Are Pre-Fab “Lego” Houses the Solution to the Housing Crisis?

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Robison Wells
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Not much has changed in the home construction industry in the last fifty years. Workers show up to a site, dig, pour, frame, sheath, and finish a house, with a nationwide average cost of $428,000 a piece. And that’s when there’s proper space to find that job site and enough skilled laborers to do the work.

But in many overpopulated areas, even that is a stretch. Fora housing unit in San Francisco—a unit, not a house—one can expect to pay $750,000.This doesn’t come close to accommodating the rising populations that are needed to work in and maintain these cities.

A new proposal is to look toward the modular, pre-fabricated homes. A Seattle-based startup called Node wants to pre-fab houses and ship them flat-packed (think IKEA) to a site to be built easily and quickly on a small site. Walls snap together, no nails or screws are needed. And the buildings are beautiful, minimalist and modern.

The secret isn’t in the materials, which are standard(metal, wood, and glass), but in the construction. A house can be assembled in just days, and software built into the houses make them carbon neutral (they’re all powered by solar power). “It’s Legos,” says Bec Chapin, co-founder and COO.

So far, Node is focusing on the backyard market:mother-in-law apartments and cottages, ranging from 400 to 1100 square feet that can be constructed in the back yards of existing homes. In San Francisco,they’re selling these units at $250,000, a third the cost of a traditional unit.

One major benefit for these houses is their backyard applicability. By building in the back of traditional homes, they are able to increase the population density of an area, while not building up. Node is targeting older people who have homes close to downtown who no longer need the backyard space and could do with the extra money of selling that space. As more zoning commissions allow for these backyard units, the sooner we can see an easing of the housing market for the middle and lower classes.

To read more, check out the World Economic Forum.

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