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proto homes uses wood framing around a core

Frank Vafaee and his team are up to good things in downtown Los Angeles.  We have been following their progress for 8 years now, and love their core and hyperspace concept.  For those of you that haven’t heard of Proto Homes, they are worth checking out.  Their prefab (not modular) factory in downtown Los Angeles has pumped out 60 homes since 2011.  They started off as a think tank in 2009.  After building a couple of homes per year starting in 2011, demand is now ramping up.   

They offer what they call a “system-built” prefab home.  The idea of system-built homes was introduced by Frank Lloyd Wright about a century ago.  They define “system-built” as shipping completed home parts to the site where they are assembled, vs. modular, where entire modules are shipped to the construction site. 

construction costs

There is a cost savings by using Proto Homes.  They say their homes can be built for $170/sf, but this is just for their structure, MEP, and exterior cladding.  This is also assuming only two stories.  If you are going up 3 stories, there is a 15% premium.  You still need a general contractor to complete the interior finish build out, as they leave an open shell on the inside that needs to be completed.  They also don’t do any site work, excavation, or foundation work.  When you discuss all-in costs with them, they say their homes can be completed for ~$290/sf, and they emphasize that similar homes with traditional construction methods can cost greater $400/sf.  We are still evaluating the all in home costs using their structure, as well as the costs to construct the same home with traditional methods.  Great homes get built all the time for $250/SF.

construction timing and savings

They market the Proto Home as being constructed in 48 days, but that is just for their structure, MEP, and exterior cladding.  When you include all the site work including excavation for a basement and foundations, as well as the interior finishes, their homes can be completed in 7-8 months, but more likely 8-12 months.  This compares to normal home construction that can be 12-18 months. Their methods are definitely quicker.

Once you have a site, and have completed a site plan, survey, and soils testing, Proto Homes can complete an initial design in 2-3 weeks along with the initial budget.  They call this the Proto Pass phase, and the cost is $2,500.  Once you sign a contract for them to build the home, they complete the comprehensive design and budget in 4 weeks.  They claim that after that point, they can start construction in 2 weeks, and that any delays would be from grading, permitting, excavating, or the foundation; not from Proto Homes.

the proto core

Proto Homes puts the home’s infrastructure in their “Proto Core”, and then build simple wood framed walls around that don’t have plumbing.  This is similar to (and might be inspired by) Louis I Kahn’s separation of “service” vs. “served” spaces.  Katerra is also working to isolate the MEP in towers in their multi-family buildings.  

Their home structure adds flexibility to home design.  For example, they have wall systems where you can change the exterior cladding at any time.  They also offer mobile cabinets between certain rooms, that can me moved or removed to change the room sizes.

Proto Homes definitely builds the components of their houses with longevity and reduced maintenance in mind.  They have patented technologies (not sure what these are yet), and use cladding with rainscreen technology, continuous envelope waterproofing, PVC and factory finished steel cladding, Zero Penetration Roof, heat fused TPO roofing membrane, solid Aluminum door jambs and welded aluminum space frames.  They market the following features of their homes:

  • Centralized Mechanical Core / Controls (Proto Core) – centralizes mechanical and controls
  • Up-gradable home core – can add bedrooms, storage, or move walls with moving cabinets
  • Open and Flexible space (what they call Hyperspace) – open, airy, high ceilings
  • Innovative and Modern Design – open, clean, light
  • Smart Networked home controls – lighting, controls, security
  • Efficient Construction – prefabricated structural panels
  • Thoughtful Design – “zero-jam” doors, easy entry showers, switchable HVAC flow
  • Owner’s Manual – manual for the homes features,  functions, controls and systems
  • Low-Maintenance / Repair Accessible – Proto Core, wall mounted fixtures, accessible systems
  • Sustainable and Green

If you are interested in Proto Homes, but not their exterior or finish packages, contact us.  We have amazing packages that make a Proto Home shine, and we can handle or organize the installation. 

For information on other prefab home builders, read our article on different prefab systems, designers, and builders.

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