Architects, designers, and entrepreneurs who believe in the potential of modular housing to transform the home building industry continue to work on developing a viable model that’s affordable and good-looking, and now the latest iteration has arrived: ASUL Adaptable System for Universal Living.
A Phoenix-based startup recently unveiled its ASUL modular housing system with the promise that homes will start at $100 per square foot. “It's actually not a line of pre-designed homes,” says Tim Russell, founder and CEO of the company. “Instead, it’s a system allowing one to custom-design homes at a more affordable price point. In essence, it’s an entirely new paradigm in designing and constructing a home. As far as we know, it’s the first system of its kind.”
According to Russell, American consumers and design industry professionals are ready for a straightforward, modern prefab concept whose pricing is immediate and transparent. ASUL hits all these notes, he says. Created by a team of architects, engineers, contractors, and investors, ASUL allows clients (consumers, architects, builders, and interior designers) to participate in the designing and building process of the home, Russell explains. Each home is custom-designed via a collaborative design process between the client and ASUL architects, which means the final plan responds to the site and the region where the home is to be located.
“We believe the market wants customization, affordability, and predictability from a modern, prefab company,” Russell says. “Most companies offer static designs that are really expensive and built in a factory, which is hard for the stakeholders to accept.”
Russell is not a fan of factory-built homes, however, which is why the company developed ASUL as a site-built system incorporating a kit of parts and an assembly technique that creates efficiencies and reduces the amount of on-site construction labor required to build a home.
The system is based on 30 different modules or rooms: 10 module sizes (12x12, 12x16, 12x20, etc.) each with three different ceiling heights: 8 feet, 10 feet, or 12 feet. Components are shipped from the closest provider based on ASUL specifications, placed on the site, and the company’s team assembles the pieces to build the house.
Homes can be as small as clients want them—a pool house, for example—or as large. Each features a welded steel frame that absorbs the entire structural load of the house, but also eliminates the need for any interior or exterior walls and permits window location anywhere on the floor plan.
Features, of course, are a matter of personal tastes, but the typical ASUL home comes tricked out with a pretty decent collection of standard materials and products. The list includes “medium-grade finishes” such as Ikea cabinetry, Bosch appliances, cork floor (or equivalent), Milgard windows, and Hansgrohe fixtures. “The client can upgrade or downgrade these finishes based on their desires and budget,” Russell says.
So how can ASUL offer a per-square-foot cost of $100 or even $25? “We have three construction options depending on the type of client we have,” Russell explains.
There is the You Build option, which is designed for developers, contractors, and owners who prefer to have their own contractor construct their ASUL home. In this case, ASUL provides design services and the materials necessary for the exterior shell of the home, and its assembly team is available for off-site consultation. Prices begin at $25 per foot.
Under the Both Build scenario, ASUL’s crew will construct the exterior shell of the home while the home buyer manages the interior finishes. In addition to providing the design services, ASUL will act as a subcontractor. Prices begin at $50 per square foot.
For the ASUL Build deal, the company acts as the general contractor for the entire project from beginning to end. Pricing begins at $100 per square foot.
“We are able to hit these prices because we have created and engineered a system,” the company says. “The byproduct of any system is more affordability and predictability. An Adaptable System allows customization: Those are the three variables missing from every other pre-fab company and what we believe the market has been told was the promise of pre-fab.”
The young Arizona firm says it has hit a nerve with the design community and with consumers. Despite launching just two months ago, it now has three completed homes, two under contract, and five being given “very strong” consideration.
Nigel Maynard is senior editor, products, at BUILDER magazine.