Calif. Fire Victims Turn to Quick Prefabs

March 8, 2018

Wildfires that ripped through Northern California last year left neighborhoods in destruction. Displaced homeowners are now learning that rebuilding can take years. As such, some are being drawn to prefab housing to try to speed wait times. Prefab homes are mass-produced in a factory and then assembled on location. The building style is usually touted for its quick construction times than traditional, stick-built homes that are built completely onsite. 

“Most of the people I know are going with a prefab,” wildfire victim Ann Peden told The New York Times. Peden’s home in Glen Ellen, southeast of Santa Rosa, was one of 6,000 homes destroyed by the North Bay wildfires in Northern California in October 2017. “It just makes sense.”

For years, designers and architects have touted the future of prefab housing for its greater efficiency and lower costs compared to stick-built homes. Less than 3 percent of housing starts in the U.S. in 2016 were prefab, however. Prefab has faced a stigma as some consider them homes that are boxy or all look the same. Prefab manufacturers have been working to change that perception and show off modern architecture styles and customization that can still go with this type of construction. (Read: Shunning Prefab Preconceptions)

In Northern California, residents have faced a daunting task of rebuilding. Even prior to the fires, a shortage of contractors and constructor workers were making homebuilding a challenge in the area. The wait time to complete a traditional stick-built house has since bloomed to an estimated four years at a cost of $500 to $700 per square foot, The New York Times reports.

That has some residents ready to see what prefab housing has to offer. Stillwater Dwellings, a prefab company based in Seattle, for example, charges about $350 to $400 per square foot for a basic move-in ready home assembled on a prepared foundation. Construction can take six to eight months after a permit is issued.

Glen Ellen fire victim Jane Milotich says she went to Acre Designs, a prefab firm in Mountain View, Calif., to buy a net-zero-energy home. Solar panels are also included in its homes. The homes cost between $250 to $320 per square foot.

Source: “Prefab Finds a Home in Fire-Ravaged Neighborhoods of California,” The New York Times (March 5, 2018)