Except for the Labeling, Homebuilt Construction Appears Conventional But It's Not

Except for the Labeling, Homebuilt Construction Appears Conventional But It’s Not

The deck is stacked against those buying low-income manufactured homes. Though these homes are cheaper in price they’re harder to finance, depreciate in value immediately, and are difficult to insure. Traditional homes offers long-term net benefit to owners; manufactured homes keep owners locked into a downward spiral. This didn’t seem right to Dennis Michaud and he set out to do something about it. The result is Homebuilt, a company that will provide easily assembled kits for self-built structures which are compliant with prescriptive code.

First, a little background on the problem. In the early 1900s the age of building codes began with the intention of improving build quality and safety. While having a tremendously positive impact overall, it raised the cost of building and put housing out of reach of those of low income. To remedy the problem in 1976 the Department of Housing and Urban Development developed HUD Code to certify manufactured homes, structures that were not compliant with traditional building code. While less costly to purchase, these HUD Tagged homes came with the above unintended consequences.

A home which is built within compliance of all prescriptive code does not require that architects, engineers and licensed contractor be involved. This would also allow owners to get financing and benefit from market appreciation. As a maker Dennis also realized that this would be a great project it if could be done easy and cheaply. The maker movement with its CNC tools, design sharing, and collaboration was perfectly suited to tackle the challenge if he could only set the stage with kits. That’s what he’s set out to do.

A few principles guided his thinking:

He’d use industry standard materials, the kind you can pick up at any lumber or hardware store. Using industry standard materials means all doors and windows would fit, electrical wiring could be run as expected, insulation would be the right size, etc. Such materials are cheap since they benefits from mass production. They’re pre certified by the industry and make compliance easier. Also, unlike other kits, the resulting house would look normal and not like a oversized plywood jigsaw puzzle. Scrutinize the picture above in detail to appreciate what he is striving for.

Mortise and Tenon Construction

Mortise and Tenon Construction

He’d plan for easy, correct, and solid construction by applying techniques and tools made possible by inexpensively CNC tools like ShopBot’s 3-axis mills. Materials would be labelled to make assembly obvious, labeled sequentially and understandably (S-stud, FJ-floor joist, etc). Shaped mortise and tenon joints would make it almost impossible to assemble incorrectly. Tongue in groove assembly would provide the stability to piece it together allowing for single-person builds. Screws in predrilled holes around mortise would lock in strength.

CNC-milled Tenon

CNC-milled Tenon

Predrilled Holes

Predrilled Holes

He’d break with tradition. Kits would be produced locally when possible to keep shipping costs down, for example by using a 100K Garages fabricator. Kits could be purchased in small installments so that financing wouldn’t be necessary, makers could build in stages as they had the funds to buy more. Kit designs would be kept open source so the maker community could contribute, rapidly iterate, and advance the concept and he plans on keeping it open source.

So where do things stand? Well, Dennis has designed 15 homes using his approach and has built three prototypes. At this stage he believes a 1,200 sq ft home can be build for around $30,000. His plans are to start selling these and building them in Grotten, MA  starting in June and later expand in partnership with Tiny House throughout New England.

Remember, being within prescriptive code can mean access to loans. It also means no permits, no architects, no engineers and no licensed contractor. It provides the owner with the opportunity to participate in market value appreciation. Much good could come from this taking off. And besides, doesn’t it sound like an awesome maker project?!

Travis Good

Travis Good

Speaker. Maker. Writer. Traveler. Father. Husband.

MakerCon Co-Chair (MakerCon.com)
Maker City San Diego Roundtable Member
San Diego Maker Faire Producer (SDMakerFaire.org)

  • chad

    one thing about permits — even as a home owner you will have to have one — homebuilt does not provide info on the foundation or sight layout — thats on you — and you will have to have a permit for foundation heck and in some locations will need a permit to clear the land — if you find a home that is in shambles and you want to use the foundation you will need a permit to demolish the home and then have to have the foundation check for restructure — that will need a permit — trust me been there done that many times !!
    this is a great idea i really hope it works for the person and company — heck i would do this and could help revitalize some locations!!

    but in most municipalities you will need a permit from the ground up

    • DreadPirateZed

      One way around the teardown permit is to leave one wall up and build around it; it’s not a great practice and it certainly violates the _spirit_ of the law – but it complies with the _letter_ of the law and is quite a common practice, at least here in Los Angeles.
      I can’t really endorse it, but I thought I’d mention it.

      • Christopher Gosnell

        When I lived in Akron, OH in the late 90’s this was frequently done. If you left up the bathroom walls, it was a ‘remodel’. I saw very many small lakefront vacation homes from the 40’s and 50’s turned into 3-4x larger ‘mansions’ to get around this, and also setback rules, etc…

  • Jack Coats

    Sears sold houses from their catalog about 100 years ago. This is just adding CNC to the same way. A bunch of pre-cut wood and other related materials, identified, and delivered in order of use, then it is a ‘simple matter of assembly’ ;-P

    Getting proper permits, and ‘standard foundation’ design I could see as being a problem, especially where many builders are ‘protecting their territory’ (and income stream) with local politicians.

    Still, I wish them the best in this effort.

  • http://www.homebuiltcompany.com Homebuilt

    First, I’d like to thank Travis for this really awesome article!

    I also agree with “klustrfk” that above a certain (relatively small) size, you need a building permit for new construction almost anywhere in the US. There are exceptions, but that’s the general rule.

    What we’ve tried to do with Homebuilt is make kits that are “out-of-the-box” permitable – similar to the Sears houses that “Jack Coats” mentioned – meeting the IRC (International Residential Code), and where applicable local variations on that code. This is one of the main reasons Homebuilt has a distributed manufacturing model – something that works in one locale may not be appropriate for another, so we need to be local and nimble.

    There are ways to get around permits, but as others have mentioned, these are not straight-forward. Our hope is that Homebuilt’s kits will make it almost as easy to permit as to try to get around permitting. Additionally, we’ll be providing some kits for smaller buildings (utility buildings, chicken coops, backyard offices, accessory dwelling units (ADUs), Tiny Homes, etc.) that in many locations do not need the same level of permitting.

    Thank you so much to everyone for your feedback and kind words, and feel free to contact me directly for anything: [email protected]

    Thanks again!

    Dennis Michaud
    founder, Homebuilt.