Prefab pros and cons?
August 21, 2006 2:41 PM   Subscribe

Pre-fab cabins and houses...can you tell me your positive and negative stories?

In our case, we're considering one of the ones from They look reasonably nice and I requested and received a price list from them (mostly $20-80k, suggested multiplying by 2.5 for an estimate of total cost including interiors, foundation, plumbing, electrical, etc.).

We're not looking for something super-fancy or large. We want a place to live that isn't going to suck. What are your experiences?
posted by Kickstart70 to Home & Garden (9 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I rented a "doublewide" "manufactured home" for a year in N California (with two other adults and three kids 3 to 9.) It was comfortable but not very robust. It had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, large living room and large kitchen-dining area, though I can't remember the exact dimensions.

The insulation was excellent but the walls felt like cardboard, and the trim was very lightweight. I'd be happy to live in one again, but not sure I'd want to invest in one myself.

Having said that, a friend bought three for his meditation center and they seem to be standing the wear and tear fairly well -- they're each used by around a dozen people doing full-time retreats (there are also individual living cabins round each house.)
posted by anadem at 5:24 PM on August 21, 2006

The Fabprefab forums might be a better site for this particular topic. See also LiveModern. Both focus more on modern prefab design than cabins, but you never know. The latter also has a Vancouver-region forum just for you! (Although, of course, I understand that there's just something about getting an answer from a fellow mefi-er.)

A favor, though: if you go the prefab route, please blog about your experiences--there's a reason you already have 5 users marking yours as a favorite question!
posted by kimota at 5:39 PM on August 21, 2006

The impressions I've gotten from a friend who's about to buy a doublewide is that they don't have any resale value to speak of. But once the foundation is laid and the services are in place you can "upgrade" your home by simply removing the doublewide and putting something else in its place.
posted by lekvar at 6:09 PM on August 21, 2006

I haven't built a cabin, pre-fab or otherwise, but I can relay advice that was given to me and my husband when we were looking into acreage living a couple of years ago. We looked at various cabin-kits (I remember and asked around to friends and acquaintances for feedback.

The unanimous advice we received was not to go with a pre-fab kit, because they were poor quality and overpriced. Apparently the way to go is to build a garage, from a kit or from plans, and live in that - and that if we wanted a bigger house later on, we could convert it into a garage fairly easily.

The rationale for this was that the hardest part of building a house or cabin is doing the foundation work, plumbing and electrical. The more straightforward part is the actual building. I can understand this logic, as I have done roofing, drywalling, tiling, etc., and consider myself fairly handy, but I am intimidated when confronted with the idea of pouring a foundation. Also, the other advantage to doing your own construction the "normal" way is there a lot more people around to help you out if you run into trouble. If you confront problems when putting a kit together, you must rely on the company to fix it & make good, or else live in a substandard dwelling.

Anyway, this is second-hand advice, but one guy my husband works with lived in his "garage" for five years, with his wife and two kids, while he built his house. So it can be done. Also: if it's the log-cabin look you're after, it's probably best not to cheap out - log structures take real skill to put together, and when you want a material (wood) to be both insulating and structurally sound, you need someone who knows what they're doing.
posted by meringue at 6:12 PM on August 21, 2006

I hope you get a few more answers to your question. I've been curious about this myself.

(Hope I'm allowed to say that, I'm new to AskMeta)
posted by GregX3 at 6:36 PM on August 21, 2006

Dwell magazine covers prefab fairly often. It was the cover of their April/May 2005 issue.
posted by hydrophonic at 7:56 PM on August 21, 2006

A few thoughts, from someone who thinks about prefab a lot...

The bad news: Almost all prefab homes end up costing the same (or more) than stick-built when all is said and done. The human urge to customize is one big factor. The other is that until you can buy a prefab house built in China at Target, the economies of scale will never materialize. (Think about it: Home Depot already buys building materials in bulk, so your local contractor is actually making a pre-fab house, of a sort, when he builds your pad from scratch.) Then there's shipping to pay for, local labor to install, and all the costs associated with new construction -- tapping septic, plumbing/electrical, pouring foundations, permits, cranes, yadda yadda.

The good news: If you want to live in less than 1,000 sq feet, and you already own a cheap, totally flat lot in a place with few restricitve codes and no chance of earthquake/flood/wind, there are some cool options. Check out the links kimota mentioned -- they have loads of info, and if you dig around, there are unvarnished stories of folks who actually have owned and built prefab places.

My current fave: the Kithaus.
posted by turducken at 8:29 PM on August 21, 2006

There's a big difference between a "doublewide manufactured" (which is basically a mobile home) and a "modular home" (which is a house built in a factory). To thicken the plot, there are also section-built homes, which are pre-built walls assembled on site. The cabins at look like kits or section-built.

We have a modular home from All American Homes, and it's great. It's better built with better materials than any site-built home in the neighborhood, and cost about 20% less (the foundation and site work is about the same). It's over 10 years old, and looks better than my mother-in-law's 5 year old doublewide (and we've got two kids and a dog).

One thing to watch for is that your foundation contractor must be aware that there is much less room for error when you're putting a pre-built home on a foundation than when you're stick-building a home.
posted by jlkr at 8:45 PM on August 21, 2006

Response by poster: After a little digging...

The offering I like the best is called the Algonquin IV, and the kit costs about $42k. It's about 1150 square feet.

Going by their suggested 2.5x cost for the finished project, that's $95k.

$95000 / 1150 = $86 per square foot.

According to most of the links in a Google search on the subject, the average house price is ~$115/sq.ft. Considerable difference.

Assuming the quality is reasonable (I'd pay a house inspector to go look at an example), this still looks like an excellent deal.

Anyone know if my assumptions are incorrect?
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:00 AM on August 22, 2006

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