The prefabrication of homes and commercial spaces has been a regular practice in the building industry since the 1900s, but until just recently, it hasn’t gained the respect it deserves.
The concept of building a “prefab home” to many sounds cheap and unappealing due to the history of the industry, while in contrast, building a “custom home” sounds expensive, luxurious, and elegant.
In reality, these are both misconceptions that can be addressed through a brief glimpse into the history of residential and commercial prefab construction in the US over the past century. You’ll find that the prefab industry has grown. Through growth, it has expanded into new sectors of the industry, providing a streamlined solution to just about any new construction project.
Stay tuned as we dive into the prefab industry, starting from the roots in the 1900s all the way to prefab as we know it today!
The Early Ages of Prefab
Prefab construction, specifically Kit Home construction, has been around since the early 1900s. Some of the earliest examples were available for purchase in Sears catalogs as far back as 1902.
Sears would provide Simplex ReadyMade or Portable Buildings in the forms of kits. Wooden materials were pre-cut to size and shipped to your doorstep to be assembled on site.
At this point in history, prefabrication was primarily a DIY sort of gig. You would purchase the package, then bolt it together yourself, and ultimately save time and money in the process.
Not to mention, the Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalog also contained all of the necessary interior finishes necessary to complete the structure with your own personal touch.
1950’s – 2000
During the mid to late 1900s, the entire prefab industry began to make some significant changes. United States veterans were returning from World War II, and the housing market grew at an incredible rate. This incentivized home builders to start looking for options to streamline their process in order to fulfill demand at a faster pace.
Prefabricating all of the necessary components of a pre-designed and engineered plan off-site meant faster assembly for the builder when the materials arrived. At this point in time, the name of the game was efficiency above all else.
The strive for maximum efficiency is what led to further innovation in the prefab industry. Suppliers began looking into ways to streamline the process even more by prefabricating entire houses rather than just a shell package. Practically eliminating any front end work for the builder, and allowing a home to bet set and finished within just a matter of days.
This model of prefab home is what we now consider today as modular or manufactured. With modular prefab, individual modules or sections of the structure are manufactured off-site so that once they are shipped, they can be assembled and ready to move in within days.
Manufacturers of prefabricated housing had been somewhat stuck in their same model since the development of manufactured/modular housing in the late 1950s. Designing a set number of floor plans, manufacturing on a mass scale, and offering little to no degree of customization. The model was still based solely on efficiency and keeping costs as low as possible.
The “Cookie Cutter” approach that dominated the industry for such a long period of time is what has skewed many middle and upper-class individuals from prefabricated housing. It was seen as a cheap streamlined approach but at what cost? Size limitations, finish limitations, overall design limitations… the list went on and on!
When working with a general contractor and architectural designer, the experience of building a home felt much more personal. The price difference was apparent, but the ability to design a house from the ground up made more sense for people who could afford it.
The drastic separation between the custom home and prefab home industries was a gap just waiting to be filled. Champion Homes, a leader in the modular housing industry, did just that. They modified their existing modular home offering to appeal to a new audience by including the ability to customize. It wasn’t much to start, primarily just the interior and exterior finishes, but this opened the door to the modern era of prefab homes and commercial structures.
Prefab in 2020 and Beyond
Champion Homes’s effort to fill the gap between the custom home and prefabricated home buyer segments led to an entirely new era of residential and commercial construction on a global scale.
So, how did this influence a new era of Prefab Housing?
Well, Champion’s innovation influenced others to make changes to their existing model of construction. Primarily, this influenced panelized (kit) home manufacturers to rethink their offer, shifting away from a standardized package of materials to an entirely new, customizable offer.
Modular style homes were still somewhat limited in terms of customization options. You could select the finish level to your desire, but floor plans’ selection remained a limiting factor.
Panelized manufacturers such as Trinity Building Systems recognized these limitations and developed solutions to fill the gap. The original panelized construction model was modified to increase the flexibility and customization options available in a material package offering.
Rather than selecting a floor plan from a catalog and being locked into a set number of designs, solutions were created to help individuals design from the ground up. This allowed buyers to enjoy the streamlined and simplified aspects of prefab construction without compromising design.
Further, manufactures started to stray away from the standard “Stick Built” style of panelized construction, looking into ways to streamline the process with modern building materials. This led to the introduction of SIPs (structural insulated panels) as a go-to method for exterior walls and roof framing.
SIPs practically eliminate the need for standard 2x lumber, helping reduce the overall lumber needed for the project, virtually eliminating job site waste, and ultimately simplifying the process for everyone involved.
Overall, the prefab industry has changed dramatically. No longer should custom homes and prefab homes be looked at as two different structures, instead just one and the same. Everything that was once seen as unique to custom home construction is now very much a part of the prefab process.
Is Prefab the Future of Construction?
Prefab is undoubtedly the future of construction, no matter the scale or complexity of the project!
Over the past few decades, there has been an increasing scarcity of skilled trades. With fewer skilled trades available, custom carpentry and other trades can cost a premium.
Prefabrication helps minimize the number of trades required in a new construction process by utilizing state of the art CNC (computer numerical control) machinery as the backbone of the prefabrication process.
CNC Machining ensures all lumber is cut to specification the first time and leaves absolutely no room for error. Not only does this speed up overall project timelines, but it also helps reduce labor requirements and unnecessary waste/waste removal.
Doing things right the first time ensures a smooth and successful new construction project!
Utilizing skilled trades and quality craftsmanship to hand-finish the prefabricated components helps get you the look you desire without compromising efficiency in the process.
Going one step further, when you choose to prefabricate your build, you receive an entirely personalized and interactive project management experience. This helps reduce your project’s complexities with one line of communication and one person managing your account. We take full responsibility for ensuring your project success from start to finish.
Learn more about the TBS Process and how we manage architectural design, prefabrication, & turnkey assistance under one roof.
Let’s Start The Conversation
Want to learn more about the modern prefab process and how it can apply to your upcoming project?
Depending on your needs and desires or where you are at in the process, we can custom tailor a solution for you. Starting from design, all the way through the assembly of your structure, we’re here to help in any way possible.
You can get in touch by filling out the form below, giving us a call, or by sending us an e-mail. We look forward to hearing about your project and how we can help simplify your new construction process.