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Prefabricated houses look like houses built on site

In a standing-room-only presentation at the Malibu Library Sunday, local residents and fire victims flocked to hear presentations from three LA-area prefabricated homes manufacturers. Prefabricated homes are built in sections in large warehouse-like facilities, eliminating weather damage or delays, then moved to the site and assembled. They’ve come a long way from the “manufactured homes” of yesteryear and the industry has evolved to the point where their homes look the same as homes built on-site.

The “prefab” or “modular” option is apparently being looked at seriously by a number of Malibu’s fire burnouts, not only as primary residences, but as temporary residences and accessory dwelling units, or “granny flats,” as they’re sometimes called. Some of the biggest reasons for their appeal are that prefabs cost less and are faster to build than an on-site construction, but have comparable quality.

The industry reps say that one of the first steps someone should take when considering a prefab is to request a site survey to make sure the property and the road leading up to it will facilitate the structure. The modules built by some companies are 16 feet wide and would need a road at least that wide to be transported to the property. Other companies make housing modules only eight feet wide. All of the companies make units small enough to fit City of Malibu rules for the size of a temporary residence and/or ADU.

The prefab companies all maintain that their building materials and designs are as fireproof as possible. “We use steel frames and bolts, metal siding, roof sprinklers and a continuous membrane across the roof,” one said, “as well as roof designs without eves or overhangs that could let embers in.” “Any new homes, including ours, are going to be a thousand times more fire resistant than anything built in the 1940s or 50s,” one added, “just because of all the new regulations.”

In addition, they say their homes have to meet California seismic standards for earthquakes, and that “being quake-proof also means they’re wind-proof.”

In response to questions about cost, some give a ballpark price of about $250/square foot, and costs are quoted up front. Most companies will allow buyers to tour their factories and see their homes being built. Some are willing to competitively bid the pre-delivery site work.

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