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  • Writer's pictureBeth Kunz

Do New Options in PreFab Houses Finally Provide Smarter Building?

Updated: Jan 7

Perhaps it's just me, but every time I drive by new construction sites with 2x4 framing, Tyvek wrap blowing in the wind and stacks of wood sheathing propagating untold colonies of who-knows-what, I have to shake my head. (Side note - don't think new construction means your new home will be mold-free. I watched a new build in a high-end neighborhood sit unprotected through two seasons of storms before it was wrapped.) Yes, we have micro-lam, press-cleats and closed-cell-foam insulation these days. Some of the elements of new home construction have gotten more efficient, lighter and stronger, but the method of construction remains essentially unchanged since my, now antique, Craftsman was built in 1924. (And, overall, the quality of materials used in standard homes today has gone sharply downhill.) Is this really the best we can do?

With family building a guest home in the wilds of Montana, real estate clients seeking better quality / lower cost options and, most importantly, I want a sound studio in my backyard, I decided to see who might be answering this question.

Fading West Prefab home neighborhood in Buena Vista Colorado

First, let's get some lingo out of the way. For the purposes of this discussion, when I say "prefab", I'm referring to a home that is substantially constructed off-site. This includes modulars, manufactured, tiny homes, park model homes, et cetera. In the world of real estate, finance and building code, these terms are used and defined differently.

The first prefab homes were mobile homes, then came manufactured homes (which have improved greatly over the last 20-years). About 10 years ago, Park Model Homes gained a spotlight, and now Tiny Homes are all the rage. All of these options offer neat and useful features, but, with the exception of manufactured homes, don't answer the demand for a turn-key home with all the features of a stick-built home, that can be set and ready for living within a matter of days or even hours.

I will write an article dedicated to manufactured homes another day. (In the meantime, see for more information on manufactured homes and communities in Colorado Springs).

Now, let's explore some options may not be so familiar.

Top Picks

SmartPads gets my vote for intelligent, expandable design. Based in Colorado, this company specializes in homes that work in mountain environments, both functionally and visually.

Factory Base: Colorado

Notable Features: designed for mountain living

Modular / Expandability: excellent

Delivery Area: Colorado & Montana

Start Price: $350k

These high-construction-quality units are far cry from your TuffShed. StudioShed has so many size and feature options, you can build anything from a tiny sound studio to a full 2-bedroom house. These pretty and tough little units can serve as an office; art / sound / yoga studio; gym; garage; playhouse or full ADU.

  • 1-2 week factory build times

  • foot-prints from 80 square feet to 1000 square feet

  • DIY 3D online design

  • DIY set up is possible

  • nationwide delivery

Start from any of the basic structure types and customize to exactly what you want using the online design and cost estimator.

Factory Base: Colorado

Notable Features: DIY or professional construction

Modular / Expandability: good

Delivery Area: United States & Canada

Start Price: $13k

This company appears to not be a manufacturer, but a specialized reseller of everything from flatpack A-Frames to container homes to yurts.

Factory Base: Florida?

Notable Features: flatpack tiny homes

Modular / Expandability: n/a

Delivery Area: North America

Start Price: $70k for the 538 sf "Norman" flatpack tiny home featured in the video above

Honorable Mention

The ultimate flatpack! I have watched Boxabl for a few years now. They seem to be ramping up production, building new factories, increasing the modular build-out options and are at all the "building of the future"-type shows. However, this has been the case for 2 years and they are still anticipating 1-year wait times. I have yet to see any units in place or in person.

It's an interesting concept, a massive undertaking and appears to be a good-quality product. It does, however, leave a lot to be desired aesthetically.

Factory Base: Nevada

Notable Features: ships as a flatpack

Modular / Expandability: good

Delivery Area: United States

Start Price: $68k

The interesting thig about Zook Cabins is they seem to be a one-stop shop for any type of prefab home - park model, cabins, glamping pods or mobile homes.

Factory Base: Pennsylvania

Notable Features: large style selection

Modular / Expandability: n/a

Delivery Area: North America

Start Price: see website to price specific models

Factory Base: Oregon

Notable Features: custom designed for your location and wants

Modular / Expandability: good

Delivery Area: North America

Start Price: $300 / square foot

FabCab creates beautiful homes, but the quality and convenience comes with a luxury stick-built home price tag.

Factory Base: Washington state

Notable Features: luxury-level prefabricated

Modular / Expandability: n/a

Delivery Area: North America

Start Price: $450 / square foot

Colorado Community Projects

Fading West has built Habitat for Humanity, single family home communities and multi-story apartment complexes in Vail, Buena Vista and Breckenridge. They like to refer to themselves as the Toyota of houses, which is an interesting analogy.

They do not build stand-alone homes or commercial buildings. However, this may be a great option for developers as the construction workforce retires (and young people coming into the business to replace them) and material costs and inefficiencies of stick-building make the cost of conventional construction unaffordable.

This interview in Colorado Building Magazine with Eric Schaefer of Fading West sums up some key points:

See their website for other news items, project details, video and more.

So, what do you think? I find it very refreshing to see so many people rethinking home design and construction. I plan to get a StudioShed to create a recording studio at my next house. I'll document that process when I do!

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