4/6/09

Startup Stars - Vancouver designers do prefab

Tony Robins of AA Robins - he of Watermark restaurant on Kits Beach - has set up a prefabricated house factory, Preform Construction, in Surrey with two partners, Marc Isaac and Ryan Spong. Preform prefabricated homes originated with Robins' residential work on BC's islands. The homes are additive - one unit is one individual complete self-contained home. Bigger houses are created by combining several units or by growing the house incrementally. Although the starter house - featured in the BC Home Show - is 500 sf, one of the first houses coming out of the factory will be 6000 sf.

'Green' features are a big part of the design and construction including:
  • green roof
  • recycled and reclaimed wood products
  • use of FSC certified, non-formaldehyde products
  • instantaneous hot water heater
  • warm in-floor heating
  • low voltage light fixtures for energy conservation
  • grey water use
  • low-E double glazing
  • simple building form
Energy savings are also due to less travel by crews and transportation and storage of materials. Each house comes in a flat pack on a truck, with walls already painted, and lighting fixtures and appliances already installed; of course, the foundations and service hookups are still prepared by a local contractor. Less waste is also created during manufacturing than during construction. Additionally, the house is more sustainable in the long run as it is easily moveable and adaptable - since it can be added to further on.

There are three ways to get your brand new modern prefab - from your own design ( Preform "can modularize any building" ), one of Tony Robins' custom designs, or choose one of the modular units. The latter are quite nice all on their own too - solid planning, perfect size for a cabin, and these fare well in the looks department.

(Aside #1 : the website does not do the product justice, neither through images nor through breadth of information - but perhaps that is on purpose. Aside # 2: did you know Robins has his own blog? Here you go. )

From Canadian Architect article:
“The prefabrication model has proven itself elsewhere, but I haven’t seen anyone shipping the final product so completely like this,” says Robins.

The company’s first venture, shipping a “Living Unit” comprising a single module to the BC Home Show, proved there needn’t be a drywall crack in sight. And it took the team two months from design sketch to delivery, one month after opening the facility. For a large house, the normal construction time will be cut in half. Whilst the modules are being put together on their steel frames, the foundations are being formed. It is also cheaper by an estimated 15% for a local siting, due to factory efficiencies.

“The millworkers walk across the floor to site measure, rather than making a day trip up the coast or into town.” The 500-sqaure-foot one-bedroom module is green and smart, with R50 blown insulation in the walls, a green roof, grey-water use for the toilet cistern, and an instantaneous hot water heater (above the bathroom) for the taps and in-floor heating. The temperature of the module can also be changed remotely from any computer. It also feels surprisingly spacious, due to its 10-foot ceilings and the clever use of light and space.

Whilst the unit clearly lends itself to installation on a recreational property, the soon-to-be-legal Vancouver laneway housing is an obvious future market.
Vancouver Sun article here.

Robins with the starter model at the BC Home Show
starter model

one of the custom prefab houses


At the very same time, Vancouver company Form&Forest has enlisted D'Arcy Jones to design prefabricated cabin kits for their line, that too ship as flat packs. Unlike Preform, Form&Forest has one specific niche - holiday retreats. Jones has developed three designs for the company so far. From Azure:
Each cabin encompasses approximately 635 square feet. Trapper's design is typical in that it features an open concept living room, generous patio space at the back, and bedrooms tucked behind the terrace. The Cowboy design, by contrast, features wraparound windows in the main space and a soaker tub at the center, from which to enjoy the view.

The designs are intended for those who have a plot of land and are thinking of building on it, and the cabin's prefabricated components are designed to ensure minimal labour and sub trade requirements on the building site.
This particular way of building will require more work from the customer/client including site prep, assembly, and finishing. You are getting a kit of parts - it is up to you to put it together and to finish it.

Basically, both options are great and (rant alert) they will always have King Kong's leg up over anything "shipping container" - people, those are for shipping! If you must, do like Mr Robins and Mr Jones and design things for living in.

Another reason for "why?" On their blog - besides having a very cool name, they also have a blog and a tweeter feed - Form&Forest elaborate:
It is our intention to create beautiful, livable spaces. More than this, we intend to create spaces that enhance your well being. Spaces that help you find a little happiness.

You may think the Form & Forest prefab cabin kits are beautiful. You may even find that they make you happier. If you do, that’s because they are designed for happiness.
...

Cabin Design 1: Cowboy

Cabin Design 2: Ranger
Cabin Design 2: Trapper

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