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Prefab Quality

“Montage building” is becoming the wave of the future.

By Rick Reynolds

Is prefab quality an oxymoron? For many people, quality is not the first thing that comes to mind when prefab or prefabricated is used to describe homes. Indeed, it’s often the last thing. As an adjective, the term “prefab,” short for “prefabricated,” simply means that sections are manufactured, offsite, under controlled conditions, so that they can be easily transported to, and rapidly assembled on, a building site.

Despite all the latest building news, advanced architectural designs, and wave of high-quality, prefab homes springing up across the country, a significant portion of Americans still associate the term, prefab with low-end, low-quality, half-house behemoths barreling down the highway in a procession of flashing lights, warning oncoming drivers to steer clear.

And steer clear many do. Turned off to the whole prefab category, many new home buyers unwittingly turn away from the latest advances in building science that lead to healthy, comfortable, high-performance homes.

It’s important to note that prefab is not an outcome, but rather, a methodology.

Taken individually, factory-built and site-built homebuilding protocols, when badly managed, can lead to cheap, poorly built, poorly performing outcomes. Poor design, poor materials, and poor workmanship are not the domain of one methodology or the other. Too often, they’re the domain of both.

Conversely, high-quality, highly-crafted homes can benefit from the best aspects of off-site fabrication and on-site building, when the right combination is used. After all, either can offer specific advantages when it comes to controlling costs, enhancing quality, and increasing performance. When the best of both methodologies are merged, the outcome can be both maximized and optimized.

Arguably, some of the very finest homes available today are coming from—and will continue to move toward—the combination of methodologies in a hybrid design/build protocol known as Montage building. In Montage building, highly precise aggregated construction assemblies (in the form of panels or modules)—fabricated off-site—are rapidly assembled into a building shell (the montage) at the build site.

Montage building may be the next generation of prefab design/build homes, but it is not new. It has existed for many years in Europe, and its advantages are numerous:

  • High quality from highly experienced architects, engineers, and craftspeople working in concert
  • Extreme precision from BIM (Building Information Modeling) and CNC (Computer Numerical Control) machinery
  • Construction elements aggregated into a finite number of panelized assemblies, indoors in a controlled environment, for fast assembly on site
  • Comfort and well-being arising from beautiful, biophilic ( i.e.: inspired by nature and natural forms), draft-free, durable homes
  • Healthy building materials undamaged by prolonged exposure to weather
  • Energy efficiency from super-insulated, super-tight building envelopes
  • Turnkey time compression due to non-linear, concurrent production
  • Quality deliverable to anywhere in the country; especially those areas where the latest building expertise may be less readily available

So, far from new, Montage building is, if anything, coming late to an American building industry, too often entrenched in archaic, stick-built methodologies. After all, building homes and public buildings from scratch, at the home site, out in the weather, is akin to building a car in the driveway, or constructing an airliner on the tarmac. Few of us would risk our lives in such vehicles. And buildings, where we spend most of our time, can play as critical a role in promoting our safety and well-being.

By aggregating multiple elements into a finite number of highly-finished construction assemblies, off-site and indoors, the precision of factory manufacturing and shop craft is transferred to the build site where a weather-tight shell (the montage), can be realized in minimal time and with minimal disruption to the ecology of the site.

At Bensonwood, and its sister company, Unity Homes, very precise, panelized roof, wall, and floor assemblies, CNC milled timber elements, and highly finished millwork are simultaneously crafted offsite, concurrent with site work. From there, the construction elements—or Montage—are efficiently transported flat to the build site where they are rapidly installed into a weather-tight shell, in any season and often, in under a week. Infill, in turn, follows within this protective, controlled environment.

To learn more about Bensonwood’s brand of Montage building, please visit: