The Promise of Pre-Fab


Previously Fabricated or “Pre-Fab” housing is one of the most intriguing, energy saving ways to address the constant demand for homes and building.  Traditional construction can be labor-intensive and consume a high level of resources. Pre-fab, on the other hand promises to be a hyper-local means to a sustainable end. Jeffrey Sommers, of Square Root Architecture + Design, is on the forefront of broadening the appeal and increasing accessibility to pre-fab housing in Chicago.

Sommers’ design, the C3 Home (C3 = Cube, Cut, Copy) harnesses some of the most desired and eco-friendly elements of pre-fab. Solar thermal panels and ductless HVAC contributed to a LEED Platinum rating. Additionally, Sommers included the possibility of installing a living roof and a photovoltaic system once the owners were ready. The C3 is admittedly, a hybrid model which utilizes a structural insulated panel (SIP) system which is a flat-pack system that lowers transportation and erection costs while allowing for inspections by the City.

In addition to time and cost-savings, pre-fab housing produces minimal waste. In traditional construction, 30-40% of materials can wind up as landfill; in a prefab that percentage can be as low as 2%. This will have an even greater impact in the near future as potential homeowners become accustomed to the idea of pre-fab and multiple houses can be produced assembly-line style.  Sommers’ dream is to have a factory for pre-fab in Indiana and produce homes for the Chicago region.  The City, as an influential player in regional development, would be wise to collaborate with Sommers on his seemingly lofty goals. One can simply look to the GOTO 2040 Plan to see how pre-fab could play a major part in providing access to housing options and move towards greater energy efficiency.


4 thoughts on “The Promise of Pre-Fab

  1. While it is clear that prefabricated building designs can account for far less waste than traditional building, there are a few more things to consider in my worldview. One would be safety. These are obviously a question to combat when, due to modular construction, skyscrapers of 54 stories have been constructed in China in 20 days. This is a massive breakthrough of engineering, particularly in countries facing urbanization as quickly as the Chinese; their modular designs must be implemented to support an increasingly dense urban population. However, is safety and the sturdiness of such a structure of pre-fab design the same as a traditional home or high-rise? Living in Chicago, for me, an undeniable question is aesthetics. We must consider the architectural heritage of our neighborhoods, and that being said, are there ways to make pre-fabricated housing more architecturally appealing, cohesive, and timeless in style, so that it is not something we end up throwing away when tastes in housing change?
    I also wonder if we can take prefab housing to a further level, where prefab houses can be easily picked up and moved, and perhaps one day people will take their houses with them if it easy enough. With countries like China pioneering the speed and size of these types of developments it will be interesting to see them used in an American context; i.e. to be thought of as transitional housing in natural disasters or as more affordable options to low income residents.
    On China:


  2. I like the idea that the buildings are more sustainable but how much would it cost live there. In addition, the cost of living has been increasing in Chicago over the past couple of years so I’m wondering if they do bring these buildings to Chicago region who would it be for? Furthermore, I feel that the idea of less labor intensive work means less construction workers which worries me. Although the there is less work to be done, the construction workers would probably lose their jobs or work less because of it which would make it hard for them to provide for their families. Yet, I still think it is a great idea because it can be used for lower income housing and it could end up helping a lot people if done right. Furthermore, I was looking on the Chicago Housing site for low income families and a lot of the rent is pretty high and the locations of the homes are in disinvested neighborhoods. I feel that if these sustainable building were used in Chicago it should be used by CHA to provide affordable housing.


  3. My first education after public school in Switzerland was vocational training for carpentry. The company I worked for builds Pre-Fab houses, so I am very familiar with the concept. The houses are mostly cheaper than traditional constructions as the industrialized production in a production site is more organized and thus more efficient. Furthermore, one can acquire land later than with conventional construction, as the building is assembled on site and constructed faster. This saves further money. I think this is a major plus for future homeowners to look at. Regarding sustainability, the construction needs to be well thought through, and it takes a lot of experience to build a pre-fab house in the same quality as the conventional way of construction provides. In Switzerland, pre-fab houses are mostly built in timber constructions, which is a good way to store CO2 🙂 You might want to have a look into that!


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