Also See:When Prefab Houses Go Green
Gone are the days> when all prefabricated houses looked like drab vinyl shoeboxes, traveling down the highway with a Wide Load banner across the back. Thanks to new eco-friendly designs, modular homes are being given a green, highbrow makeover that cost up to 20 percent less than similarly appointed custom-built abodes. Our reporter dons a hard hat, grabs a drill and helps build one in rural Rhode Island in only nine hours.
The truck from Blu Homes, a prefab outfit based in Waltham, Mass., arrives around 7 a.m. and slowly creeps up the rocky road to owner Lorraine Day s 49-acre lot. In the distance, the home s foundation awaits, and beyond it, the crane that will drop the home in place. The modest 836-square foot abode was largely built in a factory in about one month. A big advantage to factory-built homes: materials are protected from mold and mildew, along with potential vandalism.
A huge crane lifts the folded-up home off the truck and positions it onto the foundation. It takes about five tries to get the house fitting exactly right. Most green modular designs run around $150 to $300 per square foot much less than green custom-built homes.
With the home set on the foundation, the Blu crew, with the help of a crane, slowly unfolds the structure. Because of transport limitations, most modular homes can t exceed 16 feet in width (hence the notorious shoebox image), but Blu s folding technology think lots of hinges allows buildings as wide as 21 feet wide to fold down to 8.5 feet.
Now that the floor is down, it s time to unfold the front wall. Temporary support beams are put up inside to hold it in place before the front wall is connected to the side walls, which will be swung out on hinges from the back section. The siding contains low-VOC paint, and spray-foam insulation helps eliminate drafts and reduce energy costs.
Inside the soon-to-be living room. We re given a drill to help unscrew the temporary supports seen here. It takes us a few tries to get the hang of it. (Hey, we re used to working with pens, not power tools.) But with a little help from Blu crew foreman Tom Dieterich, we finally figure out how to make the drill bit go in reverse.
Here s a side view of the house, almost done. At this point, we ve been invited to climb a rickety ladder in howling winds (oh joy!) up to the slanted side of the roof. Our job? To help attach the crane s heavy chains to the roof s flat front section, so it can be positioned atop the front room. Once attached, the large hunk of wood and steel begins to swing in the wind, causing us to drop to our belly, heart pounding, to avoid being hit.
With most of the major pieces of the home in place by late afternoon, the crew invites owner Day and her partner inside. They hug and shed a few joyful tears before posing in their new front door, which will be installed in coming days, along with the rest of the final touches. Day tells anyone who will listen that she s hoping to power the property some day with back yard wind turbines.
One advantage of green prefab homes is that appliances such as this stainless steel refrigerator, low-flow kitchen sink and wood-laminate cabinets are installed in the factory, cutting on-site labor costs.
The finished result (okay, it was staged by interior designers): a see-through fireplace that brings warmth to the bedroom and living room, cozy rugs accenting the bamboo floor and plenty of natural light to help cut down on heating costs.