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Prefab Homes Hit the Big Time

Prefab and Modern Design

I've been reading Design Magazine "Dwell" for about 3 years now. It's generally full great and relatively practical information. It's a little more academic than, for example, the very practical and often cheap Ready Made Magazine, but I still like Dwell very much.

They've been preaching about the coming of "prefab" housing for a while. Not so much the "piece of crap trailers" kind of "prefab" more of the "this is really awesome design and it was at least partially built in a factory which makes it cheaper for the quality and makes assembly time shorter" kind of prefab.

Prefab books

There are two really good books on the subject that I recently read Prefab, by Alison Arieff and Prefab Modern by Jill Herbers. I had heard of the Arief book from Dwell Magazine and found the Herbers book when doing a library search for the Arief book. They are both good, but oddly enough much of the content is the same. Also, they seem to mostly follow in the "Dwell Magazine" format - that is looking at the houses from the Academic point of view with less focus on the every day practical concerns like cost and usability. The houses are almost all gorgeous, but some of them are just wicked expensive or funky useless layouts - or both.

The "big" time

Then, you can imagine my surprise the other day when Businessweek ran an article covering several of these same resources, people and homes Businessweek isn't the best of the business magazines I read, but it's a decent one and they are occasionally ahead of the curve in predicting trends. So hopefully this gets more popular.

Prefab benefits and drawbacks

All the same, I'm very glad personally to see growth in this area. It's something where almost everyone wins: housing can be higher quality, lower cost, more efficiently produced, better designed, etc. etc. The main drawback in my mind is that it could lead to more "cookie cutter" homes - but looking around suburbia and exurbia these days, I don't think we could have a housing trend that takes us any further in the wrong direction on that one. The other perceived drawback is that prefab makes a shift in the labor market. I say "shift" rather than "would force people out of jobs" because I view it as a movement from one area to another.

Prefab homes are assembled in factories where you don't worry about rain or cold, where the tools you need are always right near by, where big machinery can help out with the process, where pieces are designed to be used efficiently to eliminate waste, and myriad other factors that make it better than traditional take it to the site each day, hope it doesn't get rained on, carry your tools up a shakey ladder and fall and hurt yourself, cut materials to fit on site and then throw away a bunch of mostly good pieces that just don't quite fit. Whew. Of course, all that extra efficiency and all that labor happening in a factory instead of onsite means that people who currently work construction jobs in each city are going to have less of that construction work to do - instead they'll just help position a premade building into the site and be done. So, these workers will have to find a new way to employ their skills. The more skilled will probably move to home building factories and appreciate not getting sun burns. The less skilled will probably move to other "low skill/low wage jobs". In the end, I think that the benefits of prefab outweigh this drawback of making people find new work. Construction has never been that reliable of a field anyway.

Prefab for me

Nikki and I keep talking about "building a house" and we're pretty sure that's going to be the way to go. We keep looking for a site to pop out at us and I'm just really glad that when we finally do find the place, there are plenty of modern designers/builders who are going to be improving their craft between now and then to help us out.

Prefab Related Resources


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This was great info! I've been interested in prefab homes and this is what I've been looking for. I'm also definitely going to look into this Dwell magazine, it sounds interesting! Thanks for the article!