Pre-fab homes have found a new wave of enthusiasm among eco-minded architects and home builders: It’s a cheaper way to bring sustainable features to the masses. But talk with architects Gordon Stott and Jared Levy, and they’ll tell you that the biggest challenge green pre-fab manufacturers face isn’t the design, but getting those homes around the world. Their company Connect Homes expects to change that, by being the first pre-fab home builder to take advantage of shipping containers as a mode of global transit, allowing them to inexpensively reach consumers anywhere in the world.
As an architect at high-end pre-fab pioneer firm Marmol Radziner in Los Angeles, Stott says he worked on "really crazy complicated homes that were really beautiful," including the first pre-fab house to ever be featured in GQ and other magazines. They were also really expensive—anywhere from half a million to 2 million dollars.
"While we’re doing all this, were getting calls from around the world," he recalls. "There was a global demand for modern green homes," especially, green homes that could be done for about a third of the price of the luxury homes Marmol Radziner was known for. But it was a demand that couldn’t be met by their Los Angeles operations: "There’s no way to get homes more than 250 miles from the factory," says Stott.
It’s a problem that isn’t unique to the Stott’s former employer. "What we discovered is that industry wide […] they use these really large modules that are basically as big as the roadways will allow," Levy says. Shipping one module around the country could cost $25,000—and some houses use as many as 10 modules.
That math makes pre-fab unrealistic, so modular companies set up regional factories, sometimes 30 factories for one brand, all building the same product. According to Levy, "This whole industry hasn’t truly been industrialized like every other industry out there that’s basically able to ship their products in a container."
This is the Connect Homes’ key innovation. The modules are designed to fit snugly in an 8-foot-by-40-foot shipping container, and can make it anywhere internationally for $5,000. The homes ship almost entirely complete—with plenty of green features like bamboo flooring, LED lighting, all-steel framing, and FCC-certified woods. And the inexpensive shipping and more efficient centralized production means all theses features don’t cost quite as much—$105,000 to $400,000 based on the size of the home, according to Stott.
At the beginning of the month, Connect Homes trucked their model unit from Los Angeles up to Silcon Valley for Dwell's Silicon Valley Home Tours. They remained on display to the public through November 11.
"We’re really in the startup phase of our company," Levy says. The first home will start production within the next couple of months. Two others have sold so far, and they expect to sell five more within the quarter.