When Meg Crosby bought 13 acres in Phenicia last winter before the pandemic started, the Manhattan-based tech recruiter already had a vision for the weekend home she wanted in the country – and it wasn’t about an architect or construction of a house from scratch.

“Just the thought of hiring an architect … A: There is a cost to me, but B – which is just as important in my opinion – time is a factor.”

Instead, she researched companies that specialize in prefabricated homes that provide contractors or home improvement enthusiasts with some pre-fabricated materials, such as walls and blueprints, to make the construction process easier.

“[Prefab home] Kits are attractive because you are essentially leveraging the company’s expertise, ”she said. “It just seems like an easy, less stressful process. I understand why people are interested in doing a custom build, but I just think it seems a lot easier to me when there is already something that matches my aesthetic. “

Ultimately, she found a happy medium with a local company called Den, from whom she bought architectural plans for a small house that she plans to build on her property this year, as well as a prefabricated house for a 115-square-foot glamping-style cabin that is now ready is. For about $ 20,000, she received the cabin parts flat-packed and shipped to her property, where they were then assembled by a contractor for an additional $ 6,000.

Plumbing and electricity on site will come later; At the moment, a portable toilet and propane heat is sufficient.

The decision, she said, came down to her customer service and her designs. “I like the aesthetics of the cabins, all of the things that they have on their premises.”

Live out an off-grid fantasy

Contrary to its name, a prefabricated house or backyard shed doesn’t mean it’s completely prefabricated. And it has taken many forms over the years. Sears, Roebuck & Co. sold some of the earliest kit houses in the early 20th century, including pre-cut, numbered wood, which cut build time in the days before hand-held power tools.

Today, the building trend has evolved towards prefabricated structures that use either factory-made house parts such as siding and roofing or modular sections that are delivered and assembled on site.

The time-saving promise of prefabricated house construction remains unchanged, as does the one-stop shopping process. And during the pandemic, these two factors became big selling points for those who wanted to easily buy a place to escape their home or work outside – especially prefabricated houses that were small enough to bypass some of the bureaucratic hurdles involved in building. Many cities do not need building permits for structures of a certain area, another efficiency of tiny prefabricated houses with an area of ​​about 30 square meters.

Their sheds became even more popular as backyard studios for workouts or work during the pandemic. Cabins were also becoming increasingly popular. Dezeen, an architecture and design site, named prefabricated homes as one of the top 10 architectural trends of 2020. “Maybe it was the seemingly endless isolation but prefabricated cabins that can be packaged in secluded places to get outside Living the power grid fantasy was very popular, ”they stated.

One of the manufacturers Dezeen highlighted was Den and the A-frame cabin kit launched last fall. The Rhinecliff-based company, founded last year by Mike Romanowicz and his wife Lizzie Kardon, markets the kits originally at $ 21,500 because they’re so simple they can be built in three days.

Although Den wouldn’t share his sales numbers, Romanowicz named 10 states the cabin kits have shipped to from California to North Carolina since they were launched last November.

The company also sells architectural plans for small modern homes Den commissioned by licensed architects and engineers. Their one- and two-bedroom house plans, priced around $ 300, are designed for weekend getaways on or off the grid. Their one bedroom cubicle kit, made on site, really encourages its residents to unplug it.

“While you could use it [our cabin] As an office space, “said Romanowicz,” it is not primarily intended for a productivity use case. You want it to go as far out into the forest as you are willing to wear so that you can sleep there or meditate there. “

An overnight home office

The price per square foot for Julie Wallach’s Studio Shed home office was not a significant savings from a custom build. However, the materials were delivered in six weeks, construction took only three days, and no building permit was required.

Julie Wallach

While Some tried to escape during the pandemic, while others just needed office space.

Studio Shed co-founder and creative director Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski Nova, who has been manufacturing prefabricated housing units and studios since 2008, said he saw tremendous growth during the pandemic. “People needed a home office overnight,” he said

Some of this demand can be measured in the typical period between an inquiry and a purchase. Before the pandemic, this window averaged 80-90 days. In June last year, Nova said it had shrunk to under 30 days.

“I think this trend will continue,” he said. “Perhaps with not quite the same urgency, but… a lot of large tech companies allow their employees to work remotely fairly consistently. And that will change the landscape and the need for a home office. “

While renovating her home in High Falls, designer Julie Wallach knew she needed to create more space on the property by removing a small bedroom. And since she and her husband lived and worked in the house during the renovation, she chose Studio Shed to set up a 140 square meter home office.

“My husband always likes to have a separate workplace,” she said. “We both work from home, [and] It’s almost impossible to spend every single minute together, especially when you work as much as we do. When we moved into this house I knew it would add value to the property and it would be a great structure. “

Prefab’s promise meets actuality of building growth

A studio shed in Gardiner, NY. The typical time between inquiring and purchasing a Studio Shed product was around 90 days, but increased to just 30 days by June last year. “People needed a home office overnight,” said Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski Nova, co-founder and creative director of Studio Shed. The time span goes back up to 60 days but is still faster than the norm.

Studio shed

She used Studio Shed’s online tool to design the office the way she wanted it. “It’s like playing a video game. You drag and drop all of these items onto it, and then it has a shopping cart. “The bottom line was little more than a Playstation, however: roughly $ 45,000 or $ 321 per square foot, which is equivalent for a bespoke project. The cost of the structure was approximately $ 25,000, the labor cost was $ 15,000, including the deck and electrical wiring, and the HVAC split system was another $ 5,000.

Where she found savings, the time it took to arrive was only six weeks, and the days it took to build: three.

The promise of prefabricated houses does not always keep

Buying a pre-made structure, however small, to sleep or work, doesn’t come cheap. When Jackie Brown and Amna Ali of the Gather Greene wedding and event venue in Coxsackie first priced out the pre-built Lushna cabins they admired online, they were amazed at how low the first quote from the Slovenia-based company was.

After Lushna asked the company for details of shipping and customs charges for the 250-square-foot cabs, they took a different route for this US construction, one of their first. The company selected a local contractor for the project, prepared a contract, and in the fall of 2017, Gather Greene and the contractor signed the agreement stating that the contractor would build and deliver all the cabins.

When the project continued to lag behind on schedule, Brown and Ali checked their status in the spring of 2018 and discovered eight half-finished cabins rather than the 16 they had purchased. Ultimately, they had to rent their own backhoe to move the unfinished cabins to their property and hire a new contractor, Jeff Westcott, to complete them. He died unexpectedly after completing the job, a sad ending to the women’s overall uncomfortable experience.

“Lushna is said to be a pre-made product, and nothing about that process was pre-made,” said Ali.

Given Gather Greene’s negative experience, they asked for their property to be removed from the Lushna site as an example of a successful project. Lushna, meanwhile, claims that they merely licensed their designs to a contractor who didn’t come through as promised.

“It’s our design … that’s why it’s on our website,” said Peter Licen, CEO of Lushna.

Meg Crosby knew she was at the mercy of her contractor's schedule when she hired a contractor to build the den booth kit, which can only take three days.

Meg Crosby knew she was at the mercy of her contractor’s schedule when she hired a contractor to build the den booth kit, which can only take three days. “I knew about the availability of contractors a few months after I bought the property,” said Crosby.

Meg Crosby

Impact of the pandemic on the lightness of prefabricated houses

Since the pandemic began, shipping delays coupled with a boom in housing and renovation have driven the price of building materials higher. Lumber prices have increased 240 percent over the past year, adding up to $ 24,000 to the typical new single family home.

These price increases are also due to prefabricated buildings. Den recently increased the price of his A-frame kit from $ 21,500 to $ 27,000, a 25 percent increase to reflect the increase in lumber prices. Studio Shed has increased prices on certain options and upgrades such as wood paneling, doors and windows, but so far has no plans to increase retail prices overall.

Another pandemic-related pain point with prefab home construction is the inability to find a contractor due to the need for home renovations. Crosby’s cabin is said to be built over a long weekend. Her job lasted over a month as her contractor only had time to spend incremental time on the project between his other jobs and she requested some adjustments like propane heating. But the delay didn’t dampen their experience.

“I knew about the availability of contractors a few months after I bought the property,” said Crosby, who visited her completed cabin for the first time last weekend. “I knew I [was] work with the contractor’s schedule. “

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