Modular, prefab residences often have a negative stigma attached to them. This is probably due to the fact that people tend to associate the idea of them with mobile homes or trailer parks. Another reason they may suffer from negative perceptions is the assumed lack of customization opportunities. The word “prefab” immediately evokes an image of sterile, factory production lines producing replicas of the same monotonous product. But actually, these are huge misconceptions. Modular homes are typically more affordable than conventional housing, but can be made of very high quality materials and be quite beautifully done – at a savings to the consumer. They come in many different shapes, sizes and forms, and many can be customized by color or design accents.
Additionally, they offer huge potential for energy savings and overall carbon emissions. Since they are prefabricated in a factory setting, companies have more control over minimizing or finding ways to recycle waste products. Since they are unexposed to the elements during construction, it is much easier to ensure that they are built soundly and efficiently. They typically have higher levels of insulation in comparison with conventionally built homes, meaning less heat or air conditioning is lost through inefficient construction connections.
With additional sustainable energy harnessing components, modular housing has the potential to be so efficiently built that they are actually carbon positive, producing energy to sell back to the grid. This presents a win-win, merging economic and environmental benefits. Archiblox, an Australian modular construction company, has been a trailblazer in this industry, and currently has a prototype of a modular home that actually produces more energy than it utilizes. Some local Seattle design firms are working on similar models that can be scaled and used for apartments, offices and retail. Modular homes are a valuable tool that should be used going forward to reduce our built environment’s carbon footprint and encourage alternative energy usage, but more work needs to be done to put them on the center stage as a viable tool for wide scale development.
More research and development needs to go into making these types of designs and technologies mainstream and destigmatized to the average homebuyer and developer. Greater awareness of and exposure to the types of modern modular housing available will help to ease any qualms about the quality of the product. Offering some level of customization will help to increase the brand of the product so that consumers don’t regard them as homogenous, “processed” products. Governments locally, nationally and abroad, need to ensure that infrastructure can accommodate alternative energy flowing back into the grid, to maximize the potential for excess energy sales, making this type of development a more economically convincing product. If we can increase the amount of modular housing in our housing stock, particularly the type that are energy independent and actually pump more energy back into the grid, cities and individuals will have a better chance of reducing their carbon footprint.