Tuesday, April 11, 2017

West Coast, the Breeding Ground for Innovative Housing

Boomers and even a lot of Gen X’ers in most of the US might never give living in a glass cube a second thought but when those cube houses are built in and intended for the West Coast market, then all bets are off.


When two new companies, one started by Architects and the other by an Amazon executive, began putting ideas on their iPads and their iMacs for glass dominant glass houses, the only place they would reasonably have any chance of succeeding was in California, Oregon and Washington.


Going from the design stage to actually building and having a modular factory build a couple of them for demonstrations and investors is a long way from ramping up production, starting a factory, meeting strict CA building codes, establishing a sales and marketing network and actually making a profit.


Blu Homes learned this lesson as they burned through millions of dollars of investor’s money only to watch their company grow to the point of opening a factory and trying to go national before closing their factory and only marketing in Northern California.


Cover, a new Los Angeles-based startup is getting into the business of prefabricated homes in a unique way by combining technology, efficiency, and a one-stop-shop approach. Cover was founded by architects Alexis Rivas and Jemuel Joseph in 2014, with an eye towards building precision-designed homes that aren’t dependent on an army of architects, engineers, and general contractors.

The company’s work comes in at a time of abundance for prefab home builds, ranging from stackable shipping container homes to igloos. But the architects at Cover are convinced their approach is different from any other prefab, design-build, or engineering model that has ever existed.


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A unique aspect to Cover is its target market; instead of focusing on the custom designs and constructions that generic home builders offer, the company is focused on accessory dwelling units — detached living space intended for use as a home office, guest bedroom or in-law suite.


Cover’s factory is designed to have the capacity to produce 100 accessory dwelling units annually, but the company is growing quickly. The four-person team has already produced one structure, and has seven projects in the design phase, ranging from a $90,000 backyard office to a $300,000 one-bedroom home. Yet the Cover team’s goal is to consistently make their products more affordable by reinvesting profits in research and development to produce a more efficient design and manufacturing process.


The other company that has caught my attention is Blokable. Aaron Holm, former Amazon product manager and burgeoning entrepreneur, wants to transform the housing market by scaling up manufactured housing all along the West Coast. His new venture is called Blokable, and with it Holm wants to offer shippable housing units that are fully integrated with his company’s smart home technology hub.


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The venture originated with Holm’s fascination with shipping container architecture. After visiting several shipping container communities in Detroit in 2015, he became convinced that the only way to free up the housing market was by making housing that you can order and configure as easily as buying a car.


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Aaron Holm looking over production of a Blokable module


Blokable is entering a market with lots of competition, but Holm believes his company has the advantage over other modular architecture by integrating modern technology into each Blok. The company will outfit each Blok unit with its “BlokSense” smart-home control platform, which will provide a way for homeowners to control smart electric, water, temperature, lighting and security systems. The smart-home platform also allows occupants to set the system to different modes including Home, Away, Sleep, or Vacation.


Blokable is entering a market with lots of competition, but Holm believes his company has the advantage over other modular architecture by integrating modern technology into each Blok. The company will outfit each Blok unit with its “BlokSense” smart-home control platform, which will provide a way for homeowners to control smart electric, water, temperature, lighting and security systems. The smart-home platform also allows occupants to set the system to different modes including Home, Away, Sleep, or Vacation.


Both of these companies share a vision. That housing has to begin to evolve and where else but the West Coast could it start.


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Once you realize that houses really haven’t changed that much over past 100 years, it’s easy to see why they want to be disrupters.

4 comments:

J Rutter said...

Growing up in Elmira, NY and now living and working in California gives me an old vs new perspective on things. Food, transportation, politics and housing.
You are so right about housing in the West. We are not afraid to try something new and different. Whether we embrace it is another thing entirely. Personally I find these new homes something I could live in for a short period of time but they will never catch on as permanent housing in place of what we have now.
Every Sunday my newspaper has article after article about a new prefab builder. One would think that CA is building only modern design homes on rolling green hills overlooking the Ocean. Sadly it isn't. It's more likely you will live in a condo or a home built in a community where every house looks the same.
I can't even imagine anyone in Elmira wanting one of these homes except possibly as a hunting camp where you could sit in your recliner drinking beer and watching for deer through the wall of glass. Now that would be awesome.

Gwen Elliott said...

Thanks as always for all the industry news! The Cloud website is http://cover.build/

Backyard Home Pro said...

They will have a HARD road ahead of them! The energy code here continues to get more and more difficult to build homes with a lot of glass. We're seeing homes that were designed and built just last year with an energy score exceeding minimums by 20% now failing to meet the minimum requirements by as much as 30%. That's a 50% swing in performance measure for this counting. We're being forced to increase insulation R values for walls and roof, go to 92-98% efficient w/h's and mini-splits instead of conventional furnaces.

Ken Semler said...

There have been many projects similar to this, either at the conceptual level or even ones that have gotten to actual construction that have been based on "pluggable" components. They all seem to find niche markets but haven't been able to jump into the mainstream. While home construction is still basically the same as it has been since the 1830's, home design is still basically the same as it has been since the 1500's. It seems like efforts to create paradigm changes in construction processes and methods have combined that with modern/contemporary design dooming them both to limited marketability to the mainstream masses.