Magazine article Sunset

Diary of a Prefab: A Devoted Do-It-Yourselfer Learns What It Takes to Assemble a Factory-Made Dwelling from Start to Finish

Magazine article Sunset

Diary of a Prefab: A Devoted Do-It-Yourselfer Learns What It Takes to Assemble a Factory-Made Dwelling from Start to Finish

Article excerpt

WHEN AARON JONES decided to build a tiny one-room house on his central Tucson lot, he knew he wanted something minimal, modern, and airy. Something that would stand out in the sea of aging desert bungalows, but that wouldn't cost an arm and a leg.

He'd always been curious about prefab homes, and an Internet search led him to architect Rocio Romero, whose eco-conscious modular homes--particularly the 625-square-foot LVM model--looked just about perfect. And, since Jones would be the first person anywhere to build this particular model, it was sure to stand out.

For $22,050, the LVM kit included plans and the exterior shell and walls of the house, along with siding and a list of suggested finishes from Lowe's and Ikea. "Basically, it's the frame of the house," Jones explains. For Jones, a self-taught carpenter who planned to do much of the work himself, it seemed like the ideal solution: an architect-designed home with enough wiggle room to accommodate his own ideas. He ordered the LVM kit and set about getting the permits.

"The prefab sort of threw everyone for a loop," Jones says of the permit process, "because no one was used to it." And finding a contractor to help him wasn't any easier. "There wasn't a single contractor in Tucson who had ever built one. It took a lot of calling around."

He finally connected with Doug Kassian of Sierra Madre Construction. "He was game to learn, and he was interested in green solutions. I mean, he was a contractor who drove a Prius," says Jones, laughing.

Once the bureaucratic rigmarole was out of the way, the house arrived on a flatbed and Jones and the crew got to work putting it together. Four days later, all that was left to install were the windows and the interior finishes--flooring, countertops, cabinets--and the extraordinary copper-colored siding.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

There were a few minor disasters along the way: the last-minute grading ordered by the city, the mixing mishap with the epoxy flooring (it had to be scraped up and redone), and the windows that were wrongly installed by about 2 inches. But now that the house is finished, they seem like distant memories, funny stories to be told over cold beers on the house's front patio. …

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