The dream of the $50-a-square-foot home has apparently come true now that Miami-based prefab manufacturer Cabin Fever has reached an agreement with architect Ed Binkley to offer the architect’s designs for stylish, efficient, and eco-friendly homes that can be ordered as a package.
“The challenges are apparent; the need for real affordable housing is obvious,” says Binkley, principal of Ed Binkley Design in Oviedo, Fla., and a former partner and national design director at the large architecture and planning firm BSB Design. “The intention of this concept is to bridge the gap between mass market housing and very low-end housing that often does not address the livability or design style factor.”
As part of the agreement, Cabin Fever, a manufacturer of affordable, efficient, and eco-friendly prefab cabins and cottages, will offer the Binkley-designed Shelter Series, a collection of “sensibly sized and configured, affordable, component-based houses ideal for individual lots, planned communities, and small-scale developments,” the two parties say in a statement.
The Shelter Series will, at first, consist of six plans ranging in size from only 530 square feet to about 1,000 square feet. Binkley says the idea is to keep the offerings small for now so they can focus on keeping the design quality high. More sizes will be added later. “We don’t buy cars by the pound, so why should we buy homes by the square footage?” he says. “This is the underlying design statement in the development of The Shelter Series homes. We buy cars based on comfort, price, accessibility, features, uniqueness, and how well they address our needs, wants, and desires. This is the same criteria we should base our home buying decisions on.”
The series hopes to address some of these issues. The big idea is that 80% to 90% of the house can be shipped out with all the necessary components, and some of the finishing items can be purchased locally at a big box outlet or home store. Unlike a prefab house, a Shelter Series house will not show up at the job site as pre-built modular portions of a house. Instead, a customer will order the house as a package that will include the panelized exterior and interior wall system—with 2x4 walls, with Huber Engineered Woods' Zip System sheathing, with or without siding attached—appliances, cabinets, plumbing fixtures, etc. “It’s almost like a house in a box,” Binkley jokes.
Drywall is one of the few items that will not be shipped with the package, says Binkley, because the gypsum boards could be easily damaged in transit but also because the material is relatively cheap and can be sourced locally. The company is flexible on many of the other offerings, the architect says. For example, R-19 fiberglass insulation is standard, but if a buyer wanted to increase the thermal envelope, cellulose or blown-in foam or even rigid foam can be substituted. “One of the roof systems we are looking at is a metal-skinned refrigerator panel that is easy to install and does not need finishing,” Binkley says. “”We are also flexible on wall cladding, which includes James Hardie’s fiber cement products, wood, and other materials.”
The homes will display Binkley’s love of classic American mid-century modern architecture, with clean lines and simple forms. “I wanted to create a home that was first and foremost system-built, leveraging prefab components to maximize overall project efficiency.” By using prefabricated building components, on-site labor costs will be significantly reduced, the parties say.
The series combines the benefits of panelization and prefabrication—components manufactured in a controlled factory environment to precise specifications. As a result, the costs can be closely controlled and waste is reduced. The low cost has allowed Cabin Fever to think of other applications for the series, such as a potential contributor to the Haiti rebuild.
“As you might imagine, being a prefab builder in Miami, we have had a lot of interest in our buildings for post-earthquake Haiti,” says Andrew Kelly, president of Cabin Fever. “We have developed several designs in response to requests for affordable housing solutions, and working with Ed Binkley will allow us to add quality family-oriented homes to our domestic and international portfolio, which, along with our TK Series of smaller structures, are perfect for the long-term rebuild of Haiti.”
Nigel Maynard is senior editor, products, with BUILDER magazine.