Modern Modular Done Right from Challenger Living

A lot of lessons have been learned over the last decade as architects and manufacturers try to make modern green prefab affordable and accessible to a wider audience. A new entry into the market is Challenger, a modern architect-designed line of houses from Manitoba, Canada's Conquest Manufacturing. They recently displayed a new model, the Cube, at the National Home Show in Toronto.

By way of background, prior to coming to TreeHugger I spend a number of years trying to introduce modern modular to the Canadian marketplace, and did just about everything wrong. Looking at the Challenger line, I think that they have done just about everything right.
1) Unit size and design

Look at any old farmhouse from the last century and you will find most are tight, square, two storey boxes; it minimizes surface area and, since heat rises, they tend to be easier to heat. The Cube is a tight, efficient 1056 square foot two bedroom unit with one bath on the second floor; it doesn't even have the obligatory main floor powder room on the version shown (although I think you could squeeze one in).

But the more interesting thing about its design is the floor plate size and the number of modules. The module size is set by transport regulations; where I was building, you could build a unit of up to 16 feet wide by 62 feet long. The conventional wisdom was that you got the best economy by maximizing the size of the module, but you were always limited by that maximum width. (unless you were Blu Homes and had an ingenious folding structure)

The Cube has a floor plate of 21'-6 by 27', giving a module size of 10'-9" by 27'; this is narrow enough that it can go down the road without special escort and without expensive permits at every state of provincial border. At 27' long, two can go on a trailer, further reducing transport costs. The crane needed to lift a 15,000 pound module of that size is relatively cheap; the unit appears to be designed for transportation and installation efficiency.


photos by Lloyd Alter unless noted
2) Architectural Design

They have put together a team of architects with real experience in modular (HIVE, who I have not given nearly enough coverage of, other than the Clara Cabin by Bryan Meyer and Anne Ryan). They also are working with Ross Chapin, how does some of the best small housing we have seen.

The Cube was designed by a Winnipeg architect, Ed Calnitsky. Most of the prefab industry avoids architects, not wanting to pay the fees or have to deal with changes that clients want to make. But really, architects know how to design a better house, that is what they do. Small example: the windows on the side are designed around doorframe sizes. If a purchaser needs more room, they convert to doors and provide access to easily add more modules.



3) Green features from the brochure:

Energy efficiency features include a white EPDM rubber roof membrane (sloped slightly to allow for rain water capture), roughed-in conduit for optional rooftop solar panel installation, R50 ceiling insulation, double-wall construction with R30+ Roxul Batt insulation, and tri-pane argon-filled metal-clad windows by Jeldwen.

Interior lifestyle amenities include sustainable bamboo flooring, recessed LED lighting, custom eco-wood cabinetry with built-in closet organizers throughout the home, an open-tread stairway to the upper level, a laundry chute from 2nd floor to a lower level laundry room, and an alcohol-burning fireplace by Blomus.



4) Hitting the price point

Getting rid of vinyl is expensive, as is this entire list of green features. Yet they are offering this unit for C$ 169,500 at the factory. Installed, they project a cost of between $200 and $220 per square foot. I can only think that they have value-engineered this thing within an inch of its life to get every efficiency in manufacturing, delivery and installation that can be had, to deliver at this price.


I apologize for the quality

In summary, the Cube is a mix of intelligent architectural design and great modular engineering, that delivers a lot of green, energy saving design at a great price. More at Challenger Living.

Tags: Architects

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