Apple of Home Builders Finds Bay Area Home

Blu Homes aims to build environmentally friendly homes that are stylish and affordable.

Not all startups are concerned with earning a multi-billion dollar valuation.

For some, embracing Mother Earth is more important -- or at least just as important. Enter Blu Homes.

The pre-fabricated home-builder is focused on delivering quality, stylish homes at an affordable price while pushing a green agenda.

The difference between a standard track home and a Blu home is deeper than the unique design of the homes the company builds, but the way the homes are built. All of Blu Homes houses are built entirely in a factory and then shipped to the site where its customers want the homes built.

Last week, Blu Homes, opened its first West Coast factory in Vallejo to better serve its growing Bay Area and West Coast clientele. The company's Director of Sales Kaitlin Burek says the Bay Area is a perfect fit for her company.

"Why Vallejo and why the Bay Area? We just felt our West Coast market has been growing rapidly and the Bay Area has been the epicenter of that," she said. "And the Bay Area is very green."

The company already had offices in San Francisco but its only other factory was in East Longmeadow, Mass.

Blu Homes started as a joint research project by MIT and the Rhode Island School of Design. The group was tasked with trying to discover how to make  home-building and home-buying better for the environment and the people who live in them.

In 2009, the company purchased a company run by Bay Area-based prefab designer and architect Michelle Kaufmann and Blu Homes was formed.

Now Burek says the company is trying to revolutionize the home-building industry and the Bay Area is at the center of that movement.

She said the company feels at home in the Bay Area partly because innovation and technology is at the core of Blu Homes philosophy and that is what the.

Burek said the talent in the Bay Area and being at the epicenter of the Silicon Valley also played a major role in the company's decision to open its West Coast factory in Vallejo.

Todd Woody, the environmental editor for Forbes magazine, perhaps puts it best. He compared Blu Homes innovative building style with another well known Bay Area company that prides itself on the marriage of design and innovation.

"Blu’s founders think they can succeed with an Apple approach to modern prefab: Combine drop-dead design with sophisticated software and control the entire home buying and building experience," he wrote.

Burek said the approach to building a home entirely in a factory has several advantages beyond being able to control every aspect of the process -- not to mention that factory construction takes the guess work out of the weather.

While in the factory, every aspect of the build has to be precise and exact because it is going to be shipped, sometimes across the country.

The company employs an innovative building method that allows it to construct the home entirely and then fold it, intact, for shipping.

A standard Blu Home, regardless of design, is shipped via truck, in compact 8 1/2 feet by 11 feet sections.

Because of the process it uses, Blu is able to build a factory home in about four to eight weeks, where a traditional track home can take up to a year to construct, which helps reduce the cost.

But this is where the comparison to traditional pre-fabricated homes ends and the real comparisons to Apple begins.

"Our (homes) are much more curated (than traditional pre-fabricated homes)," Burek said. "We have a design team that thinks through every aspect of the home and how our customers will live in them."

And the design team leaves little to the imagination. Almost everything is ready to go when the home shows up at a property.

First potential customers choose between seven modern designs that all feature big windows, airy rooms and a minimal carbon footprint.

Some customization is available but making major changes to the size of a particular wall, for example, may be off limits because the wall will no longer fold properly for shipping.

The accents available for each home -- from the flooring to the appliances to the fixtures -- are both stylish and environmental, which is partly how Blu Homes are able to earn an LEED certification as a green home.

In the Bay Area, even airports and museums are LEED certified.  Blu Homes are also built in a zero emission factory.

The size of the homes range from two-bedroom single story homes to four-bedroom, double story modern houses. The price of Blu's portfolio ranges from a mere $95,000 to a half million dollars before alteration and customizations.

Clients are responsible for finding a suitable property and then Blu's team will work with the site to make it blend in and to make sure it is up to local codes and is seismically safe.

But each home is shipped to each property almost entirely ready to go. Windows, fixtures and rooms are in place.

"It's really a holistic approach," Burek said. "The construction process is greener and more sustainable."

Once at the site, a general contractor works with Blu's team to blend the house in with the surrounding environment and attach to a pre-laid foundation.

The process of installing the home and putting on the finishing touches usually takes between six and 11 weeks, according to Burek. A traditional homes takes about nine to 11 months to construct.

To date, Blu Homes has built around 70 homes since it launched in 2008 and so far none have been re-sold. Still Burek says the homes, which are built to last 100 years, should maintain their resale value in large part because of the way they are built in harmony with the environment.

Building energy efficient homes -- from the flooring to the cabinets to the roofing to the type of material being used -- helps keep maintenance costs low, which in turn raises the resale value, according to Burek.

She says the cost benefit of an environmental home is something that is well appreciated in the Bay Area market, where building green has long been a source of price.

"And that's a way that our customer can participate in a green lifestyle in an ongoing way and that matters to both the environment and the customers who live in the home," Burek said.

Currently Blu Homes is building its first home in its Vallejo factory, which will be shipped to Healdsburg when completed.

For more information on Blu Homes visit the company's website.

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