Decoding Design

Pricey pitfall of prefab homes

Posting in Architecture

A profile of a couple who built a prefabricated home wonders if prefabricated really is more affordable.

Is a prefabricated house really a smarter choice financially? A New York Times article by Beth Greenfield profiles a couple who bought and built a prefabricated home that turned into their own unexpected version of a moneypit.

The couple, who had inherited land in the Catskills, wanted a home that was modern, minimalist, and affordable; all the usual reasons people choose prefabricated "kit" homes. They found and bought a home kit designed by architect Rocio Romero and hired a contractor. Their 1,450 square foot prefab cottage ended up costing over $100,000 more than they had expected.

The contractor they hired had assured them he could assemble the kit (which includes posts and beams, a plywood roof structure and siding) and complete the entire project for $120,000. But his quote wound up being at least $100,000 too low.

“We finally had to fire him when we were completely broke,” said Ms. Bissell, who was pregnant by then. The house was still about $45,000 away from being ready for a certificate of occupancy. To get it there, the couple cashed in retirement plans, broke out their credit cards and borrowed from family and friends.

While paying $100,000 more sounds outrageous, let's look at the factors that contributed to that "extra" hundred grand.

A quick browse through Rocio Romero's website shows that the architect clearly states a construction price of $120-$195 per square foot, not including infrastructure and sitework costs. A just as quick calculation puts the construction cost for a 1,450 square foot home kit at $175,000 on the low end and $282,750 on the high end. So those are the construction costs a client should expect to pay and a contractor that comes in so much lower should raise a huge red flag.

Prefabricated homes are less expensive than conventional custom houses, but they are not as cheap as people think. The kits need to be assembled, with traditional construction methods and labor. Building and paying for a prefab home requires the same process of getting reliable estimates from knowledgeable contractors and a little bit of research on the part of the homeowners.

Related on SmartPlanet:

In Portland, IKEA inspired prefab homes

NYC SHoP Architects take modular construction to new heights

Texas architecture firm designs prefab, LEED certified homes

A Prefab, Short on the Fab [The New York Times]

Via: Architizer

Image: Rocio Rocero copyright Richard Sprengler

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Sun Kim

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sun Joo Kim is an architect and creative consultant based in Boston. Her projects include design and master planning of museums, public institutions, hospitals, and university buildings across the U.S. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure