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From Drab to Fab

Finally getting their due, prefabricated homes offer a promising new option for those wanting a headache-free build in the Caribbean.

'Tried to make me go to prefab and I say, no, no, no...' Ever associated with homogenous post war estates and chockfull trailer parks, prefabricated homes smack of factory assembly lines and cookie cutter mass production. Or so they once did. With a growing number of über-luxe modular homes popping up across the globe, the Caribbean may want to think twice about construction’s unlikely comeback kid as it gives the traditional build a run for its money.

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For decades, designers striving to harness the power of industry to provide functional, affordable and easy-to-build dwellings dabbled with the concept of prefabrication. Despite popularity in the US of modular and kit homes in the first half of the twentieth century, it is only now that prefabs are making the leap into the high-design market, some with multi-million dollar price tags. As the winds of change blow away misconceptions past, there comes a new generation of prefabs, resilient enough to withstand hurricanes and design savvy enough to ace any eco-fabulous checklist without compromising functionality or wow factor.

Characterised by modern lines and clarity of form, today’s pre-made living spaces offer a wealth of advantages over traditional construction methods. Versatile and customisable, they are manufactured in high quality controlled environments prior to transportation in complete sections for on-site assembly and installation. Eliminating exposure of lumber and building materials to harsh environmental elements, components are better sealed, rendering the risks associated with mould, mildew and wood rot damage less problematic. Moreover, building offsite safeguards the construction process against being held to ransom by seasonal weather cycles (rainy season, hurricane season). Delivering standardised precision and consistency, tried and tested methods mean problems are resolved before onsite installation commences, saving homeowners both time and money.

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For those in island communities or remote locations, the practicalities of ordering a pre-made home make it especially viable. In a one-stop-shop, modular and kit homes are shipped directly to the site, with the option to include appliances and furnishings to boot. Also, some companies offer complete support packages through design and construction phases to house completion, including provision for a project manager and design coordinator to liaise with local builders and ensure labour efficiency and proficiency; streamlined and managed costs; and a faster, quality controlled build.

As for the green agenda, the very notion of prefabrication contains an inherent capacity for sustainability – a central value of many contemporary companies. Intelligently designed by green-minded architects and designers and incorporating the latest innovative technologies, this perfect union promises a sea change in attitudes, casting the former enfant terrible as the new golden boy of twenty-first century living. Easing pressure on often limited local resources, natural, sustainably-derived materials, precisely engineered in specially equipped factories, result in high design with low impact. On economy of scale alone, the collaboration between production and design means sourcing and purchasing green materials en masse reduces costs, provides greater quality assurance and ensures minimal material wastage, thereby lightening the ecological footprint.

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Like any other custom home, prefabs can be built to stringent LEED certification standards, utilising a full range of eco-responsible technologies to optimise energy efficiency. Homes can even be fitted with flick-of-the-switch customised automated systems capable of regulating use of light, heat, fresh air and shade, to make today’s prefabs fab for those residing in coastal climes and tropical locales. Reflecting upon the renaissance of eco-responsible, luxury prefabs and their suitability to the Caribbean, we are challenged to reject “just-another-brick-in-the-wall” thinking. Prefab home? Say yes, yes, yes!


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