Prefab houses aren't just for trailer parks anymore. Two San Francisco Bay Area startups are crafting factory-built homes and rooms for the high-end market, the kind of people who want an architect-designed custom house with all the latest green features.


 

Prefab houses aren't just for trailer parks anymore.         


Two San Francisco Bay Area startups are crafting factory-built homes and rooms for the high-end market, the kind of people who want an architect-designed custom house with all the latest green features.


Simpatico Homes in Emeryville and hybridCore Homes in Santa Rosa both have partnered with architects. They say their approaches cut costs and reduce construction time while incorporating high-quality finishes and designs.         


"Within the past few years, we've seen a number of very talented architects become interested in the possibilities of prefabrication to bring architect-level design to people who don't have time or resources to develop a unique design for a custom home," said S. Claire Conroy, editorial director of Residential Architect magazine in Washington.         


The two companies take different approaches. Simpatico builds the entire home in a factory as several giant modules that are assembled at the home site. HybridCore factory-builds the house's most complex portion -- kitchen, bathrooms and laundry room -- then places them on the site and "stick builds" the rest of the home around them.         


"I really love quality architecture and saw a real void in the market for people who want it" but have more limited budgets, said Simpatico founder Seth Krubiner.         


Recently, a convoy of flatbed trucks carried five modules from a factory in San Jose, Calif., to a pre-built home foundation in Emeryville, where Simpatico was erecting its first structure. It will serve as a model house for potential clients and builders to tour, as well as a residence for Krubiner.         


A crew of 25 worked from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. as about a hundred curious neighbors watched giant cranes lift the modules into place as if they were building blocks. By evening, a 2,400-square-foot modern dwelling was in place, the modules bolted to the foundation. Other work was scheduled to follow, such as tying in the utilities and seaming the modules together with a "marriage line."         


The house incorporates such sustainable features as a solar array to provide all its power, hydronic radiant floor heating, a living green roof and a rainwater catchment system.         


"My partners (Swatt Miers Architects) are very established, high-end modern architects who build multimillion-dollar designs," Krubiner said. "We want to take that level and quality of architecture and put it into a system for people who have more modest means. Through prefabrication, we can standardize and make it faster and more affordable."          For Simpatico's first house in Emeryville, construction costs, excluding land and permits, pencil out at $275 per square foot, Krubiner said, versus about $375 per square foot for a comparable house built from the ground up. That's still not cheap. But Krubiner said the company can get costs as low as $225 per square foot.         


Santa Rosa's hybridCore Homes is working with giant homebuilder Champion Home Builders of Troy, Mich., which has 27 factories nationwide and will both build and market the modular cores.         


"We design and manufacture what I like to call the engine -- the expensive parts of the home with plumbing and extensive electrical such as kitchen, bathrooms, laundry rooms," said Shaun Faber, co-founder and managing partner of hybridCore.         


He said the cost savings over complete ground-up construction are about 20 percent to 30 percent. The company offers 100 floor plans with nine variations and styles of each, such as Mediterranean or Craftsman.         


It built a 1,600-square-foot demonstration home in Santa Rosa last fall, with construction costs of $147,000, or $92 per square foot, he said. The home is open for visits by interested clients and developers.         


Now hybridCore is gearing up to build proof-of-concept homes in North Dakota and Maryland that are being considered for large developments. A 213-home project in Santa Rosa is on tap for next spring.         


Harold Robinson, who develops homes in Los Altos, Calif., in the $1 million-to-$2 million range, hopes to use hybridCore's modules.         


"There is a lot of design flexibility, and the final product will look just like a traditional, high-quality custom home," he said. "At the same time, you end up getting higher-quality construction and it's a really green way to do construction; there's a lot less waste by building offsite in factories that are controlled environments. Being able to build faster is a big benefit in high-end neighborhoods because the whole construction process has a lower impact."                   


Email Carolyn Said at csaid@sfchronicle.com. Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.