Modular housing accounted for only about 3 percent of new homes built last year, but the founders of start-up New World Home think they have the formula to push their version of off-site construction into the mainstream.
Simply, co-founders Mark Jupiter and Tyler Schmetterer have combined a vast library of traditional home styles with a spec list that uses LEED for Home Platinum as a benchmark. New World houses are “LEED-certifiable,” says Jupiter, and at a minimum are designed to achieve HERS ratings below 50 and reduce energy use by half and water consumption by perhaps 20,000 gallons a year, among other benefits. “This is architecturally accessible green building,” he says, as opposed to modern-styled homes that seem to dominate the übergreen landscape. “Our homes are designed to fit in and deliver a very high level of performance.”
The company’s comprehensive list of standard product specifications includes Energy Star–rated appliances, dual-flush toilets, GreenGuard-certified surfaces, and no-VOC paint. All homes are designed to meet various national (and thus likely regional and local) green building guidelines and certification standards without requiring a renewable energy component, such as solar or geothermal.
In fact, a New World house built in Georgia not only was the state’s first factory-built home to become LEED certified, but also the first house of any kind to achieve that status without resorting to a renewable energy spec. “The core of the house reaches those levels,” says Schmetterer of various green-home rating systems, adding that the homes are also prewired and preplumbed to accept renewable energy systems after delivery. “If a house is designed and engineered properly, those costly technologies shouldn’t be needed [to gain certification].”
Jupiter and Schmetterer also have factored occupant behavior into their New World model. “If there’s no change in the buyers’ behavior after buying one of our homes, the house will still achieve its base levels of performance,” says Jupiter, noting studies that have shown that simply buying green does not necessarily translate to living greener.
But owners are encouraged to optimize the performance of their New World home to go beyond its baseline performance—a nudge the company provides with optional energy monitoring systems that report electrical power use via a wireless connection from the service panel to a display screen in the house. “They challenge themselves to consume less energy when they see how much they’ve been using,” says Jupiter—on average, he says, by 36 percent.
To keep their manufacturing costs in check (or lower them to achieve price points below their stated average of $500,000), Jupiter and Schmetterer know they need to create a critical mass of demand that puts manufacturing of the New World Home series on a production scale … something the modular industry has largely failed to do so far.
The plan is to license builders in exclusive sales territories and equip them with “design and education” (instead of “sales”) centers to build awareness and flatten the learning curve (and stigma) of factory-built housing. “Unenlightened design and ignorance are what’s been stopping modular,” says Jupiter. “We confront those issues head-on.”
The company expects to announce 10 such licensees in the first quarter of 2010. It also has consumer co-branding deals in the works and is targeting affordable housing agencies and student housing projects, as well. In addition, the company will alter its plans to custom-design a portfolio for licensee’s market-rate price point. Says Jupiter, “We think we have a transformational model.”