Clayton's I-House 2.0: Reading Between the Lines to Find the Future of Prefab

clayton i-house green building image exterior
Migrated Image

Preston at Jetson Green shows us Clayton Homes' i-house 2.0, a larger version of their green modern prefab introduced two years ago. It is a handsome design, beautifully presented. But while Preston says that "I-house has been insanely popular", another source noted in the spring that "Apparently, Clayton's hotcakes are still soldered to the griddle, holding at only 20 i-houses sold."

I think there is a story to be read between the lines on the plans here.

ihouse plan image

Original i-house plan from Thoughts on Clayton's i-house

Clayton has traditionally designed mobile homes and built for trailer parks, with long, narrow single wide plans very much like the original i-house, which had a second bedroom shown separated by outdoor space. But as we noted in our post last year,

Mobile homes go into mobile home parks. They do not go into urban lots, they go into places that normally do not attract a typically green audience. When faced with the choice between a 100K green design and a more traditional one at half the price, they do not choose green. If Clayton is offering a green 100K mobile home, then they think that the mobile home park market is ready to expand beyond its traditionally blue collar base.
clayton i-house green building image e-home

The ehome: bringing green building to the trailer park

The park market does not appear to have bitten and expanded beyond its traditional base. So a few months after the introduction of the i-house, Clayton brought out a downgraded e-home, costing under 50K and available with a reasonable green eco-friendly package, but very park-like in its appearance. To be frank, it's ugly but will fit right in.

clayton i-house green building image kentucky

jetson Green: Green Clayton i-House Set in Kentucky
i-house 1.0: Where's the Market?

Where i-houses got built, they were probably mostly second homes, on private land. The people who bought them probably had money- Knoxvillebiz describes one i-house where the purchasers added $100,000 of upgrades to a $75,000 home.

clayton i-house green building image new plan

Giving Them What They Want: 3 Beds, 2 Baths

But everyone who goes into prefab to change the building world thinks that you should start with a small unit to be greener and more affordable (as I did with theQ for Royal Homes) quickly finds out that the market for modern prefab is people with land and money, and they almost invariably want what is in every "normal" house, namely three bedrooms, two baths and a den. And that is what Clayton has done with version 2.

It is in fact a terrific plan, with a dramatic entrance that lets you see right through, the separation of master from kids that everyone loves, one of the better ones that I have seen. The elevations, with the posts supporting the butterfly roofs are a bit busy but beautifully presented, charmingly in a midcentury modernist style.

clayton i-house green building image perspective

It is a nicely designed package; they have not skimped on the details and the finishes. They have learned what this market wants.

But in a lot of ways I see it as an admission of failure. The trailer park is a great model for green housing; you rent the land but usually own a pretty small unit and share a lot of resources, be them recreational or laundry. They are built at a reasonably high density. But the people who live in them don't get green, and the people who get green don't get trailer parks.

A few developers are beginning to propose high end parks, with more services, greener design and upscale models for sale. But until they exist, there will be no real place for the small green prefab. Perhaps that is where Warren Buffett and Clayton should put their money next.