Why do we want The Seed to be built with ‘prefabrication’ in mind?
Prefabricated housing is not a new concept. My parents raised my brother and I in a ‘semi-prefabricated’ home. The essential pieces of our home were constructed in a factory. Then, the pieces were brought to the property it now rests on, and assembled on site. They used a backhoe to dig a hole in the ground for our basement and foundation, and then our house puzzle pieces were placed on top.
When William and I state that there one day may exist a world where homes like The Seed could be owned by the masses, we emphasize on the importance of ‘prefabrication.’ The homes should be wholly constructed in a factory, with little to no assembly required when they are placed on-site. As we design and build The Seed, we would like to keep the concepts and techniques of prefabrication in mind (just in case the pipe dream becomes a reality, or if others are looking for inspiration).
Why we think the homes should be prefabricated has to do with value. In order to have a high value, these homes should be of high quality, but simultaneously be available for purchase at a low cost. Prefabricated homes are typically constructed in an enclosed area which allows for the home to be built in a controlled environment (like a factory). The home is therefore not being exposed to the elements during the construction process, which can enable the home’s quality to be of a higher grade.
High quality homes that are healthy for the environment and its occupants, should be available for purchase by medium and low income families. Prefabrication can create the opportunity for exactly that: the homes can be both built and purchased at a low cost. Such as Henry Ford’s idea with the Model T, if one good home is built in an ‘assembly line’ like process, and its construction can become extremely efficient, it can then be made affordable.
Therefore, as much of the home that can be built in an enclosed environment, the higher value the home will have. Prefabricated homes can be of a higher quality, and have the potential to be made at a lower cost. If a good deal of ‘on-site’ construction on the home was necessary, the working environment would no longer be controlled and the cost of building would go up due to the necessity of having on-site labor. The workers would have to travel to that location and bring all necessary equipment with them to the site. Their ability to work would also depend upon the weather. If it is raining, and they need to do work on a tin roof….the work environment would be highly dangerous, and productivity for that roof would halt for the day. Not only would productivity be delayed, but the unfinished home would also be exposed to the same elements which are halting the progress. Therefore, if the home could be prefabricated as much as possible in a controlled setting, made to be transported from said controlled setting to the site, and then made to be easily installed so that on-site work post delivery is minimized, the home would have a high value.
In William’s Words: What does prefabricated mean?
Now I know what you’re thinking: “but William, this is how almost every house is built today.” Yes, you’re right – but there is always room for improvement. Let’s imagine for a moment that cars are built the same way we build our houses…
So you’re finally in the market for a new car. You hire an automotive designer, and have them go over all of your ideas. How many wheels? Doors? Seats? Are they leather or cloth? Will it be gas or electric? Etc, etc, etc…
The designer then hires an engineer, and between the two of them, they create a large set of drawings that go over every detail of your car. They of course present all of these drawings to you, and you get the opportunity to discuss with them what you like and what you don’t, and then they go back to the drawing board and do it again. Once everyone agrees on a design, it’s time to build it.
Some ‘car construction workers’ come to where you live; they bring all of their tools and many materials. They unload tires, wheels, sheet metal, glass, engine and transmission parts, seats, carpets, and structural framing. They begin to put the pieces together using the tools that they have in the back of their work vehicles. They put the engine together and attach it to the frame, they put the transmission together and attach it to the engine. They bend the sheet metal with their on-hand tools and create the shapes the designer drew in the construction set. Throughout this process, mother nature brought the rain and the workers prepared as best as they could, but inevitably, your car was exposed to some degree of the elements.
Your car is now done, but it’s never been safety tested. It sat out in the weather, and was painstakingly built by hand. It probably cost you about $300,000 dollars, and it took 4 months. That’s how most houses are built.
Not EVERY HOME needs to be prefabricated – there’s beauty and awe in one-off homes built by hand – but if we want quality homes that are affordable, we should be building them the way we build our cars.
Stay tuned for the next blog, “A Small Footprint Home?,” to see how a prefabricated home could result in a friendlier relationship with the environment.
Shelby & William Aldrich
© 2020 Sustaining Tree
© 2020 Sustaining Tree