As a result of the severe housing shortage caused by Hurricane Katrina, some entrepreneurs are looking to alternative building methods to solve the problem.
If one of these new technologies can prove itself, producing houses that look like regular houses but are faster to build and cost-competitive, it could remake the industry. And if that happened, south Louisiana--including Baton Rouge--would become Ground Zero for the future of home building.
Enter "systems building," a blanket term that describes a number of technologies for mass-producing large parts of houses in a factory. On-site, the house is then assembled more than built. But the end result is a regular house, not a dressed-up doublewide.
"You can produce high quality in a factory environment," says Rodney Cobi, whose firm, Center for Landscape Interpretation, has been working to bring systems building to Louisiana for years.
Because systems-built houses favor framing in fiberglass, steel or concrete, they are also more resistant to wind and mold, not to mention fire and termites.
Where less-traditional home building typically falls short, though, is price. Non-wood homes typically sell at 10% to 15% higher than stick-built, says LED's Director of Advanced Materials Jim Landry. But couple increased demand for wood with stricter building codes in high-risk areas, and wood may lose its price advantage.
While these new methods may well be beneficial, a lot of salemanship will have to take place in order for potential homeowners buy into the prefab idea.
Just recently CNU members Andres Duany, Susan Henderson, Eric Moser, Steve Mouzon, Matt Lambert, and Diane Dorney designed and built a prototype Katrina Cottage II in Chalmette and invited the public to see it in person. The same was true for the original Katrina Cottage designed by New York City architect Marianne Cusato and displayed in Orlando and Biloxi. When viewed by homeowners in person, the homes were quite well received.
If, on the other hand, prefab developers rely on periodical articles and glossy flyers, they shouldn't expect much interest from the people who really count; the buyer.
However, one advantage of the prefab home is that 90%+ of the labor force required to build one is that it is not tied to the local labor market.
Also, because modular housing be built outside the area, it can be insulated from local cost pressures cost on materials and labor.But I have one warning about this method. Because homes are usually designed and built by persons familiar with the local traditions and climate, site-built homes are typically better suited for their context and adaptation to the climate.
For prefab housing to work on the Gulf Coast, developers need to incorporate local architects and builders in the design process. Otherwise they might as well sell mud-buggies in Arizona.