TreeHugger has waxed ecstatic over the benefits of prefabricated housing as a way of delivering better quality with less waste and energy, and we hoped at a lower price, yet somehow the industry never delivered what it promised. There were a couple of problems that were never resolved:
1) Building basic space on site is actually pretty cheap, whereas prefab manufacturers had to build big spaces in the shop and ship a lot of air to the jobsite.
2) Builders never liked buying prefab, because what they do is build and mark up the cost. Buying a prefab gives much of the profit to the prefabber, and when the builder marks it up, it becomes too expensive building a profit on top of the profit.
That is why Hybridcore Homes of Santa Rosa, California, has such a good idea. They sell the complicated core of a home, with the bathrooms and kitchens, the hard stuff like plumbing, wiring, tiling and millwork, and let the builder do the fast and easy stuff, the enclosing of the big spaces.
It makes a lot of sense; the prefab company is running fewer trucks, and shipping a high value product; the builder gets to actually build something besides the foundation and his markup on it will be comfortable.
Hybridcore makes other claims to being green, including better materials and recycled insulation. But the main benefits are similar to the claims made for other prefab projects:
-Building in a highly efficient facility generates significantly less waste than traditional site-built construction by utilizing or recycling most cut-off materials - lessening impacts on landfills.
-Reduced fossil fuel consumption results from fewer tradespeople driving to construction sites.
The hybridcore plans are unimaginative and typical suburban; even their multiple family designs have walls of garages on the ground floor. And no matter how green and efficient one builds, if it is in a car-centric suburban site it is still a problem, not a solution.
But conceptually, it is an interesting approach to dealing with some of the bigger complaints about prefabricated designs. More at Hybridcore Homes.
From a construction point of view, Michelle Kaufmann thought of this years ago when she designed the Breezehouse; The tough stuff was in the two prefab modules that supported the roof over the big spaces. We noted that "when these two boxes are brought to the site, a roof is installed on site from prefabricated trusses, and two end walls are put on. There is more site work required than a normal prefab, but it's not complex work and it only requires a few trades."
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