What do you get when you combine two of today’s hottest development trends? A green, prefabricated home.
And developers say the combination allows for the best of both worlds. “There’s an allure from consumers and the city to build in a more sustainable way, and prefab can often be a more efficient way to build, particularly for infill lots when you are concerned about neighborhood disruption,” says Steve Glenn, CEO of LivingHomes, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based developer of prefab homes. The firm is in the permitting stage for its latest prefab multifamily creation: A small, 3,864-square-foot project in Los Altos, Calif., that will include three attached units featuring large glass sliding doors and windows and plenty of outdoor space. The project is aiming for LEED Gold certification.
Not surprisingly, California is ground zero for green, prefab development. In July, San Francisco-based prefab developer ZETA Communities completed 610 Lancaster, a four-unit über-green, net-zero energy townhome community in Oakland, Calif. The two-bedroom units feature ground-floor work studios, single-car garages, and a host of green features that have the complex on track to receive LEED Platinum certification this month. “While the modulars were being built in the factory, the site work and foundation was being poured in the fields,” says Andrew Silverman, vice president of real estate and development at ZETA. “A week after the foundation cured, the four modules were bought out and the first one was installed at 9 a.m., the last at 2 p.m. That is not something you can accomplish under traditional construction; it’s one of the wonderful benefits of prefab.”
Silverman estimates that prefab shaves as much as 60 percent to 70 percent off a construction schedule and saves roughly 20 percent on construction costs. These advantages led Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake to build its first modular housing in Maryland earlier this year. East Fayette Street opened its doors mid-October in East Baltimore, Md., unveiling nine Energy Star-rated homes.
While prefab is often associated with small unit counts, such as at East Fayette, the process can be just as effective for larger-sized buildings, Silverman says. ZETA is currently working with a developer to convert an existing plan for a 140-unit, four-story podium project built above a one-story parking garage in Oakland into modular housing to help reduce construction costs. “We’re proving that you can deliver high-quality, energy-efficient, cost-competitive multifamily housing,” he says. “2009 was obviously not a great year for development, but it was a great year for innovation and figuring out ways to deliver projects.”