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Popularity of Prefab Homes Indicates Trend of Simple Living

September 08, 2009 04:30 PM
by Sarah Amandolare
More Americans are looking for economical and eco-friendly living options, such as prefab homes and mini cars.

Living Large in Small Spaces

Smaller, sleeker and more affordable, prefab and generally smaller homes are gaining popularity among Americans. The trend is part of a larger movement to downsize some of life's more expensive goods, including cars and computers.

In Oviedo, Fla., designer Ed Binkley is focused on compact homes that are "comfortable, affordable and green," with designs resembling "cottages and duplexes in a variety of architectural styles," according to Jean Patteson of the Orlando Sentinel. Binkley used to design mansions for the likes of Tiger Woods, but the designs in his Shelter Series include homes ranging from 600 to 900 square feet, and could be a practical option for campus housing, first homes for young couples, retirement homes or resort cabins. The flexibility of the units is a big draw; spaces can serve as kitchens, bedrooms or living rooms. Additionally, the homes are energy efficient, with highly insulated roof panels and walls. "I picture them incorporating parking for a Smart Car and Ikea-type fixtures," Binkley explained.

Background: Downsizing trend

Binkley's design concepts are echoed by the Small House Society, part of the Small House Movement, which is "the result of concerns about what we are doing to the environment, and what the environment is doing to us (wild fires, flooding, hurricanes), as well as a shifting economy," according to The "desire to live simply" is a cornerstone of the movement, and has led to interest from "architects and builders" who now provide "smaller housing alternatives."

In another article for the Orlando Sentinel, Patteson discusses "jewel-box houses," which are small and specifically designed for "the owners' way of life," but feature "top-quality materials, upscale detailing and custom built-ins." Such homes are being marketed to "a variety of demographic groups, including newlyweds, young professionals, empty-nesters and retirees." Patteson explains that the trend has resulted from the recession and the poor housing market, as well as a heightened awareness of environmental issues. Clearly, so-called "starter castles" and "McMansions" are no longer in vogue, Patteson suggests.

Opinion & Analysis: Downsizing extends beyond homes

"The most obvious symbol of the downsizing trend is the demise of the McMansion as America's symbol of success," Patricia Sheridan writes in a column for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. She also lists Netbooks, iPod Shuffles and BMW Minis as further evidence that America is downsizing. "Vacations are shorter, and tweeting...has put a big dent into those boring blogs," she writes, while the massive Facebook "is facing a backlash."

Related Topic: Affordable prefab housing

Though some housing experts contend that the affordability of prefabricated homes is exaggerated, some manufacturers claim that their new prototypes are both affordable and eco-friendly.

According to a Popular Mechanics article, the new Clayton I-House is so efficient that it "can be powered for a dollar a day." The homes have an Ikea-meets-Apple feel, and are targeted at "younger and more affluent" homebuyers rather than traditional mobile home buyers. Clayton plans to sell the most basic version of the I-House, which can be expanded and features "Low-E windows, solar augmentation, high-efficiency appliances and superior insulation," for around $100,000.

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