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Affordable "green" homes coming to Chicago this summer


Dream Town Builders
Prefab visionary Jeffrey Sommers of Square Root Architecture teams up with Avi Ron of Dream Town Realty to bring affordable and eco-friendly prefab homes to the Chicago market.
Jeffrey Sommers spent 2½ years planning his first prefab home project in Chicago, which is scheduled to break ground this summer. In addition to hashing out design elements and budget with his clients, Sommers has been working with the city to get a green light on a virtually unheard of concept in Chicago—the prefab home.
While prefabricated housing is a widespread construction method in many parts of the country, it is relatively unseen in Chicago. Only a handful of prefab residences have been built in the area in recent years and of those just one passed the city’s inspection, according to an article published in Chicago Architect last month that featured Sommers’ new project.  
In view of the tough economic landscape, Sommers believes now is an ideal time to introduce the prefab home to Chicago’s residential market. And not just any old prefab domicile, but an affordable, green version that would provide eco-friendly, semi-customizable housing for middle-income families.
“I kind of equate it to the era following the Great Depression, when there was a demand for inexpensive housing and Sears kit homes were popular,” says Sommers, who is the principal of Square Root Architecture in Chicago. “That was the last time prefab houses were built in Chicago and now that we are dealing with similar circumstances in this recession, I think the need is there again.”
When Avi Ron, cofounder of Dream Town Realty and owner of Dream Town Builders, caught wind of Sommers’ idea to make energy-efficient, cost-effective prefab homes, he was hooked. Ron said he was intrigued by the challenge of creating prefab dwellings with green features (traditionally pricey components to integrate) without breaking the bank.
“We want to offer the look and feel of boutique style prefab, like what you see in architecture magazines, without the added expenses of customization and modifications for sustainable living,” said Ron. “The objective is to make a prefab home that is not only affordable in purchase price but actually saves money in operational costs in the long term.” Ron is referring to the savings on utilities a homeowner sees from using green features, such as photovoltaic panels and high-efficiency mechanical systems. Once the initial cost is recovered, homeowners can actually make money on their investments, Sommers explains. The bills for electricity, gas and water are dramatically reduced right off the bat and, over time, the added expenditure of fitting a home with renewable options can be fully recouped. Generally speaking, economic reimbursement takes longer for bigger investments, but the payback is also much higher in the long run.
By joining forces, Sommers and Ron provide clients with a one-stop shop that also saves money in the end. “We meld the contractor and realty sides into one full-service operation that takes care of everything, from buying the land to getting building permits to selecting the finishes,” Sommers says. “This way, the client doesn’t loose capital on paying the middle man or spend more by pulling a project together piece meal. We bridge that area between and provide a cost-effective alternative.”
The next step for Sommers and Ron is to crunch numbers and come up with basic, semi-customizable designs that are feasible for the average Chicago-area home buyer. The 1800-square-foot floor plan will have 3 bedrooms, 2.5 baths with solar panels and high-efficiency mechanical systems, windows and building envelope. The goal is to come in under $150 per square foot (not including the land), a range many of today’s home buyers are comfortable with.
Sommers and Ron see their new prefab properties as a home for the growing family. More space than a condo affords without a huge increase in monthly operational costs or mortgage payments.
“A lot of potential home buyers are not impressed with the current market’s inventory of existing homes in their price range right now, but they don’t have the funds to build their own custom home,” Ron points out. “This is a middle option that combines affordability and new construction.”
As the project gets underway, Sommers and Ron aspire to eventually automate the ordering process. Consumers could go to their web site and “build your own” home right there online. It would resemble an al a carte structure where the home purchaser could pick and choose the components they want their house to have, select a floor plan, see pricing, and view a virtual model of their prefab eco abode—all from the convenience of their computer.
Green Highlights:
  • Highly insulated building envelope and windows
  • Radiant heated floors
  • High-efficiency mechanical systems for heating, A/C and domestic hot water
  • Energy efficient lighting
  • Water conserving plumbing fixtures
  • Energy Star appliances
  • Low VOC finishes and paints
  • LEED certified home
  • Energy Star certified home
  • Chicago Green Home certified home
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