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Modular Homes Gaining Popularity In Parts Of Houston

The Houston Chronicle reported in about four months, these so-called modules will have been transformed into a 3,000-square-foot, architect-designed house clad in glass, siding and masonry blocks centered around a courtyard

Some neighbors in Houston recently watched as a remote-controlled hydraulic mover called a platypus carried a structure the size of a mobile home onto a lot in the Heights where it joined two others like it. Three more were on their way.

The Houston Chronicle reports in about four months, these so-called modules — framed concrete slabs made in a warehouse in Navasota — will have been transformed into a 3,000-square-foot, architect-designed house clad in glass, siding and masonry blocks centered around a courtyard.

“It’s going to look like a custom home,” said Wayne Braun, owner of the 6,250-square-foot lot near Fitzgerald’s night club.

The design, he said, is meant to blend in with the Heights, “particularly that part of the neighborhood where we have bungalows and little warehouses.”

The house is a project of Evolution Building Systems, a Houston company recently formed by husband and wife architects.

Rame and Russell Hruska started their architecture practice in Houston in 2001 and later expanded into residential construction. They launched Evolution last year.

“We’ve always been interested in prefab and different ways to build,” said Rame Hruska. “We look at offsite construction and really see it as a better way to build and really the future of construction.”

Advantages can include shorter construction schedules, reduced waste and increased labor productivity, according to industry research cited in a report from the National Institute of Building Sciences. Disadvantages include transportation restrictions that limit module size and limited flexibility in future renovations.

The modules making up Braun’s home are fabricated in a warehouse in Navasota, about 80 miles northwest of Houston.

The warehouse is operated by GroundForce Building Systems, a company that builds modular homes and commercial buildings on wood and concrete slabs and then delivers them on special movers to sites across the state. Evolution has an agreement with GroundForce that allows it to use the company’s concrete foundation system technology.

The Hruskas say modular home building is more predictable and reliable.

It eliminates onsite construction variables that are hard to control, like weather and labor availability. Construction theft becomes less of an issue.

Neighbors, too, experience fewer nuisances with less waste, noise and overall activity.

“Construction is disruptive,” said Steve Heiney, a Heights resident who was riding his bicycle when he stopped to watch the modules being moved onto Braun’s lot. When his neighbor’s house was under construction, there was often garbage and debris in his yard.

The Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation inspects the modules before they leave the factory.

“There’s a lot more assurance that things will be built correctly,” Rame Hruska said. “The walls, for example, get built on jigs that lay flat, so it’s a much more precision-built process than just building in the field.”

Construction costs can be $175 per square foot or more depending on size and finishes. That is on par with traditional custom home construction, she said, but it’s done in half the time.

Modular construction is more common in other markets where labor costs are higher, Russell Hurska said.

Large production builders don’t have the same incentives as small, custom builders to go modular.

“This won’t be something right now that replaces a tract home development on the west side of town,” he said. “They get similar economies because they’re building repetitively down a street.”

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NANCY SARNOFF, Houston Chronicle, AP