Courtesy Michelle Kaufmann Designs
One of the most visible proponents of prefabricated housing, Michelle Kaufmann, was forced to is a proprietary system where the home modules are shipped in small packages that literally unfold on site: The 8-, 10-, and 12-foot-wide structures expand to widths up to 22 feet wide. The system is designed to streamline transportation and reduce shipping costs, while delivering bigger homes to a wider range of sites. The company has its own factory outside of Boston, and ships nationwide. It is currently on track to complete ten houses by the end of the year, including four units in LA.
“It’s easy to make grand claims in prefab, so I was pretty skeptical at first,” said Kaufmann, who will consult with the company and serve on Blu Homes’ advisory board. “But I do think this hybrid system, where you have the benefits of modular construction along with the advantages of getting to more sites nationwide, is a compelling approach.”
After they are built, Blu Homes modules are folded into smaller packages for shipping.
Courtesy Blu Homes
The company has just begun to release more technical details on its approach. While the hinged modules do require additional sealing to minimize thermal breaks, Blu Homes’ McCarthy says that the wood-and-steel modules have been designed to connect very tightly, reducing the amount of button-down work. “In traditional modular houses, putting together the units is like putting together a gingerbread house. There’s a lot of finessing involved in those connections. Our modules are more like an Erector set, so we save a ton of time on site.” The homes are also optimized for helical-pile foundations, which the company also installs, allowing it to standardize the cost of homes across different types of sites.
Prefab boosters have yet to crack the puzzle of delivering modern design and quality construction at a cost significantly below that of custom architecture. Blu Homes have a promising price point, running about $150 per square foot. The company’s current offerings start at $65,000 for the smallest model of 400 square feet, up to $200,000 for a 1,400-square-foot home, a price that includes shipping and foundation but not utility connections and permits, which can vary substantially depending on location. The Kaufmann homes will be the company’s premium offering—the “eco-luxury model,” said McCarthy.
Read AN’s August 20 Q&A with Kaufmann.