Interesting modern-design modular houses from Quebec

If you never liked the idea of trying to assemble locals to build a house in your yard but also don’t like the look of a factory-built house, Goscobec is kind of interesting. They have a bunch of modern designs (all standard plans) and, per square foot, everything seems to cost about half of what building on-site does in New England. Some of their stuff seems similar to Rocio Romero’s LV Home, but houses are delivered more or less finished rather than as kit of exterior panels.

From an American point of view, the main downside of these standard models seems to be their lack of square footage. I called up Bertin Rioux, the general manager. He says that Canadians nearly always have a finished basement with the same footprint as the house. Therefore a Canadian family can live comfortably in a 1200′ or 1400′ house. Goscobec often does bigger houses, especially when delivering to the U.S., but they are always custom designed. Each box is a maximum of 70×16′.

One limitation is that the ceiling height for a flat ceiling is about 9’4″. They make modules with hinged roofs that are expanded on-site, but then someone has to do more work to close up the resulting hole in the structure. Part of the trash that architects talk about modular is that there is a one-foot deadspace between floors any time that a multi-story house is built with modules. Rioux says that this can be an advantage, however, because if this space is stuff with sound insulation, e.g., Roxul, there is almost no sound transmission between floors.

Design fees are ridiculously cheaper with Goscobec than with a local architect. The company charges $2,000 to design a house, refundable against the purchase price. Time-to-move-in is much shorter. The foundation can be built in parallel with the house, which arrives roughly two months after being ordered. With Goscobec’s own team of workers (post-9/11, no longer allowed to come down and work in the U.S.), the owner can move in about two weeks after delivery. The typical house is shipped “ready to decorate,” which means that floors, tile, paint, and light fixtures are done on site and to the customer’s taste.

I talked to a busy architect recently here in Boston. He said that the construction market was hotter than it had ever been during his 30 years in the field, i.e., hotter than during the 2006 peak. It costs $250-300/ft. to build a house with these contractors, roughly double what the modular Quebec house would cost (adding in some site work).

Readers: Who has had experience setting up a modular house on a foundation? Why isn’t this kind of construction more popular?

13 Comments

  1. Colin Summers

    February 18, 2016 @ 12:42 pm

    1

    Ny nephew is around the corner from you (uh, from this distance Sudbury, MA is very close to you). The house he built is two stories (three levels, the basement is set into a hill) and modular. But his family has a number of communities of manufactured home (once referred to as “trailer parks,” I think), so he was aware of the issues.

    I love Rocio Romero. Canadians’ design sense and understanding of materials and detail are never going to touch her. But maybe to you they will look the same.

  2. jdhzzz

    February 18, 2016 @ 1:04 pm

    2

    Where is the garage?

  3. Jackie

    February 18, 2016 @ 2:15 pm

    3

    Who would think that houses that are built by assembling a group of boxes come out looking boxy?

    Aside from the boxy low rent “look” you can have issues integrating the modules with the site, with utility hookups and with each other.

    Don’t you think that if modular was the way to go that large scale builders such as Toll Brothers would not have switched over long ago and save themselves tons of $? And yet they don’t. They do use a lot of panelized construction though nowadays. Flat panels are a lot easier to transport than complete boxes but there still can be issues getting things to meet up at the corners/between panels. Soviet pre-fabs were notorious for having gaps/cracks.

    The cost savings are mostly illusory – caused by people not knowing what they are doing overpaying local contractors and middlemen who inflate the prices. There are no real economies of scale that come from nailing 2x4s together inside a factory instead of at the site – the amount of work is the same, the tools used are the same. Why should it cost half as much to have a carpenter operate his nail gun inside a factory instead of at the building site?

  4. philg

    February 18, 2016 @ 2:36 pm

    4

    Colin: “I love Rocio Romero. Canadians’ design sense and understanding of materials and detail are never going to touch her.”

    If Romero’s kit is just some exterior panels, wouldn’t the “materials and detail” end up being left to a local contractor? And in a high labor cost region such as Massachusetts, wouldn’t it make a lot more sense to let the Canadians build as complete a house as possible?

  5. Colin Summers

    February 18, 2016 @ 2:39 pm

    5

    I have not examined Romero’s kit in detail. I am going from my memories of her first two built houses, which I think were both South America. Yes, with a kit you can always wind up at the mercy of a local builder and your own taste.

    It sure seems like you would be better off with as much of the work done in Canada as possible. I’ve been studying PEX plumbing and I think that if I was building a house right now I would probably use that and some flow-through hot water heaters.

  6. superMike

    February 18, 2016 @ 4:57 pm

    6

    You’d think the building trades would have a lot to gain from technology: with photogrammetric and other measurement technologies going into making super-accurate 3d-models and CAD/CAM using the outputs to generate semi-finished pieces of perfect size and shape.

  7. superMike

    February 18, 2016 @ 4:58 pm

  8. Smartest Woman on the Internet

    February 18, 2016 @ 6:09 pm

    8

    Who has had experience setting up a modular house on a foundation?

    In the early ’90s, my father retired to SW Florida. A couple of years before retiring, he bought an undeveloped 0.25 acre lot in a neighborhood of half undeveloped lots, two blocks from the Gulf of Mexico for $5000. For another $40K, he had a 1000 sq ft. pre-fab house delivered in two pieces on a flat bed. Instead of a concrete foundation, a crane dropped each half of the house down on six ten-foot pilings. While there was no basement, there was 1000sf of covered space under the house. The house was just a simple 40′ x 25′ rectangle.

    He sold the place ten years later for $250K!

  9. J. Peterson

    February 18, 2016 @ 8:15 pm

    9

    Someday residential home construction will move past building with flammable termite food.

  10. Federico

    February 19, 2016 @ 3:50 am

    10

    I have ben in a prefab house in the UK (designed by David Adjaye). It was marvellous, and had proper high ceilings to boot. So people can have high spec/high design and a prefab apparently.

  11. Ed

    February 19, 2016 @ 11:12 am

    11

    “Why isn’t this kind of construction more popular?”

    Regulations?

  12. Ed

    February 19, 2016 @ 11:16 am

    12

    Here you go:

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Habitat_67

    But the concept was never widely adopted, which is what Safdie was aiming for. The original buildings are fairly expensive to live in.

    I’ve been to Montreal, and am interested in architecture and urban planning, never visited. Its a private apartment complex near the harbor, but far from other attractions and it just never seemed worth it to make the trip. But you can get an OK view of the complex from the Buckmaster Fuller dome (former American Pavilion, current Biosphere Museum) on St. Helen’s Island, which actually is worth visiting anyway and is next to a metro stop.

  13. Mike

    February 20, 2016 @ 10:53 am

    13

    Ed’s right…

    The local inspector doesn’t get his cut with factory homes.

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