Fueled by post recession homebuyers hungry for affordable sleek and green design, “prefabs” or modular homes can offer a sustainable, customizable and competitively priced alternative to the overpriced and — let’s be honest — not overly exciting suburban dwellings of Sonoma County.
As prefabs gain popularity, homebuyers can now choose from a range of local suppliers of a variety of models and layouts. By relocating the building site to factories, the prefab solution provides a more controlled construction process and more reliable project pricing while eliminating the old model of general contractor estimates, change orders and unwelcome surprises.
Blu Homes, founded by environmental documentary filmmaker and technology savant Bill Haney, is at the forefront of the Bay Area prefab movement. The Vallejo based company employs quality craftsmanship and thoughtful design, and uses recyclable, earthquake proof, steel-reinforced frames for its cutting edge homes. Premium building materials afford Blu Home owners 50 percent lower operating costs, which can amount to more than $7,000 in energy savings over a ten year period.
As the startup’s streamlined Scandinavian style continues to gain international recognition, notable designers and architects, including Frank Lloyd Wright’s grandson Tim Wright, have begun to show appreciation for the company’s artisanal energy. (Wright recently constructed his very own Blu Home near Taliesin). In 2012, Blu Homes co-designed an “Idea House” for Sunset Magazine in Healdsburg. The company regularly hosts public viewings of its Sonoma County properties and recently launched “Blu Design Studio App,” allowing customers to design their very own virtual dream home via smartphone or tablet.
Another prefab venture that has gained momentum in Sonoma County is Method Homes. The company promises to deliver a custom home 60 percent faster than traditional site-built construction, which means customers can move into their new home in less than four months and on a fixed budget. All Method homes are built using sustainable and healthy materials, systems, and practices. The company does not use VOC paints or UA formaldehyde in building materials, instead it utilizes local products whenever possible and standard house models come with FSC certified hardwood floors, locally harvested lumber, dual flush toilets, low-flow fixtures, pre-wiring for solar and above-code insulation.
Method Homes partners with notable designers and architects: recent collaborations include a Cloverdale home designed by award winning studio Chris Pardo Design and a Tahoe Cabin by Balance Associates Architects. At 2,300 square feet, the three-bedroom, three-bathroom Cloverdale home took just four months to complete and features a ground level patio, a roof deck right off the top floor living area and plenty of outdoor space to enjoy the views of the rolling Sonoma hills.
Prefabs or modular homes can be financed with an FHA insured loan (all the way up to 96.5 percent) and with a conventional mortgage. Standard mortgage requirements include a middle 620 credit score as well as 10 percent equity. While there is a persistent shortage of housing in Sonoma County, there is still plenty of acreage available for the prefab enthusiast, with some lots below the $100K mark.