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CONCORD, NH – If housing was built like a Disney ride, parts would be manufactured in a factory and assembled later on-site to create a sturdy, reliable structure. Or, on a smaller scale, like Lego pieces snapping together to complete a model.
That’s what Module Housing, a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based company, is suggesting to alleviate New Hampshire’s current housing crisis – an affordable and quick construction process that can readily meet the demand.
Modular housing helps tackle the three-pronged problem currently facing the construction industry – supply shortages, labor shortages and the climate crisis.
“Our building system, our goal is to help existing housing providers create more units and then allow more people to enter into the world of real estate development,” Brian Gaudio, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Module Housing, said at home ownership conference this week hosted by New Hampshire Housing.
The comparison to a Disney park ride isn’t far off for Gaudio – he previously worked for the Walt Disney Company as an architect imagining new rides for parks, before moving into affordable housing and community planning after Hurricane Katrina in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Modular, or pre-fabricated, housing is an eco-friendly, cost-effective solution that addresses many challenges associated with construction. Building a home piece by piece in a factory is a more efficient process, built to last, and can be scaled to fill a community’s needs rapidly.
If a typical construction project takes 445 days, modular off-site construction can shave 172 days off of the timeframe. This leads to indirect savings of almost $30,000 per unit, reducing the cost of interest payments, rent, utilities and labor.
The company follows a construction project from development idea through post-construction assessments, said Gaudio. They’re now looking to expand to different communities, offering a fast, environmentally friendly solution to scale housing development.
Their work in Pennsylvania provides a case study for what this model could look like in New Hampshire communities.
In Pittsburg, 30,000 vacant lots sit in the city’s urban core area. These vacancies are akin to former mill sites in New Hampshire that have been cleaned up and are ready for new uses.
With prefabricated houses, Module worked to revitalize these vacancies with new homeownership, new construction jobs and more sustainable communities as a result, Gaudio said.
In one mixed-income development, on Black Street in the city, Module built three houses on a blighted lot in the span of a year. Two were for-sale single-family homes, one priced at market-rate and the other was income restricted. Next door, they also constructed a duplex unit.
“We saved considerable time using modular in this case as a delivery method,” said Guadio. “Time is money and construction.”
This served as an example for what fast, high-quality housing solutions look like, according to Former Pittsburg Mayor Bill Peduto.
“When you go to buy a car, you don’t call Ford and they come to your driveway and they build a car. You get a car that’s already made. Why shouldn’t housing be that same model?” said Peduto, at the groundbreaking ceremony for the lot in 2019.
Often people associate the term modular with manufactured houses, however, they’re two different approaches to building, said Gaudio. Modular homes are built to the same quality as stick-built homes, yet offer savings on construction and energy costs, and give the ability to customize the home to be single-family or larger.
“The idea is if you put more insulation in the walls, you have to spend less heating and cooling the building itself,” he said. “So that means lower operating costs for homeowners in the long run.”
All homes are also built to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Zero Energy Ready Home criteria, which means that renewable energy could offset the home’s annual energy use.
Module is hoping to expand these operations with a new manufacturing model. It would involve two phases – the first where a central production facility produces all the components of the home, before sending them to a “last mile facility.”
In this facility, which could be a warehouse in New Hampshire, for example, a local housing provider or contractor could put those components together and finish the model.
“We’re thinking about how do we bring the power of a factory closer to the communities that we’re actually building for,” said Guadio. “We don’t have a lot of modular prefab factories.”
Module won a pitch competition hosted by Fannie Mae, which recognized sustainable housing solutions. Their first experiment will be in Virginia. Next, will be feasibility studies to see how to increase production and ship components outside the region.
“Our goal is to create a world where everyone lives in a well-designed space they’re proud to call home,’ said Guadio.
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