Diary of a prefab

A devoted do-it-yourselfer learns what it takes to assemble a factory-made dwelling from start to finish

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  • The open kitchen (with white Ikea cabinetry) makes the scant square footage seem expansive. 

    Prefab kitchen

    Thomas J. Story, styling by Miranda Jones

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Three things to consider before buying your kit

1. Do you love the design and layout of the prefab house you’re considering, or are you just hoping to build something on the cheap?

While some prefab designs will 
save you money, others can end up costing as much or more than traditional construction. The finished house should be something you really want.

2. Does prefab make sense for your building site?

Factory-made dwellings work well for remote sites (the kit arrives in one truckload) as well as for flat lots. If your lot needs much grading or foundation work before installation, costs will rise quickly. Also, many subdivisions don’t allow for modular construction. Before committing, check the building restrictions where you live.

3. When choosing a prefab company, make sure the people behind it have, in fact, built a house.

This sounds obvious, but there are many designers with eye-catching plans and prototypes but no real experience.

Prefab designers we love

FlatPak Choose from a menu of components (walls, cabinets, rooms, and built-ins) to piece together a complete house. 

Michelle Kaufmann A pioneer in modern, green prefab design, including the mkLoft (a two-story dwelling with two bedrooms and foam insulation) and the butterfly-roofed Sunset Breezehouse.

Modern Cabana Prefab structures that are ideal for use as stand-alone guesthouses, home offices, or studios. The company designed this year’s Sunset Idea House, the Modern Cottage. 

Office of Mobile Design Eco-conscious Jennifer Siegal, OMB principal, designs modular buildings that focus on indoor-outdoor living.

Rocio Romero Her houses are clean-lined and energy-efficient; ideal for those interested in designing or choosing their own finishes. 

More:  Step-by-step: Building a (prefab) dream house

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