Prefabricated McMansions

A debate in Rhode Island about what counts as an affordable housing unit included this suggestion about prefabricated McMansions:

Photo by Mike B on

But although the state’s definition of manufactured home could include a prefabricated McMansion, House spokesman Larry Berman said the bill requires units to qualify under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development definition of manufactured homes, which is much narrower.

I wonder (a) how many prefabricated homes might qualify as McMansions and (b) how a prefabricated home fits with the critiques of the poor construction and/or architectural quality of McMansions.

On the first point, I imagine most prefabricated homeowners are not intending to create a McMansion. It is possible, but I do not imagine there are many prefabricated McMansions. If they do exist in sizable numbers, I would be interested to see them.

On the second issue, would a prefabricated home be a better construction choice compared to concerns some have with mass production builders? Or, could prefabricated homes successfully address the architectural issues of McMansions such as too many gables, poor proportions, and a mishmash of styles? I do not know how more expensive prefabricated homes rate in terms of quality and I suppose prefabricated homes could look like anything.

If the number of prefabricated homes in the United States increases, some might be McMansions or some might be the new McMansions in what could be a fluid term.

Trade in a McMansion…for a mid-century pre-fab modern home?

One blogger suggests she would rather have a mid-20th century prefab modern home than the new McMansions going up around her:

I’ve never been a fan of “McMansion” houses. They have spread across this country like a plague and have taken away from the unique architectural style of certain regional areas. For example, where I live in New England, we’ve always been known for capes, ranches, split levels and the colonial style of older homes. McMansions have no business being here. And yet, every time I see a parcel of land become available around here and a new home going up, it’s always a McMansion. Always. No offense to anyone who lives in one, but I fail to comprehend their appeal–they’re unnecessarily huge, expensive, lack any uniqueness and stick out like sore thumbs. And yet this behemoth has been nothing but successful since it first sprouted up in the 80s.

Now that my rant is done, I’d like to turn your attention to the humble mid-century modern home. Ahhhh…aren’t these great to look at? National Homes was at one time one of the country’s largest providers of pre-fab homes. It was founded in 1940 and by 1963, had built 250,000 homes across the U.S. I think these houses are beeeeeooootiful. What I wouldn’t give to find a little ranch with a carport and white fence for the right price in my area like the one in the ad above. And the designs were customizable and affordable. If only they’d make a comeback…

The complaints about McMansions are not unusual. Compared to the McMansion, the modern home is smaller, has a carport (which is less ostentatious than the multi-car garages many McMansions have), has only one story, and has a nostalgic appeal. However, I’m not sure the modern pre-fab home would be considered beautiful. Is it built with more quality or design that today’s McMansions? How many other Americans would also choose modern homes over McMansions?

If someone really wanted to go retro and avoid the McMansion, why not go back further to homes that didn’t require mass production or pre-fab pieces? This would require going back to pre-World War II era and finding homes that were constructed by smaller builders in more traditional styles.


Goodbye, McMansions with granite countertops; hello, pre-fab green homes with LEED ratings

Author Sheri Koones thinks the new housing trend is green homes:

The way Sheri Koones looks at it, the next real estate status symbol will be a minuscule heating bill.

“It’s the new bragging rights,” said Koones. “People used to brag, I have granite countertops. Today I think it’s going to be a lot more substantial to say, ‘I pay hardly anything for energy. I’m LEED Platinum” (a certification of residential energy conservation).

Granted, with the housing market still wounded, green construction is hardly likely to dominate cocktail-party chatter anytime soon. But Koones is mindful of our newfound economic sobriety. Declaring “the whole McMansion thing is over,” she’s become a champion of an unlikely-sounding candidate for the Next Big Thing: factory-built housing…

But she doesn’t mean like trailers. She means homes that aren’t constructed start-to-finish on someone’s lot, but largely in manufacturing facilities, sometimes on assembly lines. She’s become such an advocate of these processes that she’s out with her third coffee-table book on the subject.

There does seem to be a growing interest in green homes, partly for their earth-consciousness and partly because of an interest in reducing utility costs. However, I wonder about two things:

1. A granite countertop is a more obvious status symbol than “a minuscule heating bill.” So is a McMansion compared to a pre-fab green home. Of course, one can have less obvious status symbols but then the owner has to do more work talking it up and pointing it out to people. I suppose LEED homes could start displaying plaques or signs that highlight their green status. Plus, is the LEED rating of the pre-fab home enough to overcome people’s conceptions about pre-fab homes?

2. As I’ve wondered before, how do green homes compare in cost? Cutting down heating costs is good but there must be some cost to this up-front. What about resale value, particularly for a pre-fab home?

No, Ikea does not sell a prefabricated home

Two months ago, I noted a story about a prefab home whose interior was outfitted by Ikea. Apparently, lots of people thought Ikea was providing the whole home:

The story went nuts. Literally within an hour, we were getting emails from the Phillippines to South America to Australia to Iceland — it seemed to be real big in Iceland. We heard right away from Greece and Italy — people who were interested in knowing more about an “Ikea house.” We got 2 million Web hits.

It got mentioned on the “Tonight Show” and “Today.” The Huffington Post picked it up but later issued a correction.

We got 4,000 emails in just the first few days after the erroneous story broke. We tried to do our best to respond right away, explaining to people what we do and that the Aktiv house just contains some Ikea products.

Ikea put out a corporate press release explaining things, saying that despite erroneous reports, it is not selling prefabricated homes in the United States. We were told that people were walking into Ikea stores around the world and asking about getting a house.

As I noted two months ago, you can still get a prefabricated home from Menards!

Based on the popularity of this idea, I wonder if Ikea is looking into providing prefabricated houses. I’m sure there would be some issues of economies of scale and getting into home development but I imagine Ikea could tackle these issues if they wanted to.

Another question: are there are other brands that people would buy prefab houses from? What if Pottery Barn got into this?