Despite seemingly endless interest in decorating, landscaping, buying, staging and selling houses, actually building a house is a mysterious process that is mostly left to professionals. But for some homeowners, buying and in some cases assembling, a prefabricated home holds appeal.
A kit home can streamline the process of custom-building a house. While the prices aren’t bargain-basement, kit homes can cost less. Keep in mind that these homes cost more to build than just the sticker price on the kit. Buyers might have to pony up for windows, cabinets, fixtures, contractors, subcontractors and other features and services, in addition to purchasing the land where the house is located. The total cost to build the house, minus cost of land is called the turnkey price.
Kit homes come in many forms. They can arrive in flat pieces as panelized kits or as modulars — that is, premade cubes attached together to make a full house.
In the first decades of the last century, aspiring homeowners could order their house from a Sears catalog. Montgomery Ward sold house kits, too. Aladdin was another popular maker of kit homes in those days. The tradition is still alive, although not as widespread. Consumers in Sweden, Finland, Norway, Denmark, Germany and Britain can order homes from another major retailer, IKEA, whose BoKlok branch sells terraced houses and apartment buildings.
After so much expansion resulting in a glut of empty McMansions, some home buyers think kit homes could be an answer to their desire to return to simpler, more energy efficient housing —especially because today’s kit homes are often very green. What follows is a selection of prefabricated houses in a range of styles — from modern and futuristic to rustic to historic reproductions — nearly all which have energy efficient and sustainable options or default designs. We’ll begin with the historic precedent: examples of the Sears Modern Home.
By Colleen KanePosted 23 December, 2011
Kit cost: $2,600
Square Footage: N/A
Sears sold about 70,000-75,000 Modern Homes from 1908 – 1940 in dozens of different customizable styles, as well as offering barn and other outbuilding kits during part of that period. They are enduring evidence of a time when Sears sold items (including toys) made from real wood and metal, and modestly sized houses were desirable.
The models pictured on the bottom, the Belmont, was available for purchase from Sears Modern Homes catalogs from 1931 to 1933. These homes are in Hopewell, Va., where numerous Sears homes still stand. Many others are concentrated in the Chicago area. They appear to be holding their value well—last year, when two went on the market in the Long Island area, one had an asking price of $689,000, and the other on Shelter Island was $875,000.
Kit cost: approx. $24,000 in 2004
Turnkey cost: under $100,000, excluding land
Square Footage: 1,152
Chilean-American architect Rocio Romero brought the modernist prefab to acclaim with her LV Series of energy efficient habitations. The LV models are highly customizable and environmentally friendly. The home arrives as a kit of parts, and should be assembled onsite by a general contractor. Windows are not included, since requirements vary by location; Romero’s website cites estimates for window packages ranging from $15,000 to $30,000. Cabinetry and interior walls and finishes are not included with the kit.
The LV pictured here, Luminhaus, located in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, was the first to be purchased and assembled. Luminhaus serves as a guest house retreat available for rental to nature lovers.
Kit cost: $95,000
Turnkey cost: approx. $275,000
Bathrooms: 2 full, 1 half
Square Footage: 2,086
Gastineau Log Homes has been “wrapping people in solid oak,” as its website puts it, since 1977. The company prefers using oak for its beauty, strength, and durability.
This particular Gastineau modified Caroline residence is in Eldon, Mo. It has a two-story great room space that includes the living room, kitchen, and dining area, with grand windows. A lofted second story offers views through those windows to the Osage River at the bottom of a bluff. In addition to the 2,086 square feet of living space, there's 1,072 square feet of deck, porch and balcony space.
Gastineau kits consist of the complete exterior (logs, roof, windows, doors, porches, dormers) plus the interior structure (floors, walls, doors). They do not include finished items like cabinets or electrical, plumbing or HVAC systems. The home is built by either the homeowner or builder over the course of six to eight weeks, depending on size. It usually takes about four months to move in after delivery.
Kit cost: kits range from $79,000 – $270,000+
Turnkey cost: pictured house cost $200,000
Square Footage: 1,200
The weeHouse line of modular homes from Alchemy architects is built to withstand the strains of winds and earthquakes. They’re made with sustainable materials like bamboo flooring and energy efficient features like passive solar design.
Located outside Toronto, this year-round structure is made of one horizontal and one vertical module, each 14 feet wide. It’s constructed from stained pine “corn crib” siding and oxidized copper green painted “Container” siding, red pine interiors, IKEA cabinets and Andersen windows.
Kit cost: $28,200+
Turnkey cost: N/A
Bedrooms: 1 – 5+
Square Footage: 875 – 2,500+
The Barn-House is one of the specialties offered by New Hampshire company Shelter-Kit for more than 40 years. They come as 1-1/2 to 2 story houses with cathedral ceilings, and like many of the other kit homes in this slideshow, the house plans can be modified as the buyer wishes with touches such as skylights and loft floor openings.
The kits arrive with “detailed step-by-step instructions written for the inexperienced owner-builder.” Typical assembly time for a Barn-House is 10+ days with two people working.
Kit cost: $150K - $400K+
Square Footage: 300 to 2,500 per level
Asheville, N.C.-based Deltec has offered its trademark circular hurricane-resistant and energy-efficient kit homes for more than four decades. The company boasts that none of its homes in the path of hurricane Katrina suffered damage, including two that were hit by two 20- to 30-foot tidal surges and winds of over 145 mph. Neither incurred structural damage.
The company recently added some more unusual styles to its lineup of 10 models, although none has been built yet. The Coastal Island will be a Victorian-styled circular house, and the Town and Country is a circular ranch style building.
Kit cost: approx. $35,000
Turnkey cost: about $100 - $110 per square foot
Bathrooms: 1 full, 2 partial
Square Footage: 3,200
Bear Creek Dome is the home of Tessa Hill & Dennis Odin Johnson, who own the Minnesota-based Natural Spaces Domes.
Their house features a 49-foot-diameter geodesic dome, and has an Energy Star 5-plus rating (the highest possible). “The heating cost for this dome in central Minnesota, north of Minneapolis/St. Paul, runs about $500 per year,” says Johnson. “Our dome has radiant floor heating using hot water in tubes in the concrete slab, with the water being heated by a natural gas boiler." During the summers of 2008, 2009, and 2010, their home had zero air-conditioning costs.
Another reason to go dome is durability. The company works with a structural engineer to ensure the homes can withstand natural trials like heavy snows and winds.
Kit cost: $75,000
Turnkey cost: estimated $85,000
Square Footage: approx. 300
Pictured here is a onetime model K1 aluminum house when it was located at KitHAUS’ former fabrication facility. The California-based modernist company has since relocated facilities, and this module was reconstructed for a client in Southern California.
Typical cost for a K1 module includes all interior and exterior finishes, insulation and electrical, but bathrooms and kitchens cost extra. Typical cost of a build-out after grading is about $4,000 and takes about a week to construct. KitHAUS structures are lightweight, and most are small, so they are well suited for placement in difficult-to-reach locations. They can be used as standalone studios or offices, and are adaptable to off-grid use.
Kit cost: $70- $100 per square foot
Turnkey cost: $110 - $185 per square foot
Square Footage: varies
The New York-based builder Westchester Modular offers custom homes in colonial, ranch, cape, and other designs. They look like familiar and traditional house styles but are modular, meaning they are built in cubes and pieces in a factory, on assembly lines. The manufacturer includes all the drywall, electric, plumbing, cabinets, sinks, and fixtures. Then the house is delivered to the job site, where it is set in place by a crane on a foundation. Later, a contractor connects it and does all the site work, including driveway and landscaping.
John Colucci, vice president of sales and marketing, says it’s a misconception that modular homes are of lesser quality than conventionally built homes, citing materials he uses like Andersen windows and all-plywood construction. “It can save a customer money because of our purchasing power. I’m building three houses here a week, so I don’t go through middlemen.” There’s also the time advantage gained when an entire home can be built in 45 days.