Photo by Lannie Boesiger, courtesy Method Homes
by Elemental Green Staff with updates by Brian Libby
BENEFITS OF PREFAB
The cost of building a custom new home continues to go up. According to HomeAdvisor, the average new home built in the United States was $287,982 in early 2021, but with more aspiring buyers than sellers, that figure is rising. And the alternative, an existing home, is no better bargain. The National Association of Realtors reported in March of 2021 a 17-percent gain gain in existing-home sales prices.
For those seeking a more affordable and sustainable way to own a new home, prefabricated and modular homes offer high-quality design at what’s often a smaller per-square-foot cost. Built in a factory and shipped in pieces to be assembled onsite (or in some cases, built almost in their entirety at a factory), they are more quickly constructed than traditional stick-built homes. Prefabs also offer bold, distinctive style—often by top designers—without hiring an architect and without settling for an unsophisticated house plan.
Although there are high-cost options in the prefab world too, we found 18 that offer good value at their price points. And that’s just the beginning of the long list of benefits that come with deciding to go the prefab route. Learn more about the benefits of prefabs and check out these sustainable options so you can start researching your smart new abode.
Prefab homes are inherently sustainable because they use resources more efficiently: It’s easier to gauge how much material is required for a prebuilt home since the same formula is followed for each model. This means that prefab manufacturing results in far less material waste than traditional builds, thanks to the reduced risk of damage to materials or an unused surplus. And since materials are stored in a factory instead of on a construction site, they’re less likely to be stolen, vandalized, or damaged.
Modular homes are often built as more tightly sealed structures, too, which means that in addition to less material waste, they also waste less energy and can lower your heating and cooling costs, according to the National Association of Home Builders.
Not every house could stand up to the long journey of being shipped from the factory to a homebuilding site. To reinforce the house frame for delivery, Prefab homes require sturdy materials, making them more durable out of the gate than traditionally built homes.
SHORTER CONSTRUCTION TIME
By the time a traditional site is prepared for the building process, a prefab home will already be built. And since building takes place indoors, weather delays won’t pose any problems. The NAHB estimates that modular home projects can be completely finished in around three months.
ACCESS TO SKILLED CRAFTSMEN
Did we mention there’s a shortage of skilled labor among the construction industry? Several factors have contributed to it since the 2009 recession, and the impacts of Covid-19 have only served to compound the issue. Choosing a prefab home automatically connects you to skilled tradesmen at the factory.
LOWER AVERAGE PERMIT VALUE
Permitting, one of the hidden costs of home ownership, delivers better value to prefab homes too. According to the NAHB, permit value is a more useful figure than the home’s sale price. It’s because about 80 percent of prefab homes are built for the owners who will occupy them, “unlike site-built homes that are often built speculatively for sale at some point in the future,” explains Paul Emrath, NAHB vice president for survey and housing policy research.
READY TO EXPLORE? HERE ARE 18 INEXPENSIVE SUSTAINABLE HOMES.
Note: For comparison, we have included base prices at press time. These may have changed. Please check with each manufacturer for current pricing and additional costs involved.
BLU HOMES ORIGIN 1900
Blu Homes offers a variety of houses, including this striking midcentury modern-inspired prefab design with a building compact footprint that makes it versatile in urban settings with modest lot sizes. For the Origin 1900, one of the company’s most popular offerings, cladding options include an all-wood look that dresses up the minimalist forms, or other looks that can make it your own.
The Origin 1900 boasts three bedrooms and two to three baths in just 1,900 square feet, with a number of different configurations to choose from. Models by Blu Homes also strictly adhere to green home regulations around the world, which means that getting planning permission should be a breeze. The company projects approximately 50-percent lower operating costs thanks to its energy-efficient design. The 1900 also comes with the option to incorporate a junior accessory dwelling unit (ADU) for $15,000, turning one of the bedrooms into a self-sufficient space with its own exterior entrance, bathroom and kitchenette that can be rented or used as an in-law suite. The price for the Origin 1900 comes in at about $395,000.
LIVINGHOME 6 SERIES
Santa Monica, California-based Plant Prefab offers two different models in its popular LivingHome series, which was the first in America to achieve LEED platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, and first to use products certified by the respected Cradle to Cradle program such as cork flooring, low-VOC paints and low-flow water fixtures. Not to mention their net zero standards, smart home technology and energy monitoring. Its LivingHome 6 Series is available in two models.
The smaller one, with two bedrooms and one bath at 958 square feet, can be upgraded to three bedrooms and two baths (at 1,288 square feet). The house’s U-shaped configuration spreads natural light. With a base cost of $260,000 for fabrication (about $175 per square foot), it offers plenty of space and outdoor mobility at an affordable price (remember to account for additional site work, transportation and installation, and design, engineering and permitting costs). And for those seeking even more compact design, Plant Prefab’s LivingHome 10 is available, with one bedroom and one bath across 496 square feet for a base price of $180,000 (or $355,000 once you add in the rest of the aforementioned costs).
METHOD HOMES M SERIES
Method Homes is a custom manufacturer of precision-engineered, modern prefabs that can be built to achieve green building certifications like LEED, Living Building Challenge, Passive House, and more. The company also takes a hands-on approach from the outset, consulting with the client and even realtors to determine an ideal site.
The M Series, a collaboration with Seattle-based Prentiss + Balance + Wickline Architects, represents Method’s most affordable prefab selection, starting at $170,000 (not including site work). It features multiple interior and exterior finish options, so the homes are fully adaptable for various sites, locations, and owner needs. Shown here is the M2, a two-bedroom modular house that starts at $280,000 before site and additional costs. Photo by Lannie Boesiger
IDEABOX – SAGE HOUSE
IdeaBox is like the Ikea of prefab houses—the design possibilities are endless! The Salem, Oregon-based company’s designers are experts at using the prefab and modular housing system to create cost-effective, sustainable, and imaginative housing. Each IdeaBox home is designed with sustainable bamboo flooring and energy-efficient construction, and the Sage House is a perfect example. This 1,200-square-foot, two bedroom and two-bath wonder cottage, with a base price of $228,000, is flexible, rugged, and spacious.
While the Sage House isn’t big, it’s definitely not small! A large living space is anchored by a chef-inspired kitchen. Large sliding glass doors open up the whole house to light and fresh air. Two large bedrooms are opposite each other with access via simple openings in the wall, closed off with barn doors. For large living in a smaller, sustainable space, the Sage House is the perfect fit.
ECOCRAFT HOMES – ECOMOD 2.0
EcoCraft uses prefab techniques, but all of their homes are actually custom designs. The floor plans found on their website are just the springboard to help customers dream up their ideal green home–any aesthetic, any size. They use resource-efficient construction methods that produce less than 5 percent material waste—a vast improvement over the 25 percent waste that can result from conventional building techniques.
Starting at $285,000, the homes are extremely energy-efficient through the use of high-performance insulation, smart home monitoring and mechanical systems, and a combination of passive and active solar systems. They also incorporate a wide array of materials that are both renewable and recyclable, as well as materials that are ageless and long-lasting.
The three-story, 2,500-square-foot EcoMod 2.0 incorporates outdoor spaces on every level, while offering three bedrooms and two and a half baths. Total prices vary according to site and other conditions, but the company’s website says to expect about $190 per square foot.
BAMBOO LIVING HOMES — PACIFIC QUEEN
Bamboo Living homes are the first and only code-certified permitable bamboo structures in the world and their engineering is designed to withstand catastrophic conditions. (One of their homes survived a hurricane with 173 mph winds!) Rather than traditional drywall, all of their homes are clad in Bamboard, an eco-friendly, pressure-treated and laminated split bamboo with a low-VOC protective coating that weatherproofs the bamboo from harsh UV rays and damaging weather. Bamboo is an amazingly sustainable and strong material, and these homes actually sequester climate-change-causing carbon dioxide!
The two-bedroom, two-bath Pacific Queen is a striking three-story, two-bedroom home with a covered wraparound deck on the second floor that adds 500 square feet of space to its 938-foot interior floor plan, along with an optional 160-square-foot loft that can be used as a third bedroom. The Pacific Queen, like other Bamboo Living models, can be built in a hybrid-prefab model (partially constructed traditionally) for a base price of $104,670 or in a fully prefab model for $131,645.
GREENFAB 1200 SERIES
Greenfab builds highly energy efficient, healthy, and sustainable homes and is committed to making them more accessible and affordable for everyone. Homes by this Seattle designer-manufacturer minimize exposure to environmental toxins by increasing air circulation and filtering harmful particulates, while emphasizing VOC-free and formaldehyde-free paints, finishes and adhesives. Thanks to robust insulation, they’re efficient to heat and cool; plus, they feature Energy Star appliances and optional rainwater and greywater systems for water conservation.
Greenfab builds custom homes and has pre-designed options as well. They work with clients from beginning to end, finding land, figuring out a budget, designing the home—everything. They also create a secure website to track every detail about the creation of your home, so you can check in 24/7! The 1200 Series is an elegant blend of space and function using a nice 1,200-square-foot layout with a courtyard feeling. Even with a small 74’-by-40’ footprint you can have up to three bedrooms. Prices vary depending on many variables, but Greenfab estimates $20,000-$80,000 for pre-construction costs and $350 to $500 per square foot for construction costs (based on Seattle-area prices).
CLEVERHOMES CUSTOM PREFABS
CleverHomes combines prefab and modular techniques with custom designs to create whatever a client can dream up, with smart, eye-catching designs by veteran Oakland architect Toby Long. They’re committed to creating green and healthy homes and often incorporate green roofs, water catchment systems, and other sustainable technologies.
They also design many off-the-grid homes. The three-bedroom house pictured here is in Soquel, California, and used siding milled from redwood trees on the property as well as weathered steel siding, and a glass-ensconced great room on the ground floor that makes indoor-outdoor living easy. The company estimates about $500-600 per square foot in total cost including fees, permitting and even landscaping. Its prefabricated portions cost about $200-$300 per square foot. But check with CleverHomes for additional fees related to your site and needs. Photo by Hawkeye Photography
GO HOME BY GO LOGIC
The GO Home line of prefab passive-house dwellings by GO Home (designed to use 80 percent less energy than the average home) has a more traditional aesthetic and can be assembled onsite in less than two weeks. Their portfolio ranges from a 600-square-foot, single-bedroom cottage to a 2,300-square-foot, four-bedroom family home. Clients choose their base model and preferred exterior cladding—fiber-cement clapboard, cedar shingles, charred cedar, or corrugated steel—as well as options for windows, trim, flooring, and interior hardware.
The GO Home base price, ranging from $165,000 for 600 square feet to $609,000 for 2,300 square feet, covers the complete construction of your home (excluding design and site costs), from their slab-on-grade foundation through all finishes. Just as importantly, each prefab design is still, in the company’s eyes, a custom design: a chance to tailor each house to the client’s needs.
ECOCOR PASSIVE HOUSES
Ecocor is dedicated to the construction of environmentally responsible passive houses (meaning they are very energy-efficient). The company builds its own designs, working with architects and owner-builders to build the healthiest, most energy-efficient, resilient homes they can. From design to construction, Ecocor is committed to reducing the ecological impact of the construction process, with 11 models to choose from with a variety of exterior options, including the Passiv Shell option with an extra-robust building envelope for greater energy-efficiency.
Its Solsken series is a great place to start, including the Clover model at 1,051 square feet, two bedrooms and one bath, starting at $271,000. The Goldenrod Morse Court, shown, with an extra bath (and nearly 400 more square feet), is available starting at $364,000 for the Passiv Shell option. Photo courtesy Ecocor
Ark-Shelter was created by architecture students from Belgium who “desire to reinvent how people live their lives.” Simple and elegant boxes bookended with walls of glass, these zero-impact designs connect with nature, are built to last and save energy. On the inside, you’ll find a built-in platform bed adjoining a large picture window, plus a fireplace, table for two, full kitchen, and bathroom. The floor-to-ceiling windows on either side of the structure offer plenty of natural light. Also, with sides that fold open, the home becomes an extension of nature.
Not only does this prefab come fully furnished (with everything from appliances to kitchen utensils), but it can also be shipped and installed practically anywhere. Plus, you can make it completely sustainable with their rainwater collection system (that filters water three times) and solar power panels. The company does not divulge prices, but our research found that the smallest models, the 396-square-foot Shelter S and the 386-square-foot Lodge, have a base price of about $77,000 and $60,000, respectively. Editor’s Note: Ark-Shelter homes currently only ship to Europe.
WEEHOUSE BY ALCHEMY
The weeHouse by Alchemy was inspired by sustainable design principles such as building small and efficiently. Their architects can work with sustainable energy experts to customize your weeHouse with greener materials and systems using active solar, geothermal, green roofs (more on that here), and other sustainable solutions. They range in size and include steel or wooden siding, low-e glass, stainless steel appliances, and in-floor hydronic heating. Take the weeBarnHouse for example, shown here: a combination of three structures including a prefab weeHouse, SIPs-built barnHouse, and a site-built garage. The house features exterior insulation and a rain screen that, together, negate the need for air conditioning. Contact the company for pricing information. Photo copyright Alchemy
DELTEC HOMES CLASSIC 360 COLLECTION
Why not try a circular-shaped house? Deltec Homes helps you achieve your desired level of sustainability: from simple energy efficiency to net-zero and beyond. Each home is built in a factory powered with 100% renewable energy. In the Classic Deltec models, the self-supporting roof system means no load-bearing walls so they can create any floor plan imaginable. The round shape also allows you to capture panoramic views and truly bring the outdoors in, all while remaining shaded. The 360 Collection includes versions starting at a base price of $148,000 for two bedrooms and 1,357 square feet (or $500,000-$710,000 for turnkey), or three bedrooms and 2,070 square feet (shown) at $250,000-$361,000 for the shell (and $780,000-$990,000 for turnkey). Also check out their Renew Collection: pre-designed homes that use two-thirds less energy than a typical home.
SOLALEYA DESIGNS – PEARL
The Pearl by Solaleya Designs is a revolutionary design that employs passive solar techniques to stay cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter. Its unique fabrication techniques and aerodynamic shape—like a dome that’s been partially uncovered on one side, revealing only its wood support structure—allow it to be both earthquake and wind resistant. Its shape is optimized to also take advantage of passive solar heating and cooling. Its website diagrams how the sun hits these homes differently on the summer and winter solstices. When needed, the design is also meant to better protect from harsher weather, but it can also collect rainwater for reuse.
The company’s designs are rooted in biomimetic principles: taking inspiration from natural systems. The Pearl is designed to meet PassivHaus and LEED Platinum certification standards. They have plans ranging from 300 interior square feet to a mind-blowing 4,900 interior square feet, all with lofty terraces and options to customize layout, options and finishes. We couldn’t possibly list all of its cool features, so do yourself a favor and visit Solaleya for more.
BUILD WITH NATURE
Upstate New York’s Build With Nature combines prefabrication and passive house methods with one of nature’s most renewable materials: straw. For centuries, straw has been known as an ideal insulation material, but the bulk of traditional straw bales and concerns about pest infiltration kept the material from going mainstream. But Build With Nature houses make use of EcoCocon prefabricated straw-based panels. The company’s first house, 366 square feet with a 350-square-foot deck, was featured on the Discovery Channel TV show “Living Off-Grid.” Build With Nature now offers what they call kit homes utilizing straw panels. Check their website for pricing. Image credit: EcoCocon building, Photo by Milan Hutera, Courtesy Build With Nature
A Colorado-based maker of Passive House Institute-certified prefab homes founded by siblings Bill and Kate McDonald, Phoenix Haus was inspired by Bill’s extreme allergies and a desire to create a dwelling free of pollen and dust. Its healthy homes are built using the Alpha system: lightweight wood frames insulated with cellulose and wood fiberboard. Phoenix Haus offers a variety of predesigned home packages that can be delivered anywhere in the continental United States.
We like the H 19, Phoenix Haus’s third-smallest model at 1,900 square feet with three bedrooms, two baths and a lofted second floor, starting at an estimated $299 per square foot, excluding land costs. It has sustainable features like triple-pane windows, looks like a contemporary mountain ski cabin and boasts a zero-carbon design that doesn’t off-gas and features a fresh and filtered air system. Fighting climate change never felt so luxurious!
BRIGHT BUILT HOME BUNGALOW
Portland, Maine-based BrightBuilt Home delivers beautiful traditionally-styled prefabricated homes that will not only fit well into any neighborhood but also boast net-zero energy usage thanks to their rooftop solar panels and tightly sealed building envelopes. The smallest option, the Sidekick, works as a very small one to two-bedroom, 560 to 742-square-foot house or as an accessory dwelling unit. For a more medium-sized option, try the Bungalow, at two to four bedrooms and 1,150-1,700 square feet. The company, which does not disclose prices, tailors each prefabricated house to its site and clients through an initial design stage. Photo courtesy BrightBuilt Home
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