Homebuilt Kits enable anyone to easily build a code-compliant home.

Habitat for Humanity home with Homebuilt framing

The housing market crash and economy-wide downturn of 2008 shook the lives of millions of Americans to the core. People lost jobs and started losing their homes. People stopped qualifying for mortgages to buy a home. One person’s response was this: Dennis Michaud, a successful architect and designer of high-end pre-fabricated homes, began to shift his focus to enabling people of lesser means to have their own home — without needing to qualify for or take on a burdensome mortgage.

Dennis’ company, Homebuilt, represents a whole new approach to affordable homebuilding. The company’s products are kits for code-compliant structures that you can build all by yourself (or with a friend, to make it more fun). Anyone can put together these buildings with no previous experience needed, and no tools required beyond a mallet and a hand-held power screwdriver (the kits can, of course, also be assembled by local pros). The structural pieces of a HomeBuilt Kit are precision cut, including the obvious numbering of each part, using a full size ShopBot Tool.

Lumber and Plywood Kit fresh off a Shopbot

Lumber and Plywood Kit fresh off a Shopbot

Check out this quick video of the Shopbot cutting the lumber….

I first spoke with Dennis over a year ago, and wrote about his vision for Homebuilt on the 100kGarages.com blog. Fifteen months later I thought it would be interesting to check in with Dennis on the status of his venture.

“Things are going really well, and I’ve learned a lot,” said Dennis. “We’ve sold about 15 kits over the past year, which could be viewed as not that many; but at this point I am most interested in learning about what customers like about the kits and what they want from a kit, so this level of activity is just fine.”

Dennis told me that he’s found that most buyers are interested in having their kits customized a bit to meet their own vision. Following their interest, Dennis has focused efforts on being able to fulfill on these custom requests.

Here a sample of the kit designs that Homebuilt offers:

"The Escape" Kit prices: $6,500 for full structure, up to $36,000 for everything (see below) beyond the foundation Exterior Dimensions:  27' x 20' x 15' (height) Conditioned Square Footage:  450 square feet Full Kitchen, Full Bath (shower), 3 Closets, Exterior Storage Nook Energy-efficient Heating, AC, and Hot Water Energy-efficient Windows and Doors Easily connect to power grid, existing house power, or solar panels No sewage needs - includes Swedish-made Seperett composting toilet

“The Escape” Kit prices: $6,500 for full structure, up to $36,000 for everything (see below) beyond the foundation
Exterior Dimensions: 27′ x 20′ x 15′ (height); Conditioned Square Footage: 450 square feet; Full Kitchen, Full Bath (shower), 3 Closets, Exterior Storage Nook
Energy-efficient Heating, AC, and Hot Water; Energy-efficient Windows and Doors; Easily connect to power grid, existing house power, or solar panels
No sewage needs – includes Swedish-made Seperett composting toilet

 

"Cabana"  From the site: This kit is ideal for anyone needing some extra space for something special.  Whether it's for a backyard office, an art studio, or just a place of your own to relax: pick a size, some options for finishes, and call a friend over to help you put it together.  Typical assembly time between 2-3 weekends, depending on the finish selections. See the Homebuilt site for size options and pricing.

“Cabana” From the site: This kit is ideal for anyone needing some extra space for something special. Whether it’s for a backyard office, an art studio, or just a place of your own to relax: pick a size, some options for finishes, and call a friend over to help you put it together. Typical assembly time between 2-3 weekends, depending on the finish selections.
See the Homebuilt site for size options and pricing.

“An important part of my development curve has been working with the production support team at ShopBot Tools to configure the ShopBot to handle non-standard materials. You generally think of a ShopBot as a tool for handling sheet goods such as 4 x 8 plywood. We’ve figured out how to use the tool to handle 2×4, 2×6, and 2×8 lumber. The challenges presented by this lumber is that pieces can be warpy and arrive with non-standard thicknesses. On the machining side, we’ve figured out hold-down issues by creating robotic ‘grippers,’ and on the software side, we’ve built in the intelligence that indicates where a piece of material needs to be held down appropriately so we can achieve the cut.”

Dennis says that he now has a process in place that makes it easy for the tool operator to work with lumber efficiently and easily.

Amateurs frame up a home with a Homebuilt Kit.

In the very early phases of the company, Dennis prototyped and built small structures such as backyard storage sheds. Over the past year or so, Dennis has wanted to be able to learn how his vision — for amateurs to build a livable home — would work in practice. The opportunity has come in his relationships with Habitat for Humanity.

Habitat for Humanity home with Homebuilt framing

Habitat for Humanity home with Homebuilt framing

The images you see below illustrate the use of a Homebuilt kit by the Springfield, MA chapter of Habitat for Humanity.  “In this case, the project had an extremely tight deadline – with funding contingent upon the deadline being met,” explained Dennis.  “Construction had already begun, and Habitat made a last-minute request for Homebuilt to provide the interior framing for both of two stories.”

“The Homebuilt kit fit perfectly into what was already started – adapting even to a later, major design change – and turned what could have been weeks of work into an easy weekend completion. All twenty-three (23) walls were assembled by a crew of 3-5 volunteers (including the future homeowners), without building experience, in about 8 hours… using only small, cordless screwguns and plastic mallets (not even tape measures!). The Homebuilt kit also removed the need to use saws on the site, making the build safer, faster, and more inclusive for volunteers without experience or comfort with using dangerous tools.”

Looking ahead, Dennis notes that the financial hurdle — a need for about $50K to fully build one of his kit homes with all of the amenities — is one that needs to be addressed if people of modest means will be enabled to participate in this DIY movement. A note of hope: He foresees that the growing micro-lending, or peer-to-peer lending, trend can enable a lot of people to be able to build for themselves. An example Dennis gave, “If a micro-lender can see that a $50k investment will allow someone to put up a quality, code-compliant 1,200 sq ft home in a neighborhood of homes that are valued around $200K, then that’s a great investment to make.”

 

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