the methodology. Irontown can serve any state in the intermountain west and west coast from Provo. Sara's transport and install costs will be different than someone building in Seattle. A small footprint home (i.e., 2-story) will require a crane, which may or may not be required in Sara's situation (I just don't know). If it's built into the price of each home, then you are comparing apples to oranges.
> <br>
>[quote]<i>I would think that to get to any economies of scale, to reach the "affordable" price point, even on six units, that standard module dimensions would have to be adhered to. If there is any variation, the engineering and construction costs go up (not to mention the design costs). Similarly, the actual floor plan would be standard. Move a wall from the standard floor plan and all bets are off on meeting the price point. Finally, interior and exterior finish options should be minimized and costed to ensure that they are very similar in price. Want something else? OK, then there's no guarantee getting to that price point.<i>
> <br>Yes, obviously if there is a change to metal roofing it represents a deviation that will drive cost up. But moving a partition to make one bedroom bigger, widening a doorway to make a study of a bedroom, we found Irontown to be very flexible in this regard. These are things that do not alter the engineering of the modules. [/quote]
> <br>Even those minor changes will drive up the cost, though I was thinking more of changes like moving a partition to make a bedroom bigger *that also contains plumbing* (or some similar change), which is entirely possible when dealing with 14' wide modules. If Irontown is flexible, great, but they are not eating that cost increase of deviating from the standard plan. It's A certain amount of variation is likely already built into their pricing, which everyone pays for whether they deviate from the standard plan or not.
> <br>[quote]But I am coming at it from the opposite mind set as you Marshall. You are accustomed to managing the Glide House options and quoting the prices to the buyers. I am selling house plans where this is all in the customers responsibility - the product is loosely defined so they can make it fit their budget. This needs to be somewhere in between. I'll work with the manufacturer to optimize the base cost. People are free to ratchet it up at their discretion from there. If I can convince you to be involved you can take this on![/quote]
> <br>I'm not actually coming at this from the Glidehouse perspective, though of course my experience influences my approach. What I'm interested in is finding the sweet spot, the balance between what a lot people want and what a lot people are willing to pay for. A worthy goal for anyone interested in getting into this market. But building an affordable modernist home *product* is easier said than done, as any producer in this market will attest. Where I want us to be clear is that if we are trying to meet a certain price point, however that is defined, that it is well defined and transparent, so the consumer can make informed choices about which way to go when selecting between modular and traditional building (or SIPs/flatpacks/kits, etc.), between various modular solutions, etc.
> <br>[quote]Is $90-100/sf, however that is defined, really the sweet spot of affordable modernism? We've always said that "affordable" is what the market will bear, to eliminate the price point difference between modern and traditional options, but definied by the modernist market (i.e., customers). I'd be interested in knowing if this price point is still too high. I suspect it is. Perhaps we need to do a poll.
> <br>I don't know if it is - this is the question at hand. If it is still too much then we all just have to wait.[/quote]
> <br>I'm sure we'll hear from folks on this. Again, we could do a poll, in this forum or on the LiveModern home page. Either way, I'm sure we'll learn something valuable. Realistically, we'd be doing many modernists in major housing markets a big favor if we could meet that price point, even if it is loosely defined.
> <br>Marshall
><br>

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at January 13. 2005

Your points are all well taken Marshall, but I can't begin to spend the time required to be more specific at this point, until we measure a pool of interest. It may in fact lead to a point where the price can not be made low enough for the interested parties. But nobody seems to have driven for this yet, and even if it fails we will benefit by finding out exactly which variable was driving the cost up. This is the at the heart of it - everybody taking on some risk of failing and by spreading it around it makes the cost of trying low enough that we can make the attempt. Otherwise it does not seem that anyone has been willing to take a stab at this.

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Marshall Mayer at January 13. 2005
[quote:lavardera format="text/plain"]Marshall, You are absolutely right - project management is another area that the Sages have invested Sweat in their project. And in this proposal I think that this is something the buyers have to be prepared for - unless again, I can persuade you to participate and the buyers will see the value in that! In any case you can see from the blogs here that even the purchaser of the Glide House has their hands full of things they have to manage on their end, from site work to septic.[/quote] To clarify from my experience, Michelle Kaufmann Designs ensures that the modular portion of the Glidehouse building project is as streamlined as possible, and we find that our customers value that highly. Many are two wage-earner families with kids, many others are right-sizers, approaching retirement age . Neither group has a lot of expertise or free time to provide their own project management for the modular portion of the project. Since MKD is not a general contractor, site construction is another matter entirely. Our customers have another contract with either a general contractor or a bunch of trades which they have to manage. Of course, coordination between the Glidehouse Team and whomever the owner chooses is a given, but it is a built in cost of the home. I think most current entrants, being architects with viable products or not, in the modern modular field, are following a similar approach. Being architects, customer service is key, and I think they are right to focus on this because our customers want it. But this is an attitude that you will not find very often in the modular home industry. Irontown maybe one noteworthy exception, but an architect probably still needs to be involved in the process, and thus paid by someone. Marshall

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Marshall Mayer at January 13. 2005
[quote:lavardera format="text/plain"]Your points are all well taken Marshall, but I can't begin to spend the time required to be more specific at this point, until we measure a pool of interest. It may in fact lead to a point where the price can not be made low enough for the interested parties. But nobody seems to have driven for this yet, and even if it fails we will benefit by finding out exactly which variable was driving the cost up. This is the at the heart of it - everybody taking on some risk of failing and by spreading it around it makes the cost of trying low enough that we can make the attempt. Otherwise it does not seem that anyone has been willing to take a stab at this.[/quote] Your proposal has been out there for a very short time (about a day?), so let's give it time. Perhaps the way to proceed then is to not define the specific price point, but to be clear that the solution will be as cost effective as possible by looking at all ways to reduce costs, and that the initial clients will actually realize cost savings by not going it alone in their quest to get into an affordable modernist home. The risk is mitigated by the group approach. Marshall

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Jesse Leary at January 13. 2005

Are you going to try to supply the low-cost end of the prefab/modular modern house market? Or are you just trying to get a discussion going about what's really important to people who want to live in a modern house?

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at January 13. 2005

jleary, I'm not sure if we know the answer to that yet! It started with a discussion, but its moved to this proposal.

Marshall - I understand what you are saying about service and I agree. But inventing a process right now seems more challenging than inventing the house. I don't think it is feasible to do this with a whole business model conceived from the get go. I am not ready to say I am going to commit to a role in a product as Michelle has. I'd rather let the results of a first effort inform what is demanded there. Perhaps the first comers need to be straddling the line a bit - not interested in doing labor, but willing to do management. Unless of course somebody else is willing to pickup the management roll and they are willing to pay them.

I am trying to be a catalyst here. I don't want to sell them the house. They can buy it directly from the factory, I don't really care. Or go through CRG - Irontown is affiliated with them - if they want management. If by doing this I can help by developing the house then I just need the cash flow that I am able to do it. Maybe it is a product down the line - I can't look that far ahead with it yet.

Apples to Apples

Posted by Sara R. Sage at January 13. 2005

I looked at our invoice and I wanted to let you know what our cost was and what it includes.

Cost is not to exceed $98,904 for 1446 s/f home- We think it will be less when we get our final contract. They estimated on the high side for purposes of our budget.

Some items that are included:

Delivery (Three trucks from Provo to Los Angeles I think is a $15,000 line item)

Engineering and CA inspections (a $7800 line item)

Metal roofing

Vinyl double sided windows (we have lots of windows compared to a standard modular)

In floor heating

Tankless water heater

Ducting for the evaporative cooler

shower and bath

A nice entry door

Excluded:

Craning

Stitching -or "button up"

Architect's Fees- This is a custom home

Paint -We asked them to prime the only since we want no-VOC paint and they have a hard time sourcing this in Utah

Light Fixtures- We're picky and we'll install these on site since we think it's a relatively easy thing to do

Flooring- We're installing click-lock cork floors. A lot of time hard-wood, laminate, and click lock flooring has to be added on site since there is a risk that it will crack in transport.

Siding- We chose Hardi panel/board. It is also standard to install the hardi panel on site since it is brittle and there is a large risk of it cracking when it is transported and craned in place.

Doorknobs- Also an aesthetic decision. We plan to choose this hardware ourselves since they're really easy to put on and the wrong doorknobs could easily spoil the desin.

Kitchen Sink/Fixtures- We're installing Ikea cabinetry since it's (relatively) easy for us to obtain and intall. There are no Ikeas in Utah and I didn't want to risk that the cabinets would be something that I would hate if it was chosen at the factory.

Bathroom sink/fixtures

Toilets- Toilets in modular homes are often installed on site.

Closets- We're placing a wardrobe in each bedroom.

I hope this gives you a better idea of our cost. I don't really know how it compares to other modulars since I am not sure what other products include. I think it would be interesting to explore a modular home that addresses flexibility of cost. If we really wanted, we could've had these things installed by the factory. It certainly would have been doable, but we have a strict and tight budget, so installing these ourselves was our compromised solution. I hope that people won't look at this and compare it with the cost of other modular products without realizing what each package includes.

-Sara

  1. s. cost of finishing the floors, siding, fixtures etc. will be about $16,000 to $17,000. [em]Not including labor/design costs for installing/organizing these items.[/em] We've chosen DIY friendly products to facilitate our finishing period with ease.

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Modren Man at January 13. 2005

Ok let me invade this post with my steel building kool aid cocktail. Today I was at work where we have some large commercial steel buildings used for worskshop and laboratory space. I looked over one of the building's interior and overall construction, which was a bit odd because previously I'd never really given it much thought. It just does its job everyday, with no complaint and virtually no maintenance. In fact, I'd say the only maintenance that it ever seems to need is when the heater acts up (which is rarely) or when the electric overhead hoist derails itself (which happens fairly frequently). But the building itself is 15 years old and is standing strong and basically is maintenance free.

The interior is pretty ugly. No windows, exposed steel beams painted in an iron oxide looking primer red. The insulation was torn in places and covered with a layer of dust and grime and sort of billows out from between the steel frames as whitish, 'plasticy' looking reinforced poly bags. Galvanized electrical conduit is exposed with receptacles bolted to the steel members in a very spartan and utilitarian manner. The floor was a plain troweled concrete, replete with oil spots where the forklifts and engines are parked. The exterior was typical of a steel building, bolted steel sheets, an ugly baby bluish color. A standard A framed roof with galvanized standing seam steel, which actually was probably the most attractive feature of the building (as well as being damned functional).

But you know what? I saw potential the more I looked at it. What if a little effort was put into rectifying the offending parts? What if:

1. The insulation was changed so that it was either (a) covered with thin metal panels, or (b) a solid foam block type was used that could be painted or otherwise covered in an aesthetically pleasing (and fire retardant) manner? SIP's may be a possibility, but from what I'm hearing, SIP's are way more expensive than using conventional insulation.

2. The structural members and beams are actually painted a decent color instead of a simple primer. Personally I think I'd prefer a simple matte black to contrast whatever color the insulation (or it's steel cover) is. But boldly painting them other colors would be cool too. An apple green contrasted against silver bubble reflective insulation? Maybe it's not for everyone, but I think there are some very futuristic, stylish and interesting combinations possible.

3. The concrete floor could be pizzazzed pretty cheaply. Why not throw in a few extra bucks and have it polished? And maybe even have some green or blue or red pigment thrown in during the mixing and pouring process?

4. The A frame roofs are not very modern looking (in my opinion)...but steel buildings can easily be constructed with flat or leaning roofs. And it's just as cheap as an A frame roof (if not cheaper). Plus some of the standing seam steel roofs are very functional and very long lasting. And even with A frame roofs, I've seen some cool looking modern homes (in Dwell even) with A frames and steel sheathing.

5. I think the exposed conduit can be polished to be chrome like. Combine this with upgraded, stylish (polished) receptacles and I think they would look awesome against black structural members (or painted whatever color). Ductwork, same thing. I think exposed polished ductwork hung, routed and secured with high quality/aesthetically pleasing hardware and vents would look tremendous contrasted against the steel work and insulation. Even any exposed plumbing could be made of copper (yes just a bit more than PVC in $$), and again polished and clearcoated. I think it would look smashing.

6. Add some windows - ok I know windows are expensive, so I guess some serious compromises would have to be made to keep within the affordable zone, but whatever the budget dictates put them in. And if possible throw in a strategic skylight here or there, although I know they can be prone to leaking. Also, these building are very easy to equip with a rollup door. Not something you would normally see in a living room or kitchen area, but wouldn't that be cool to be able to open up a 12' high opening in the kitchen to the outdoors on pleasant days? I think so, sure it's different but that's the point.

Anyway, there you have it. The foundation of using an off the shelf steel building for a cheap semi-prefab kit home. I was looking in a magazine I read called Heavy Equipment Trader that had an advertisement for an installed steel building. It said Winter Special, 50x75x14 with (3) 10x12 rollup doors, 1 walk in door, insulated and erected on a 4 inch slab, $59,000. And that's installed! Now, I know this is not a habitable structure...but it would seem to me that if you halved the size of this structure, provided the upgrades mentioned above, with only 1 rollup door, 3 walk in doors, and a few windows, a heat pump, a basic kitchen (with 'Lowes like' components), two bathrooms and two framed bedrooms...then I would think you should still be in the neighborhood of $100k.

Ok...does my kool aid have Absolut in it? (I know it must...haha!)

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at January 13. 2005

Ha! I wish more people had your enthusiasm for an inexpensive steel framed house. We're going to tackle that one too, no doubt. :)

I am going to re-draft the proposal tonight and try to make more clear. Lets see if anybody will take this seriously.

this is a *great* idea!

Posted by Ami McElroy at January 13. 2005

I think this is a great idea. If I wasn't already in the middle of building the Glidehouse, I would get on board right away.

A well-designed, 3 bed 2 bath residence with modernist tendencies was always what we were in search of. That let's you have 1 kid and an office space, or 2 kids and enough rooms for everyone.

As for the description of materials, I think you're right on track. The bamboo floors and slate counters in the Glidehouse are awesome, but I would have made the compromise for laminate and Marmoleum for a lower price point.

When we first moved to Seattle, we rented a little 2 bed 1 bath apartment owned by architects. They had come in and gutted the whole thing, put in a loft on a steel beam, redid the small kitchen in Ikea cabinets and Marmoleum and put together a nicely-designed tiled bathroom. They did it cost-effectively and it was a great little place.

I can't believe that people aren't jumping to check out this idea more closely. Yes, I agree with Marshall that there are some big variables when it comes to the foundation/sitework (especially sloped vs. flat). But I would think that even in the Puget Sound area where you can still find land for under $100k, there would be 5 or 6 people interested in investigating the possibilities.

All I want is areasonable mortgage, a warm house, low monthly bills and space for my family to hang out together. I'm getting that with the Glidehouse, though admittedly the project was more expensive than I had originally intended. You're offering all those same benefits, with the opportunity to achieve a nice price point to boot.

Let me say one thing about "sweat equity" and why those are scary words. For those who have no prior construction experience (like me), I *want* to put in sweat equity but I don't know how nor do I want to experiment/screw upon something big like my house. Is there any type of sweat equity manual that could help those of us not blessed with the knowledge of the construction process so we can help make our projects more affordable?

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at January 13. 2005

Ok, let me frame this again in light of the days discussion. Everyone tends to think about the big implications of an idea like this, but I want to ground it in the here and now and what the people who might be interested in it are going to be concerned about.

Here goes: Draft 2

I am proposing to design a common modular house plan for a group of cooperating clients who will share the cost of development. The idea is to gain access to a lower cost prefab paradigm by sharing the development costs, preventing a single individual from bearing all development costs and hence defeating the cost advantage.

The process.

This is going to be more like a traditional architect/owner relationship than it will be like a house buying experience, except the trade off for the fractional cost will be less control on the outcome of the design. It will not be like having a custom house designed for you, but you will able to offer feedback in a group forum for all to share in the process. I will endeavor to reach a design solution that makes the least compromises, but the participants must realize that the outcome may only reflect certain aspects of their input. In order to offer some predictability as to where the design might go I will offer that the house will build on design themes common to my stock house plans.

Right now this premise is based on the experience of the Sages working with the Irontown Homes modular factory in Provo Utah. Based on that I believe we can achieve a sub 100$/sqft base cost using the assumptions for certain variables such as transport, engineering, permits based on the Sages values for their house transported to California. See Sara's breakdown above for more reference to these items. For people outside this factory's territory another factory will have to be identified. I will assist the clients in the interactions with any other factory in a similar manner to working with Irontown. This is obviously a big unknown and I would recommend anybody considering this to do some serious homework on suitable factories serving their area beforehand. The more of the houses that could be built in the same factory the better as all will benefit from the repetition. I will not be guaranteeing a square footage cost, but rather working with you and the factories to achieve a cost as close as possible to their status quo within the design we propose. I will not be selling you the house - everyone will contract directly with the factory themselves. My role will be to facilitate just as I did with the Sages. I will not be managing the entire process and much will fall to the client to coordinate the particulars of their site and installation. The factory will be relied on for preparing for local permitting and detailed engineering particular to the installed location. This will not be the high service buying experience of the Glide House. It is assumed that interested parties are motivated individuals willing to manage their project, however not prepared or able to execute construction work themselves.

The house

The target size for this common modular plan should be a two module design using module space dimensions of 14-15ft wide and 60-62ft long. We can expect variations in that because of varying transport limits and factory bay sizes. A height limit of 12ft should be assumed to avoid a third module for roof volume. This results in a house of approximately 1600-1800 sqft which should plan out to a 3 bedroom, 2 bath arrangement with fairly generous living spaces.

Materials incorporated into the house will be strongly related to the offerings of the factory as this is a primary mechanism for keeping the cost low. We will work through a material palette during the design process to establish a base cost. Individuals may elect to upgrade items with the factory and of course they will price it accordingly. I anticipate a modest material palette in keeping with the list I presented in the opening post of this thread. I see this as an interactive process with all involved and the factory. The base cost will be my primary focus, but anything turned up in the process could find its way in on an individual basis.

The most difficult aspect of this is committing to an unknown design in a process with limited input. The low upfront cost in the only way to mitigate this risk. I can offer that the planning will be in keeping with the common sense of my other designs, and the aesthetic a progression of the design themes I have been developing. A detailed review of my stock plan designs would be recommended.

I will essentially be providing a schematic design, plans, elevations, sections, dimensioned and to scale as well as other illustrations which the factory will use as a basis to engineer and fabricate the house. I would also develop a prototype foundation plan which would be something workable for a generic level site, and a dimensional starting point for a foundation design for a sloping site or site with other more complex issues. These are not complete detailed construction documents as would be used to pull a building permit on a site built house.

The clients

The site is a difficult question in this process. In shopping for a prefab you can take the known design and search for a site. If you have a site you can evaluate known designs against it. In our case a given site may be to great a liability to put on the other participants. I have not thought this through completely but I suspect it may be better to come into the process without a site and begin to search when the house begins to take shape. If you have been in the process of looking the insight you have gained on lot sizes, setbacks, and dimensional limits dictated by what you have seen will be valuable input.

The location/factory is another variable in the process. I am inclined to limit it to Irontown's serviceable region because it is so much more of a known quantity at this point, but this is a conclusion that can not be reached until we see the geographic location of interested parties. Quantity is another factor in this consideration as we want to build several houses at a factory to gain some economy.

I have no idea what to expect, no interest, or great interest. The size of the group must be limited or there will be less and less chance of satisfying everyone. We also have to consider the locations. A group that can use a common factory stands to be a more successful endeavor than a lone participant with one house at a given factory. We will just have to see how it plays out and hopefully it will self select.

The cost

As you might expect I have no idea how to predict my time for a process like this, and hence it makes if almost impossible for me to predict a realist charge for the service. I don't think any amount of study or consideration will change that so I am forced to go with my gut. The cost per individual must be low enough relative to the house cost that people will risk the open ended design process and my thought is 2,000 - 2,500 per individual would be low enough to make it appealing. As far as the number of people, the advantage in construction wants more, but managing the process wants less. I think 5-6 would be the greatest number I would want to handle, and a maximum of two factories with at least 2 houses at one factory. That would be 12-15,000 total. I have not thought much about the mechanics of it but I suppose an escrow service could be used to manage payments.

Ok, so there is a more detailed and more considered proposal. I don't know if I really believe people will step up to do this, and I wonder if I am only brave enough to propose it because of those doubts, but I think it is valuable to try and think the scenario through. We have to be proactive if we want to change the market, brave, and faithful in each other in many ways. Casual visitors here may not realize how far people involved in this have extended themselves. The creation of Dwell magazine, the creation of LiveModern, the Fabprefab web site, the new modern houses for sale, the projects represented on the blogs here, these early efforts to make modern more available have all involved big risks and leaps of faith. In that context this proposal is not that far fetched at all.

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Marvel Smith at January 14. 2005

I also posted this on fabprefab.

I really appreciate this question coming from architect/builder. Greg I am for sure no expert but a consumer. I'm the kind of consumer who needs a turnkey situation instead of pitching in to build half the thing myself in order to save some money.

A big part of me thinks that if you build it they will come. Look at what the track homebuilders do and even many manufactured home builders do. They buy a large plot of land in a decent area and divide it up into lots (manufactured home builder do acre lots quite a bit) and put a selection of houses on it (the so called Master Planned).

Maybe one needs to start in a particular area while still making it available to those who have the means to ship it across the country to their plot of land. What I mean by this is maybe you get investors together and buy a large plot of land, divide it up into lots and make a little modern community. Get 2 or 3 different architects together with each having their own style yet modern and get started with a set of floorplans from each of you. The same floorplan is not allowed on the same block for instance, which will keep things interesting as one drives through this little modern community. Advertise in the newspapers with something like Have you ever wanted to live a different way? (That was lame but you get the idea). I think you would be surprised at how many people would be interested in such an idea. Most of the people that will be interested don't even know they are interested yet because they have never had the choice before! I didn't know I loved modern until my hubby and I rented a loft for a while.

I think one of the huge problems is that many people have to find their own little plot of land and in many areas it cost mega $$$$ if you want to live in or close the city limits at all. The builders who have the power to buy many acres at one time get each acre fairly cheap! This makes it more affordable for everyone involved. I think we are missing it to only look at cost of material and labor as the only factor to saving even though they are very important.

Start with this and as you generate cash from this venture then slowly but surely take the company across the country into other areas. I know that this may not be the modernist way but it works! I think it can work for pre-fab also!

I also added:

By the way I just want to give you an example. Across the park from where I live is a gated community with McMansions where the average home is over 4000 sq. ft. When they first started building these homes they were going for only $56 a sq. ft! That’s only about $256,000 for the basic house before you add any upgrades! The lots are not that big but then they have they also had 1/4 to 1/2 lots available for 30k-50k more(around $290,000), about $65-$70 sq. ft if the pseudo Spanish style is what you want! Just 3 years later these homes go for around $430,000+. What they did was offer about 5 floorplans with vinyl flooring in the kitchen and baths and the cheapest carpet they could find, basic cabinets, fixtures, lighting and so on, no frills at all, just sq. ft. (This is what you are talking about, a more basic house for less and if they want more they have to pay for it). They had model homes of all the plans dolled up with fireplaces, nice carpet, tile floors, solid surface counter tops and so on. They sold those houses so fast it wasn't funny.

If it works for ugly houses why not for beautiful modern? Can you imagine a modern community of prefabs? I can. :grin: I think that is a good way to start. But like I said, I’m not an expert, just a consumer.

Now I know that being in the West Phoenix area probably has much lower labor cost. For some reason it is much higher in east Phoenix just because Scottsdale is over there!
_________________
smit

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at January 14. 2005

Smit, you address the big picture - if somebody in every place around the country was able to do what you describe then there would be more off the shelf options. We are not there yet. I am trying in my local market for a small modern development. Its not easy to make this happen. A single infill site is looking like the first step. But that is another story.

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Jeffrey Rous at January 14. 2005

I fear that if you go into a room with 5-6 clients (say, 8-12 people, including spouses), and you start with a blank sheet of paper, you will have one heck of a time making any progress. Also, since the design is so abstract at this point, I think it will be hard to get anyone excited about the idea. I hate to suggest this, but perhaps spending a few evenings with Sketchup just playing with possible relationships between the volumes and floor plans and then presenting an exciting and workable design study might attract some people who at least all like the starting point. Heck, this idea is so interesting to me I may play with it on my crude design software, just for kicks.

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Jesse Leary at January 14. 2005

To follow up on Rous's point: someone will have to bear the risk of any given client not being happy enough with the final (collective) plan to go through with it. That is, either the client risks being out their share of your fee with no house to show for it, or you risk not getting paid, or the clients that do go through with it risk getting stuck with a larger share of your fee. Some combination of the three approaches is probably best, as it would give everyone an incentive to agree on a design that made everyone sufficiently happy to not back out. (This is the kind of thing I worry about for my day job - I'm an economist who works on legal issues. I'm seizing the chance to spout off on something I think I know something about.)

But, before worrying too much about how to deal with problems down the road, I think Rous's idea of doing some initial work to show folks what you have in mind would help avoid the problem in the first place. (One way to eliminate the problem would be for you to put forth a finished product, but then you have all the risk that it doesn't sell, and the clients miss out on the chance to have some input.)

Those of us who will be spectators to this project are also excited to see some drawings sooner rather than later, which is an ulterior motive to push you in that direction!

One last thing: it sounds like your life would be a lot easier if you decided from the outset that this will be limited to people who can buy from Irontown, then reevaluate if you can't find enough people in that part of the country.

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Marshall Mayer at January 14. 2005
Greg,

I think your restatement of the proposal is a good one. And I agree with Rous and jleary that a conceptual/visual starting point will probably be necessary to jumpt start the process. Everyone loves a floor plan!

Many of the parameters are known, because you are building modular. You have two building blocks. The fun for everyone comes in how you put them together.

I can imagine a conversation here much as Mark Meyer stimulated recently at fabprefab.com, with an outcome of a half-dozen clients that want to build the consensus design.

Marshall

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at January 14. 2005

This is good feedback. I am not adverse to spending some time to block out rough plans and module strategies, but we have to remember that they may all be rendered moot by some other factor in the process. I can do this but, hmm, this is the chicken and the egg. I would prefer to wait until there was some interest expressed. Not commitment, but serious interest.

I am not sure if the process wants to be in a public forum or not - I think this is something to gage from the participants. Initially I'd share first sketches with individuals rather than throw them up here. I'd ask people not to pile on just to see what I come up with - consider the whole thing carefully.

Mark's courtyard house is an interesting comparison. I'd say I would like it to be driven more by mutual interest rather than the plan stimulating all the interest.

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Zachary Anderson at January 14. 2005

personally, i think newbies coming to a site like livemodern (since most of the people really involved in these conversations already have something in the works) are probably looking for pictures and examples of things that are possible, or at least a list of features and stipulations and such. i know it took me quite some time checking out fabprefab.com and livemodern.com before i was even remotely interested in going to any forums. it seems that people enter the forum area when they have a question to ask, then they might get interested, and become part of the community after that.

all that is to say that these newbies are the people you will have to win over for a project like this.

without ANY idea of what's in it or if there is ANYTHING in it at all, why would someone just jump in to the pool?

...so, joe newguy walks over to livemodern.com, and sees links to designSTUDIO, lamidesign, glidehouse, lv home, ect...how does he easily get to lamidesign's house of the future, and what can you tell him about it? maybe a page/site dedicated just to this project would have to be made up, to REALLY gauge the interest(lamidesign.com/future?, to go with lamidesign.com/plans and lamidesign.com/homepg). there might be people hunting for stuff like this, but i'll bet they won't all be on forums, they are surfing around looking for a site that says this is the alternative to buying stock plans, or do you want to be in on the design of a home, but not have to pay 15%?

Re: Have you wished for a cheaper prefab?

Posted by Gregory La Vardera at January 14. 2005

Zac, no doubt you are right - this is not going to appeal to a newbie. Its going to appeal to somebody that has been looking, is fairly familiar with the offerings, and has concluded that their price range is lower. They may be waiting for some next project to happen and see what the offer price is on the next one. Its definitely a place you have to arrive at - not newbie stuff at all.

But perhaps you have to get to that point to understand that there is certainly something in it. Perhaps it will never fly, and thats fine, but I don't think we need the offering of another prefab home design. There is enough on the table, is'nt there? It's not about the house design, its about from getting from here to there, where there is a lower cost.

So yes, there is no house, now, so what. Really. That's what I face at the outset of every new project. There is a need and a program and there is no house. When Sara and David contacted me a few months ago there was no house. The Something is the process, not the house. There is most definitely something there and I don't think its really hard to understand that.

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