Normally, I am turned off by real estate books with clever, cute titles such as “Prefabulous” by Sheri Koones. However, I am “turned on” by this great, new, beautiful book that completely changed my mind about so-called “prefab” homes, which are custom built in factories to the specifications of the buyers.

A better name for the homes described and photographed in this beautiful book is “modular.” But even that term doesn’t fully reveal the many different types of homes that can be designed by your architect to fit a specific lot or adapted from plans found in catalogs. So called “manufactured homes” are not included in this book because they are covered by a separate building code.

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As with all Taunton Press “coffee-table-quality” books with lots of color photos, the only word to describe this one is “amazing.” It includes all prefab systems that are used to engineer and assemble homes in factories, then ship them on trucks to the home site. Panelized, log, timber-frame, concrete, hybrids and steel-frame homes are included.

As famous author and home designer Sarah Susanka says in her forward to the book, “For some people, words like modular, manufactured, panelized and prefabricated conjure up visions of ticky-tacky subdivisions in which every house looks just the same. But the biggest story in ‘Prefabuous’ is that just because something is made in a factory doesn’t mean it has to be boring or the same as hundreds of other houses.”

Reasons for building a prefab home, rather than a “stick-built” traditional residence, are many. They include cost savings, fast construction time, greater energy efficiency, better structural integrity and improved warranties.

Author Sheri Koones has compiled a photo gallery of dozens of prefab homes of all styles, located throughout the United States and Canada, which show the flexibility of prefab houses. Not only are the finished homes shown, but the factory construction processes reveal the exacting standards, including computerized, highly accurate machinery to save time and labor.

Unless you knew the homes pictured in this book were built in modules in a factory, trucked to the site and then assembled into unique, one-of-a-kind houses, you would never believe what can be done by setting the modules on foundations in one or two days. The largest home in the book was delivered in 15 modules, but most are much smaller.

Lest you think modular prefab homes are only for low-income housing, the architect of the 40,000-square-foot Xanadu house for Bill and Melinda Gates in Seattle, James Cutler, now designs prefab custom homes for Lindal Cedar Homes.

If this book has a fault — and it is very difficult to find one — it would be the heavy emphasis on prefab log construction. As I was thoroughly enjoying the book, I suddenly realized it had turned into a book about log homes. Fortunately, the book then took an abrupt shift to concrete prefab homes, describing all their special features.

There is even a section about prefabricated steel frames, although such homes are in a minority, probably due to the difficulty finding qualified local contractors to assemble them on site. Frankly, although steel houses offer many advantages, they are unique and you either love them or don’t.

Although I’ve been involved with old and new houses for many years, I was not familiar with the term SIP, which stands for “structural insulated panels.” They are precut panels used as wall, floor or roof components consisting of panels, bonded to an insulating foam core.

The primary SIP advantages are fast assembly and energy efficiency for the outer walls, thus requiring smaller heating and cooling units. SIP walls provide an R-value of 46, even before drywall and stucco are added.

This ultracomplete book not only shows the many varieties of prefab homes now available, but the author has done an admirable job of educating readers about what they need to know, such as even explaining photovoltaic cells mounted on roofs to provide electricity, and how to use reclaimed wood in log homes.

Chapter topics include “Modular,” “Panelized,” “Structural Insulated Panels,” “Timber Frame,” “Log Construction,” “Concrete” and “Steel.” The “resources” at the end of the book list the manufacturers, architects, builders and suppliers located throughout the nation who contributed to the dozens of homes shown.

If you are considering building your home on a lot you already own or want to acquire, this book will open your eyes to show what can be done with prefab homes, which look like custom homes but cost a lot less. The many examples and explanations show what can be accomplished. On my scale of one to 10, this superb book rates an off-the-chart 12.

“Prefabulous,” by Sheri Koones (Taunton Press, Newtown, Conn.), 2007, $25.00, 215 pages; available in stock or by special order at local bookstores, public libraries and

(For more information on Bob Bruss publications, visit his
Real Estate Center

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