Can modular homes solve the affordable housing crisis in Mammoth, Big Bear  and other ski towns across the West, and maybe even save the planet as an added benefit?

“It’s an evolving industry that is getting better every day,” said Michael O’Connor, principal and chief operating officer of the development company that used modular construction at the Town of Vail’s Chamonix local’s housing project in West Vail. “I’m a believer.

His company is also currently undertaking a 139-unit modular project in Truckee, Calif., with several prefab companies providing the units that are predominantly built in a factory setting and then shipped to the development site. The idea is to control variables in on-site traditional construction such as mountain weather, pricey local labor and other factors.

“So many people are recognizing the difficulties that California is kind of leading the country in, like limited labor pool, very expensive local subcontractor base, projects too expensive, taking way too long to build,” O’Connor said. “You can control that risk by doing it in a controlled environment in a factory and get two-thirds of the project built and limit your exposure.”

Lean and Green

Modular Construction can streamline the building process, cut down on waste and basically make buildings so much more efficient and environmentally sustainable.

Buildings as a category in the United States, consume more energy through lighting, heating and cooling (39 percent) than both industry (29 percent) and transportation (32 percent), adding that 40 percent of all raw materials that are extracted on the planet are used for building materials.

Modular Construction uses certified materials that reduced outgassing, solar energy, far more efficient insulation and more of it than is mandated, LED lights, energy efficient appliances and water systems that recycle for irrigation. Their homes are modular but very contemporary, and actually cost-competitive in the Vail Valley, O’Connor said.

A Solution to a Crisis

O’Connor strongly believes modular construction, especially technological advances like wet-core construction — with all the rooms with plumbing prebuilt — can help solve the acute housing crisis in both urban and mountain communities.

“The same problems that are happening in mountain towns are amplified in our market because of dramatic cost of living increases, real estate increases, so, especially in the affordable housing space, there’s a lot of skepticism [of modular in Seattle], more so than I heard here, which is actually really validating to hear how much it’s been embraced in the mountain communities,” O’Connor said.

 “Minneapolis just got rid of single-family zoning. If you have a home in a single-family home zone area, you can now do multi-family anywhere in Minneapolis,” O’Connor said. “Obviously, the number of units are limited by the size of your lot, but that’s spectacular. That’s going to have a dramatic effect on creating more housing more efficiently. I hope more cities do this.”

O’Connor doesn’t see that necessarily happening in mountain towns, but it’s a solution for cities, and O’Connor said more and more modular companies are building beautiful contemporary prefab homes that anyone would want to live in.

“It’s not like a trailer anymore,” O’Connor laughed. “It’s not stack-a-shack.”