Karoleena Homes founders Kurt and Chris Goodjohn started their careers constructing conventional stick-built homes in southwestern Canada but after three or four years, they had an epiphany. “This is stupid,” Kurt recalls telling his sibling. “The way we build houses is dumb.”
Their frustration led them to seek out prefabricated, modular solutions that re-thought all the problems they saw with the delivery of homes using conventional methods—problems such as labor issues and construction delays. In 2005, they founded Karoleena and began offering what they call “designer prefab homes.”
The firm’s Springbank dwelling—in a suburb of Calgary—demonstrates a jump in scale from its earlier work. The two-story, 4,350-square-foot house comprises seven modules set on top of a poured-in-place concrete foundation with basement. The total cost of the project was $2.4 million—about $450 per square foot.
“It was our first big custom home,” Goodjohn notes. “There’s a complexity of design,” which the brothers say helps prove that prefabricated construction can be used at this scale and still look good.
The home’s plan is straightforward, with an entry between a three-car garage and the square main body of the structure. A central staircase provides access to the fully finished basement (which was constructed on site) and the smaller second floor, whose three bedrooms are set back from the first floor’s outline and extend over a portion of the garage. The focus of the main level is the interconnected living/dining/kitchen spaces that span the rear of the home in an open layout.
“They’re rectangles and squares,” Goodjohn says of the prefabricated pieces, but the individuality of each is craftily concealed in the final layout. “It’s how you put them together [that makes them work].”
The exterior is clad in a combination of wood, composite panels, and stone—all under a series of wide-eave roofs that give the house a distinctive profile.
The house, like all Karoleena homes, employs a factory-welded steel frame that the builders call the “Kore.” It’s four times stronger than a traditional stick-built wood frame, Goodjohn says, resulting in a more solid and durable structure. This also helps keep movement to a minimum while transporting the pieces from plant to site.
Probably the most remarkable aspect of the Springbank house is that it doesn’t look like a prefabricated, modular home. Goodjohn attributes this to their approach. “A lot more thought has to go into it,” he says. “Design has always been paramount for us.”
This same philosophy goes into finishes and fixtures, which are limited to a palette of products that Karoleena has carefully curated to provide its clients with stylish choices that can dependably deliver the quality and look they desire.
Originally based in Calgary, the firm now works from a 35,000-square-foot plant in Okanagan Falls, British Columbia, about 160 miles east of Vancouver. They’ve expanded to 30 employees in the last year and are operating at about 50% of their design capacity of 20 to 30 homes per year. Early on, a lot of the construction work was subcontracted to others, but growth has allowed the vast majority of work to now be done in-house.
There are 16 stages in the factory for each house, from welding fabrication to “gift wrapping,” which brands each unit for its journey to the site. “These are high-end homes, replicated,” says Goodjohn, adding that he and his brother are hoping to offer homes at about $350 per square foot.
They are concentrating on a line of 13 Signature designs created by the firm that start as small as 729 square feet and are designed to meet the most stringent shipping constraints and building codes in the U.S. and Canada. Shipping cost is one barrier—it’s about $6 per mile per module, which can add up, although Karoleena has shipped as far away as Canada’s Northwest Territories (where the shipping of any building materials is expensive) and Aspen, Colo.
“There’s a practical radius limit of 500 miles or so,” Goodjohn says, adding that he sees an opportunity for his company to operate plants across North America.
“We’re not a construction company,” he says. “We’re a manufacturing company.”