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In the wake of the October 2017 wildfires, with many people who lost homes and want to rebuild looking for the quickest way to achieve quality results while saving time and money in the process, firms like HybridCore Homes, and its affiliate HybridBuild, Inc., say demand is increasing for modular homes.

HybridCore (www.hybridcorehomes.com) offers customers multiple floor plans of homes ranging from 500 to 2,500 square feet — enough space to fulfill a majority of current demand requirements for accessory dwelling units (granny units) — with up to five-bedroom models with four bathrooms and three-car garages.

“Our company was born of necessity and survival in 2009 during the recession when a long-time client of architects Farrell Faber and Associates suggested taking a look at factory-built housing as a cost-effective solution for a project,” said Kevin Farrell, architect and managing partner of HybridCore Homes and HybridBuild. “Eventually, HybridCore Homes was launched as a unique marriage of traditional stick-built construction and what we call ‘cores’ constructed off-site.”

An initial challenge was finding how to introduce the “hybrid” home-construction approach in a way that would be palatable to consumers.

“Our homes are made with a standard of quality that meets or exceeds that of conventional stick-built homes,” said Matt Hernandez, director of operations. “Cores and finished buildings are extremely durable. They have to be able to arrive at the building site undamaged, meaning the floor has to be reinforced, and walls have to be strong enough so each core can be lifted using a sky crane without breakage or cracks. Each core can weigh up to 35,000 pounds.”

Cores come finished with windows, doors, cabinets, countertops, kitchen appliances and paint, already completed and ready to be joined to other sections of the home where only minor touch ups are needed.

The approach takes advantage of economies of scale by having subcontractors and craftsmen working in the same location, at the same time, on “wet cores” (sections of a home that include the kitchen, bathrooms, laundry, HVAC and hot-water systems), and “dry cores” that include living and family rooms, halls, bedrooms and other areas.

Wet cores are designed to include all areas where water, pipes and drains are present in a 15-foot-wide by up to 66-foot-long configuration suitable for transport on a flatbed truck and offloaded at the building location for repositioning on a standard raised concrete foundation. This process takes about an hour from core arrival to placement.

Three HybridCore construction facilities are located in California, in the Sacramento and Woodland areas, as well as another facility in Southern California, where labor is available and close to major cities and fire zones where new homes are critically needed. Company executives say this is not a cookie-cutter approach to home design. Floor plans and elevation styles can be customized to individual tastes, and the modular process can be used for all or some of a home’s buildout, leaving the rest to the company’s carpenters and other craftsman to do on-site — such as building garages and adding trusses and roofing materials.

HybridCore homes have been built throughout Northern California, including in Santa Rosa and other cities in Sonoma County, with a number of other homes completed, under construction and planned for delivery in fire-zone areas, such as Larkfield (Ursuline Road, Dover Court and Brighton Court), Hidden Valley (Aaron Drive) and Coffey Park (Skyview Court, Crestview Court and Santiago Drive), and elsewhere in the weeks ahead.

Business Manager Jeff Farrell says there are many other advantages to this building approach worth considering.

"Customers realize at least a 20 percent cost saving with HybridCore over traditional construction estimates," he said. "Time-to-completion savings can cut the construction cycle from six to eight months normally, to about three months. Custom home projects can usually be completed in eight months, versus up to 16 months for conventional stick-framing projects."

He said costs associated with HybridCore Homes average about $300 per square foot compared with estimates that are two or more times higher in the open market today.

“We’ve heard that other construction facilities are overloaded, and the time frames are longer, and both workers and supplies are harder to obtain, creating a backlog and forcing a return to conventional construction methods,” Jeff Farrell said. “However, we are doing our best to keep up with demand. The number of workers in our home-building facilities remains stable, and wages are virtually the same as last October. With local labor scarce, it is more cost effective to build homes off-site.”

HybridCore finished its first home in 2010, several more in the following years and a total of 10 in 2017. This year, 25 to 30 homes will be built. Collectively, the company has built between 50 and 60 modular homes throughout Northern California.

“More people are embracing modular. (Blu Homes) paved the way for this trend and made it acceptable by changing market and customer perceptions,” Jeff Farrell said. Blu Homes has a design showroom in Vallejo. “It’s all about educating consumers. The same construction methods are used at our home-building locations as those performed on-site.”

According to Kevin Farrell, “Modular homes are the wave of the future. More large companies are moving in this direction.”

He said Amazon is investing in pre-fab home construction and Marriott uses modular designs for its chain of hotels.

The first step people have to make involves an emotional commitment, Kevin Farrell said. The next is knowing how much of a budget they will have, given the uncertainty of insurance company payouts. Another factor is making sure that CalFire Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) requirements and building codes related to materials testing standards are met regarding new home construction within a WUI interface area.

Jeff Farrell said builders have to pay more attention to Title 24 policies regarding energy use and sustainable “green” considerations under new code regulations that can add to building costs. Today, WUI code changes are being driven mostly by insurance companies after having to make major payouts as a result of the wildfires. There are structural revisions in the code requiring the use of more fire-resistant materials.

Over the years, Kevin Farrell said his architecture and building partnership has resulted in 7,500 homes being built since its inception — 500 in the Fountaingrove area alone.