- Created: 06-09-21
- Last Login: 06-09-21
With historic wildfires sweeping the West Coast and burning over 3.2 million acres in California alone, it is clear in 2020 that the climate change emergency is upon us. Dvele Cofounder and CEO Kurt Goodjohn's purpose is to create a new generation of ultra-energy-efficient, self-powered prefabricated homes that will inspire society’s transition to a clean energy future. The company not only manufactures the prefab container houses, but also has designed technology to ensure that the homes can be reproduced consistently and affordably at scale.
All Dvele prefab homes are completely self-powered by solar energy, thus addressing climate change and eliminating dependency on the power grid. The homes utilize advanced materials and assembly techniques in order to ensure that they require 84% less energy per square foot than a traditionally-built home. With such efficiency, Dvele homes are capable of utilizing the solar array and battery backup system to make them fully grid-independent and insulated from the inconveniences and safety risks associated with long-term power outages, not to mention significant financial savings.
“We've redesigned the home from the ground up,” says Goodjohn. “Our approach not only results in ultra-efficient living environments that can generate more energy than it takes to operate, but also ensures the safety, health and wellness of occupants.”
Kurt Goodjohn and his brother Kris Goodjohn stumbled into the construction industry, starting off building luxury homes using traditional, stick-built construction. Quickly, they realized how outdated, inefficient, and uninspiring these methods were. They had seen prefab construction projects on a trip to Europe and wondered why the homes weren’t more popular in North America. So over beers one night, they decided to found a company in the prefab industry.
Now, Kurt Goodjohn feels he has tapped into his life purpose. “I have always been a strong advocate for the notion that everyone should leave the world better off than they found it,” he says. “At Dvele, we are accomplishing this by disrupting an age-old industry and bringing it into the modern age. Our company contributes to minimizing the overall environmental impact of homes and enhances the way they function to benefit the health and wellness of occupants.”
As a result, Goodjohn never feels that he really is “working” because he is pursuing something truly important. “There’s absolutely nothing my brother and I would rather be doing than building this company. We passionately believe that what we are doing will have a positive impact on the world and we have an unwavering determination to lead the change necessary in the new home space,” he says.
In the beginning, the greatest challenge the Goodjohns faced was getting other people to believe in the value of what they were doing with Dvele. However, they remained determined. “Trust your gut,” Kurt Goodjohn advises other aspiring entrepreneurs and changemakers. “When you're young, you really don't have a lot of experience, you don't know what will work or what will fail. So, it's actually the best time to just do what you think is right and learn as you go. My brother and I wouldn't be doing what we are doing today had we listened to all of the naysayers who told us it could never be done.”
Prefab house construction
Prefab houses are constructed from the inside out. They are manufactured in the following order in a couple of days or less, with inspections following each step (the process can take longer if the buyer has customized the home):
The floors are assembled first. There is usually a wood frame under the floor for attachment of wall panels.
Wall panels are attached next with bolts and nails. Panels are insulated and windows cut out before the panels are attached.
Once the house structure is in place, the plumbing, electrical wiring and drywall (including the ceiling) are installed.
The roof, typically constructed in another part of the factory, is set on top of the walls. In some prefabs, workers attach the roof on-site after the rest of the house is constructed.
Exterior and interior finishes are added, including siding, cabinets, vanities and backsplashes. The walls are also painted.
Once the housing units are constructed, they need to get to the owner's land. The transportation of the modules is limited by roadways, overhangs and power lines. The builders have to scout out all these factors before delivery, but in general each unit must be less than 16 feet wide, 60 feet long and 11 feet high. Because travel can be unpredictable, buyers are usually on site with independent contractors to inspect the units for scrapes and cracks.
The house has to have someplace to sit, so a foundation is required. Before the home arrives, homeowners must have the land excavated and have a foundation in place. The foundation can be poured concrete, concrete blocks, basements or crawl spaces.
The house arrives and is placed by crane on the foundation. Workers use heavy-duty cables to move the units, which come together at points called marriage walls. The marriage walls tie the house together and ensure that it is level and properly bolted together. At this point, the roof is placed if it was not factory-installed. A hinged roof, also made in the factory, is unfolded onto the house. The entire delivery and placement of the house can usually be completed in about a day. After that, decks, staircases and extras can be installed.
Variables such as customization, financing and factory schedules can contribute to the process, but from choosing the house to completion, most manufacturers give a timeframe of a few months.
Modern prefab houses
Although the concept of modern prefab design has been around since the 60s, the architectural movement didn't take off until early 2000. As technological advances like SIP panels (structural insulating that is precut and can be locked together) were made and interest in residential architectural design blossomed, architects turned their attention to prefab houses. The goal was to create a home that could be transported to a building site, be easily erected and look like modern architecture -- all within a reasonable budget.
To further stoke the flames of interest, Dwell magazine held a modern prefab invitational in 2003 to create an economical flat pack container house that could be mass-produced. Allison Arieff, the former editor of Dwell, had written the 2002 book Prefab, which profiled modern prefab prototypes. Nathan Wieler and Ingrid Tung contacted Arieff with the hopes of obtaining more information about how to build a modern prefab home. Instead, Arieff asked the couple if they'd be interested in using their land in Pittsboro, N.C., as the site for a design competition. With an initial construction budget of $200,000, the couple agreed and soon was helping the magazine create the criteria for the home and judging designs [source: Boston Globe].
The Dwell invitational created an opportunity to take the modern prefab concept and make it a reality, with the goal of introducing mass-produced prefab homes with architectural modern flair to the market. However, challenges remained. The architectural firm Resolution: 4 Architecture delivered the design, but the project went $50,000 over budget, resulting in the reduction of the homes footprint in order to stay within budget [source: Dwell].
The cost of a modern prefab home remains the chief complaint today, with the average modern prefab home running about $175 to $250 per square foot [source: BusinessWeek]. In fact, Dwell magazine is now offering modern prefab homes through their company Empyrean. Proponents of the movement point out that although many of the products available cost as much as, if not more than, stick-built homes, homeowners can save money in design and construction costs. Many architect-designed homes exceed $300 per square foot, not including design fees [source: The New Yorker] . After all, you're not paying for one-of-a-kind architecture. The architect is reselling the design, and even if modifications are needed, those costs are usually small.
When it comes to mass-producing affordable modern prefab homes, Rocio Romero is one of the most recognized architects. Romero's company, located in Perryville, Mo., creates flat-packed cubelike houses with sleek, modern exteriors. House kits range from $23,650 to $45,255 [source: Rocio Romero]. Finishes and amenities also impact the price. Romero uses a series of interlocking panels for ease of building construction. The company also sends a videotape along with instructions for the general contractor or the handy homeowner who goes it alone.
While some prefabs qualify as "traditional homes" to mortgage companies because they use some of the methods of stick-built homes, others do not. But many new modern prefabs are being introduced to home-builders, with shipping container room included. The Swedish company, IKEA, introduced its modern prefab home, the BoKlok, to the European market. In 2006, the Walker Art Museum presented an exhibit around modern prefab, "Some Assembly Required: Contemporary Prefabricated Houses." And as the market demands more environment- and wallet-friendly housing choices, the modern prefab market should continue to grow in the scope of its offerings.