Two years ago, when we last checked in on Blu Homes, a prefab specialist based in Waltham, Massachusetts, the company had purchased the assets of architect Michelle Kaufmann’s mkDesigns, which included modular-home designs marketed as Glidehouse, mkLotus, and Sunset Breezehouse.
Glidehouse and Breezehouse are now among the seven Blu Homes models that can be customized via computer program to meet the client’s needs, built in the company’s factory in Springfield, folded up to fit on a semitrailer, and shipped to the site. Setup and finish work take about a week.
A story about the company’s design and manufacturing processes – and the ambitions of Blu Homes’ co-founders, Bill Haney and Maura McCarthy – recently posted to the Forbes magazine website. The story’s author, Todd Woody, also posted a follow-up item, in his Forbes Tech column, elaborating on the vision of the owners and the challenges they face in trying to make their way in the tiny prefab sector.
Invoking an innovator
Haney and McCarthy say they aim to take an “Apple approach” to the business by offering compelling designs that clients can customize with the help of CATIA (computer aided three-dimensional interactive application) modeling software. CATIA presents 3D images of suggested modifications, as well as their cost, giving both the client and Blu relatively tight control over the process and confidence in the eventual outcome.
The company seems to have enough backing, including about $25 million raised from investors, to keep operating in this difficult market, and is even forging ahead with plans to open a factory north of San Francisco.
Haney and McCarthy told Forbes that the company has sold 28 homes so far, has orders for 42, and would be in the black if the annual pace of orders and production reaches 50 – a goal the company should hit in 2013, according to McCarthy. At least one observer told Forbes prefab in general is a long way from economic stability, the sector is thinly populated with companies such as Clayton Homes’ i-House and Zeta Communities, both of which are still plugging along.
Blu Homes prices start at $95,000 for a shell of the 18×24-ft. version of company’s Blu | Origin model and go to about $500,000, excluding land, permitting, and siting costs.
The homes’ general specifications include R-38 structural-insulated-panel (SIP) roofs, exterior walls insulated to R-28, and floors insulated to R-32. Roofs are topped with standing-seam metal roofing. (Click here for a pdf of the specification guide.) The company offers a variety of HVAC options, depending on the model, including hydronic heating and minisplit heat pumps, although all models feature a Venmar heat-recovery ventilator (HRV).
Airtightness ranges from 6.0 to 4.0 air changes per hour at 50 pascals pressure difference, says Colleen Barry, Blu Homes’ director of marketing, who adds that the overall energy efficiency of the company’s homes is twice that of a comparable structure built to code. Blu Homes does not currently offer an air-sealing upgrade, Barry says, but it is an option the company is considering as its product line evolves.