[caption id="attachment_45128" align="alignright" width="403" caption="This cavernous former submarine periscope shop on Mare Island in Vallejo is now tooled to produce fold-out panelized steel homes. (Blu Homes photo)"][/caption]

VALLEJO -- Massachusetts-based Blu Homes today opened a 250,000-square-foot factory in Vallejo, where the company plans to eventually employ 500 and turning out that many of the company's high-tech, high-green manufactured dwellings annually.

For its first West Coast plant, Blu is starting with 80 employees -- 50 hired so far and 30 more to be hired by year-end -- and plans to frame and finish up to 70 of the company's panelized steel homes next year, according to a spokeswoman.

"Of course, we're operating in the same economy as everyone else, so those numbers may need to be revised, depending on how the housing market progresses," said Dana Smith.

The factory could reach full output of 500 homes annually in the next four to six years. At that level, the plant would employ as many as 500.The total number of homes produced could vary because the company's seven models differ widely in size, and some buyers choose to combine several smaller homes into a compound on a site, according to Ms. Smith.

Blu has a factory in Massachusetts and has been producing homes since 2008. The company's approach is to process architect drawings through a high-tech design and engineering software -- also used by Boeing, Volvo and other aerospace and automobile manufacturers -- to create production documents for the factory team.

The company just released a web-based software tool called 3-D Configurator. It builds on the existing design and engineering process by allowing homeowners to see what their design options will look like. That final design is incorporated into the manufacturing documents. The company plans to add the ability to see the impact of design changes on the cost.

Blu Homes dwellings are built in panels of light-gauge steel studs and shipped to job sites in such a way that the panels can be folded out origami-style for final fastening. The models range from Origin with up to two bedrooms and one bathroom in 864 square feet for a starting price for the finished version of  $125,000 to the single-story Breezehouse with three or four bedrooms and three bathrooms in 3,024 square feet at an initial price of $495,000.

There are options for additional space via "pods," starting at $90,000 each.

As the Business Journal reported in October, panelized construction is being adopted by more North Bay companies to tap into demand for homes, commercial buildings and other structures that lower job-site labor costs and use more recycled materials. Examples include Healthy Buildings Technology Group in Napa and HybridCore Homes in Santa Rosa.

Blu Homes Chief Executive Officer Bill Haney officiated the Vallejo factory ribbon-cutting at 3:30 p.m., and the plant was open for tours through 6 p.m.

In September, Blu announced a 10-year lease with Lennar Mare Island for Building 680, located at 1245 Nimitz Ave.

Built in 1940 and used to make periscopes and other components for submarines, it's the largest building on the 650-acre former naval shipyard. Lennar Mare Island is redeveloping the base as commercial space and housing. Lennar Corp. spent $4.5 million on toxic cleanup of Building 680 and installing a 4-inch-thick reinforced concrete floor.


AMPLIFICATION, Dec. 2, 2011: Blu Homes has hired 50 in Vallejo and plans to bring 30 more on board by the end of this year.