A modular mansion?
December 21, 2006
Aspen, CO ColoradoASPEN A new company in Aspen claims its modular housing is suitable to be a McMansion at Red Mountain, Pitkin Green or any other “A” list address in the upper valley.The biggest hurdle facing Roaring Fork Custom Homes is overcoming the “stigma” attached to modulars, according to David Steinhurst, vice president of the company. “When people hear the word ‘modular’ they think lower quality,” said Steinhurst. But when people research the high end of the modular industry, “they know that stigma has passed,” he said.Steinhurst formed Roaring Fork Custom Homes with longtime Aspen attorney Joe Krabacher, the company president. Their firm has earned the right to be the exclusive distributor in the Roaring Fork Valley of homes built by Timber Creek Homes.Timber Creek builds homes one at a time using one of their numerous designs or a custom design supplied by the person placing the order. The company is based in Stratton, Neb., but is constructing a plant in Fruita where homes will also be built. Steinhurst said he and Krabacher sought a business deal with Timber Creek because they were convinced it builds the highest quality modular homes.”Ours is the closest to stick-built,” said Steinhurst. “We do starter homes up to Red Mountain-type homes.”Along with quality, Rocky Mountain Custom Homes touts the affordability of its products and the reduced time needed to build them. Steinhurst estimated that going modular can reduce the price of a house by $50 to $100 per square foot.While the escalating cost of construction materials affects all builders, Timber Creek has an advantage of economies of scale. It buys materials in bulk for its housing factory. The firm also pays lower labor costs in Stratton then construction firms are forced to pay in the Roaring Fork Valley, noted Steinhurst.”Anyone who can pick up a hammer [in the valley] gets $45 per hour,” he said.Even if labor costs for Timber Creek Homes rise at the Fruita factory – where it is likely that Roaring Fork Valley homes would be built – the delivery costs would be lower than if they were coming from Stratton.Steinhurst said it currently takes about 18 months for Timber Creek to complete a 3,500-square-foot home. More time is required for stick-built homes, he said, and modulars don’t add to the Roaring Fork Valley’s traffic congestion.”They’re better quality, quicker and for less money,” Steinhurst claimed.Once the homes are completed in the factory, they are shipped to the site in pods that are easily assembled. Rocky Mountain Custom Homes hired Glenn Montgomery, a longtime valley contractor, to prepare sites for the modulars and complete the necessary work once they arrive.Montgomery said he made the switch from stick-built construction once he investigated Timber Creek’s product. “It’s not wheels and skirt around it,” he said, referring to old-style modular housing that was essentially a trailer home.Montgomery believes the construction industry will turn with increasing frequency to modular homes. He’s all for the transformation.”My dad always was always an advocate of work smarter not harder,” Montgomery said. “If you don’t change, you’re going to get left behind.”The modern style of modular housing has made believers out of local architects and urban designers. Steinhurst said Timber Creek is building custom homes for two prominent architects in the valley for their personal use.The modular concept also received an endorsement from Don Ensign, a partner in the Aspen firm of Design Workshop. He told officials of the Roaring Fork Transportation Authority in a recent public meeting that they should consider modular housing if and when it develops some of its property in the valley. Ensign said his extensive research on the modular industry showed its quality and affordability make it a legitimate option. He wasn’t commenting specifically on Timber Creek Homes but on the industry as a whole.”Construction prices escalate even more than land,” Ensign said. “It’s getting really out of hand.”Steinhurst, Krabacher and Montgomery believe their firm has a golden opportunity to capture attention in the Roaring Fork Valley. Roaring Fork Custom Homes won a bid to build 24 homes at an affordable housing project in Snowmass Village. The project will be phased in over 18 months.”It allows us to prove our product,” Steinhurst said, labeling the opportunity “priceless.”Another 10 homes in the valley are in preliminary pricing and design. Four should be completed by the time the Snowmass Village project starts next year, Steinhurst said.A couple of homes built by Timber Creek, but not affiliated with Roaring Fork Custom Homes, already exist in the valley – one at Aspen Glen and another at Cerise Ranch.”We’ve made progress gaining acceptance in some of the larger developments,” Steinhurst said.Timber Creek has already cracked the high-end home market in Telluride. It has constructed roughly 50 homes assembled there over the last seven years. Roaring Fork Custom Homes flies potential customers there to tour those models.While modular homes are just becoming visible west of the Mississippi River, Steinhurst and his partners are banking on their popularity.”It’s the technology of the future that we’ll see more and more of,” he said.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com.