Tuesday, March 22, 2016

My Interview with Irontown Homes' Kam Valgardson

I recently had an opportunity to interview Kam Valgardson, General Manager of Irontown Homes about the differences between the East and West Coast as well as the upcoming regulations in CA for net-zero new homes by 2020.

Kam Valgardson, General Manager of Irontown Homes
Irontown Homes is a 3rd generation managed modular factory located in Spanish Fork UT owned by Ken Brailsford.  Irontown Homes is a custom modular factory and builder, focusing primarily on single- and multi-family custom homes ranging from $200k to $3 million per job.  Irontown Homes also builds light commercial projects.  Irontown Home’s business model allows for complete customization of plan, specifications and building materials for each project, with a focus on sustainability and energy-efficient building.  

With a 66,000 square foot facility in Utah, they are ideally located in the center of the western United States to ship anywhere within a 1000+ mile radius. Irontown Homes has the ability to adapt its facility to produce a large number of projects, or one project at a time, ranging in size from 400 sf to 60,000 sf.  Irontown Homes also has produced a large number of CalGreen projects, and has constructed several LEED Platinum and Energy Star Certified projects.  We build to the International Residential Codes or California Building Codes.

Irontown Factory in Spanish Fork, UT
Modcoach: Kam,you ship your homes further than most factories on the East Coast. What are some of the problems you’ve encountered in shipping long distances?  
Kam: The biggest determining factor for shipping distance is, you guessed it, cost.  If the savings of building in the factory don’t offset the shipping and crane costs, it’s difficult to justify the build.  This cost is determined by local rates.  If the local rates to build are not significantly higher than the factory price, it could actually cost more to build in a factory.  Since we focus on higher-end custom and semi-custom projects, we’re generally able to send the home futher and still have it work financially.  Also to consider are the stresses and strains that come with shipping a module a long distance.  We fortify the modules more than industry standard, which makes them more durable.  Also, we only ship with air-ride trailers which gives the home a cushion of air to ship on, rather than springs that are not as soft of a ride.

Modcoach: Does Irontown have a builder network or do you work mostly with Architects?
Kam: Irontown does about 30% of its business with architects and architect-born leads.  The balance are individual homeowners or business owners buying direct.  We do have a few builders who are purchasing from us as well, probably about 10% of our current projects. We’ve found that it’s a more difficult process to work custom builds through a builder / dealer, so most of those projects are pre-designed with a set finish package.   

Modcoach:  I see a lot more innovation in your homes than other modular factories. What are some of the more unusual things you’ve had to do for your customers?  
Kam: It seems like there’s something new every job.  We’ve done steel superstructures, spandrel glass, barnwood, reclaimed pickle-barrel wood siding, 50 lb tiles made of concrete…. You name it, we’ve either done it or been asked to do it.  Right now we’re doing a home in Park City, UT in the Historic District that is located 1 block away from the Park City Ski Resort.  It’s unique in the fact that we’re doing a roof-top deck with timber railings, an aluminum spiral staircase and a hot tub on the deck.  This roof-top deck will have a 360 degree view of Old Town, and will be able to see three ski resorts while soaking your toes!.

Modcoach: The East Coast modular builders have always had a hard time working with code officials simply because they are modular. Does that happen in West as well?
Kam: Of course.  We make it a point to communicate with the builder / local inspectors early and often to ensure there’s no problem.  Each state is a little different, and requires a lot of questions to get through efficiently and quickly.  Some states don’t have a state program, so we will deal directly with the municipality in some cases.  It’s one of the more challenging parts of our business.

Modcoach:  Are California codes for energy making it tough to build for that state?  
Kam: They’re adding cost, of course, but the hope is that the State, environment and energy savings over time justify the means.  In addition to energy codes, there’s a green code that is basically the same as LEED for Homes in many of the requirements.  Also, many cities have adopted a green code in addition to the State’s requirements.

On the Production Line
Modcoach:  Many modular factories run a production line building 12-30 floors a week. Why has Irontown chosen to go to the higher end, true customized route which is inherently more time consuming? 
Kam: It’s a niche market we’re in.  The production market was where we started out, when Boise Cascade stopped doing modular, we built about 90 homes from their backlog.  It’s how we got our start.  Back in the mid 1990’s. our owner realized that there was an underserved market for custom homes for people who had enough money to build, but were in difficult circumstances with climate, shortage of subcontractors / suppliers, or had an extremely high cost.  These areas are prime for us, and primarily where we do business.

Modcoach:  Is Irontown involved in social media such as Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram?  
Kam: Yes, we have a Facebook Page and a Twitter account.   We also have a Houzz profile and use Houzz and Pinterest when working with our buyers to design their homes.

Two Story Home being St  
Modcoach:  Different regions have their typical homes. The East is the 2 story, center hall colonial while the South is a ranch style home. What would you consider your typical home?  
Kam: We do a lot of 2 story homes here, since our factory can actually build a 2-story home assembled in our shop.  That’s a big benefit when you consider how difficult it is to build a 1st floor and a 2nd floor next to each other and have them align perfectly. . We also do a lot of component work, such as dormers, porches and roof components in the shop.  I would say our more requested homes are mountain – modern in style, which is a broad category.

Modcoach: Is Irontown doing commercial work and if you are, what are some of your latest projects?  
Kam: We’ve done some small commercial work.  We did some employee housing for a resort in Big Sur, California recently, and have done some operator buildings for the Canyons Ski Resort.  We’re currently engaged on a local humanitarian project that will be announced later this year.
Modcoach: What’s on the horizon for Irontown?  
Kam: More of the same.  Projects keep coming, regardless of what the economy is doing, it seems. We’re looking to continue to fill the niche for custom modular buildings, whether commercial or residential. The future is bright, and we’re excited to be in such a dynamic industry!  

I want to thank Kam for taking the time to talk with me about Irontown Homes. If you would like more information about what they are doing or about having them build a home for you, email Kam Valgardson today.

1 comment:

Harris Woodward said...

Thanks for the interview, Coach. They look like very good people that have their act together!