Prefabricated homes often conjure up images of the Lazy Daze mobile home park, but a push for green construction at reasonable cost is fueling the resurgence of the high-end prefab. The market hasn’t been this hot since companies like Sears pioneered quality kit homes manufactured off-site and constructed to stringent codes faster and cheaper than conventional “stick-built houses.” By the end of World War II there were more than 200,000 prefab homes made by 70 companies dotting the American landscape, but poor design and shoddy construction left a stigma that’s hard to overcome. “There’s still this preconception that modular is substandard,” says San Francisco architect Michelle Kaufmann, who worked with Frank Geary for five years before going prefab. The benefits of prefab are hard to ignore: construction happens indoors so weather delays are nonexistent; manufacturers order in bulk, lowering costs; and houses are typically built on a flat surface, ensuring plumb lines and lowering worker’s comp claims. One enthusiast notes: “If you’re going to buy a car, you don’t buy the leather for your interior and the four wheels and a steering wheel separately.” Indeed, buying a house should be like buying a sneaker, says Kaufmann, pulling up the Nike ID site. “Every shoe has the same bones, but you can customize your own, down to the color and putting your initials on it.” Bottom line: prefab might just be the perfect housing for a generation accustomed to one-click ordering and on-demand customization.

Wired.com, Jan 2006