Are you a green consumer who has heard that prefab homes are more eco-friendly than traditional stick-built houses, but wonder how true that is?
Knowing that home heating and cooling costs make up about 20% of all carbon emissions in the United States and approximately 55% of a home’s total energy usage, choosing a genuinely climate-friendly home will significantly lower your personal environmental footprint and simultaneously help save the planet from our climate crisis.
In this article, you’ll find a list of the top 10 companies building eco friendly prefab homes and what makes them so green.
You’ll also learn what to look for and what to avoid when shopping for a low-carbon prefab home. By following these guidelines, you will be more likely to find yourself in the sustainable home of your dreams tomorrow.
What is a prefab home?
The general term prefabricated home (prefab for short) includes several related housing types that all have one major similarity: they are all made partially or fully offsite in a climate-controlled environment following a digital architectural design and using sophisticated machinery.
With prefabs, your house literally comes to you (at least some parts of it)!
Conventionally built prefabs are usually constructed of the most inexpensive materials most of which are manufactured with heavy fossil fuel inputs. They may contain petrochemicals (like adhesives, paints, and varnishes) or be made of them (fiberglass or spray plastic foam insulation).
Here’s a quick breakdown of prefab types:
- Panelized prefabs: Exterior walls (usually with built-in doors and windows) and ceilings, all fabricated in a factory, travel by truck to the construction site where a crane puts them together.
- Modular prefabs: More complete than panelized prefab homes, modules (boxes) are factory-built, wrapped, and transported by truck to the building site. The modules may consist of walls + ceiling segments or entire rooms, with or without doors and windows. The modules are assembled on site. Some arrive fully formed (tiny homes) or require only minimal labor for complete assembly.
- Kit houses: Much like a DIY kit you purchase and fit together yourself, kit houses arrive on site with all materials numbered, separated, and stacked. There are no panelized sections or modules like the other types have. Everything is set up on site in an orderly fashion, following the numbers.
Manufactured (or mobile) homes, like the ones found in mobile home parks, are like modular prefabs. Generally, they are of poorer quality than the prefab homes featured in this article.
Many manufactured homes, both large and tiny, come on wheels.
What is an eco-friendly prefab home?
An eco-friendly prefab home is a partially offsite pre-built home made of sustainable materials and constructed using environmentally sound practices. Here are some characteristics of eco prefabs:
- Certified as a passive house, LEED Zero, or something comparable. This way, there is an objective standard of what eco-friendly means.
- Relies on renewable energy sources only (like solar, wind, and/or geothermal).
- Bonus points for using one or more of the major types of eco-insulation instead of fiberglass or spray plastic foam.
- More bonus points for using reclaimed building materials.
List of the top 10 eco-friendly prefab homes
The following list of prefab home companies was developed by looking closely at the company’s history and practices.
Behind the rationale for what got top marks and figured into the placement of these listings were:
- Established presence on the market. If a company is young, how can you trust their warranty terms? They may not be around to honor it, especially if it’s for 25+ years. Heed the example of scamming Green Terra Homes so you won’t lose thousands of dollars.
- Prominent place given to their senior architects or building science experts on their website and in their promotional materials. These people draw up the plans. They are invaluable to the success of your project. Amateurs are more likely to make mistakes that’ll cost you money. Does your prospective company employ such experts?
- Willingness to work with the people you bring to the team. Folks like an architect, builder, HVAC specialist, or general contractor. How welcomed are they by the company, especially by the project manager (assuming there is one – hopefully)? Or does the company seem reluctant to bring in outside professionals? Their house should pass the scrutiny of any and all experts. The company should exude self-confidence and be willing to cooperate with professional peers. As the client, you’ll be sure to get an exceptionally well-built home.
- Emphasis on the website about how green they are. Look for specific prototypes. Which sustainable certifications do they carry? Have any of their houses won sustainability awards? Speak with past clients to get more insight. Use the certification standards to evaluate them.
Founded in 1973 by Tedd Benson, Bensonwood is one of the oldest eco-friendly prefabricated home companies in the United States. They are certified passive house builders and consultants.
Bensonwood states that it builds their timber frame homes to last for “hundreds of years.” They use a panelized method and fabricate everything in their own factory, Tektoniks.
Before every project, they visit the job site in order to configure the roof and window placements for maximum solar capacity.
Bensonwood’s insulation of choice is densely packed recycled newspaper (cellulose). Unlike fiberglass which repels moisture, thereby forced to settle on wood where it could cause damage, cellulose draws moisture to itself, leaving the wood frame of your home dry and strong.
Time needed for completion of a Bensonwood prefab can be as little as eight months up to two years. They will build nationwide but say that some states, like California and Maryland, have restrictive building codes for prefabs that will inflate costs.
2. Unity Homes
As a Bensonwood sister company, Unity Homes features pre-designed houses that are more affordable than Bensonwood homes. However, Unity Homes don’t compromise on the quality that every Bensonwood home possesses.
Unity Homes start at $400,000.
Bensonwood hallmark characteristics, including:
- panel technology
- airtight design for maximal energy efficiency
- use of no- or low VOC materials
- balanced ventilation based on inside-outside air exchange
are available with Unity builds as well.
Here is a short video of a walk-through in a Unity Home prefab:
Although Ecocor was founded in 2012, it has quickly gained a following of devotees that competes with Bensonwood-ites. Their high-quality prefabs are the reason.
Also, like Bensonwood, Ecocor launched a sister company, Solsken, later in 2017. Both feature panelized passive houses.
In addition to cellulose insulation, Ecocor also uses eco-friendly rockwool composed of volcanic rock and the byproduct of the steel and copper industries known as slag.
Ecocor owns and operates a small facility in Maine, where they make their own panels. They deliver anywhere in the USA.
Take a peek into their Maine factory:
One of their smallest eco prefabs (1,00o sq. ft., one floor) starts at $271,000. The same home built to passive house standards costs $365,000. The website is clear about what that price includes and doesn’t include.
Holz100 Canada, which also builds homes in the United States and Europe, is a unique eco-friendly prefab company.
They pride themselves on homes made of 100% moonwood. This is wood harvested during certain lunar phases in the fall and winter months when the sap is at its lowest point. This way of harvesting is actually a way to preserve the wood naturally against insects and fungi. It results in a denser wood of superior quality without any chemical treatments.
This company stands by its wood with a 50-year warranty against mold and condensation, asserting that no other company offers this guarantee. (The company was established in 1990.)
Their website also boasts of its wood:
- Processed without glues, lacquers
- Layers constructed with wooden dowels – no glue or metal nails
- Uses a “fraction” of the energy to manufacture chemically processed woods
- Insulates twice as well as other woods
- Possesses a heat storage capacity that indicates air tightness twice as high as conventional mineral wall (drywall)
- Exceeds in fire protection, earthquake resistance, and soundproofing compared to other building materials
According to the company’s website, it has achieved many certifications including one by Cradle to Cradle (although there was no listing found when we followed their link).
The website shows several completed European projects, including an example of an eco prefab modular home. A 194 sq. ft. module starts at $46,000. The modules can be stacked or lined up side by side to create a larger living space.
Although the website is live, the latest blog post is dated 2018. A project video was unavailable and an example link didn’t work.
If you’re interested in this company, which appears to offer a truly sustainable product, contact them for their latest news.
5. Go Logic
Go Logic is newer to the eco prefab scene (2008) than many others on this list, but their quality and sustainability focus is just as sharp. They do both design and builds of prefabs.
Located in Maine, Go Logic makes panelized, prefab passive houses. They will also work in other New England states. Visit their website for the latest news.
They use dense-pack or blown-in recycled newspaper as insulation along with mineral wool. Their interior walls are standard drywall.
Go Logic offers conventional building material options for some things (such as laminate countertops, composite siding, PVC windows, etc.) as well as sustainable alternatives.
What is very helpful to new green consumers is their pricing page. Unlike other companies which don’t clearly detail all of their fees, Go Logic does. They also include in their costs work that some of their competitors do not include such as metal roofing or interior finishes and fixtures.
The addition of these items to their pricing makes direct cross-comparisons difficult.
Their smallest prefab (600 sq. ft.) starts at $165,000. A 2,300 sq. ft. home goes for $609,000 or more.
As a Pittsburgh startup, Module was founded in 2016. To date, its prefabs are restricted to this area of Pennsylvania. However, they are developing partnerships around the United States with similar-minded builders and architects to grow their company nationwide.
Although we couldn’t spot direct reference on their website to Tektoniks, Bensonwood’s premier prefab factory located in New Hampshire, an article in Builder Online confirmed it. Module homes are built to the industry’s highest standards of sustainable building materials: Bensonwood.
This fact is one of the reasons Module makes this list, but it’s not the only one.
Module is a sustainable company in other ways, as described in its 2020 Impact Report. To create more diverse communities and “bring good design to more people,” for example, they build affordable homes in the same neighborhood as market rate homes. They make a point of working with women- and minority-owned businesses, too.
Specifically with regard to the environmental impact of their homes, they have a 4-fold strategy, mostly shared (except for #1) with the other eco prefab firms featured in this list:
- Focusing on infill (property that previously had a structure on it) development rather than building on totally undeveloped land. In this way, they use existing infrastructure rather than create it new.
- Integrating more sustainable building practices into their projects.
- Constructing energy-efficient homes.
- Bettering indoor air quality for future homeowners with air exchange systems that remove stale air and filter in outside air.
Module Design is also unique in that they post several of their pre-construction houses for sale on their website. For example, a 2,300 sq.ft. detached townhome (with garage) costs $669,000.
Lastly, while the other companies listed here build mostly single family dwellings, Module also designs townhomes, duplexes, and six-unit multifamily housing.
Their first home was a passive house, but their later ones, although very energy efficient, are not.
With a 42-year history, Confederation Log Homes has withstood the test of time.
We include this company as a representative log home firm for people looking for something different but sustainable nonetheless.
This company sells their homes as prefab kits, which you would never guess from the photos on their website.
They are not passive house certified. In fact, their website doesn’t shout out how eco-friendly they are.
However, tucked away in a blog post, they describe details on their logs that reveal just how serious they are about sustainability.
For instance, they:
- Rely on wood from northern Ontario where bitterly cold winters yield denser wood with minimal warping or shrinkage.
- Harvest wood only in the winter when the sap is in the roots and they contain minimal moisture content and sap pockets. The snow covering on the forest floor prevents damage to it.
- Air dry their wood for two years rather than use a kiln that runs on fossil fuels and releases huge amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
- Recycle or reuse all wood scraps and sawdust, making them zero waste.
If you decide on a log home as your eco prefab, be sure to hire a building science expert to critique the floor plan and oversee construction. You can make your home more energy-efficient and water-tight as well with the right people on your team.
For the last 20 years, Artisans Group in the Pacific Northwest has been operating much like Bensonwood in New England.
This firm is a leader in passive house technology and green home design, claiming they’ve built more passive homes than any other company in the United States.
But Artisans Group also builds “traditional” homes which we assume are not overly eco-friendly. There are not many details of how they build their traditional homes. They’re just directly set in contrast to passive houses on the company website, so we’re taking an educated guess.
Price information is also lacking on the website. Contact them for more information if you’re interested in their eco prefab homes.
Looking for something unusual for your eco dwelling? Have you considered bamboo?
In business for over 25 years and based in Hawaii, Bamboo Living offers a unique building material serving as the base for dwellings that combine traditional bamboo craftsmanship with modern technology in building science.
On their website are many resources on bamboo, including a page detailing how sustainable bamboo is compared to wood.
This company offers a 20-year structural warranty when someone in their certified builder network assembles your prefab. They claim that their structures last as long as – or longer – than traditional wood buildings.
Bamboo possesses a higher strength-to-weight ratio than steel. Bamboo houses have resisted hurricane force winds and strong earthquakes, too.
Their bamboo is treated with borates as a natural, non-toxic insect resistant substance.
Bamboo Living is proud that their homes are the first and only bamboo houses that are Internationally Code Certified. They will ship their prefabs “just about” anywhere in the world.
There are signature (single-walled) and hybrid (double-walled) packages available. The major difference is that the hybrid package is required in a climate necessitating cooling and heating. Traditional wood is used to frame the home to create the double walls for insulation.
By contrast, the single walls of the signature package work fine in a tropical climate.
The chart below provides more details on the differences:
To give you some idea about pricing, a hybrid package of a home with a 768 sq. ft. interior and a 192 sq. ft. porch costs $62,000. The signature home package goes for $77,000.
10. Phoenix Haus
For the past 10 years, Phoenix Haus has specialized in panelized passive house prefabs.
Founded in Michigan, they later relocated their business to serve the Rocky Mountain states and surrounding areas.
All of their “homesteads” are built upon the Alpha Building System, a component of passive house technology. Building plans are drawn up based on 28 standard connections of insulated wood frames located in all major parts of a house including walls, roofs, and floors.
Phoenix Haus implements an innovative strategy called Designed for Manufacture and Assembly (DfMA) which integrates design with construction and assembly. Collaboration of design and construction teams happens especially in the early stages of a project when people can catch mistakes and make corrections before it’s too late.
DfMA ensures a more mistake-free build than the traditional method, called design-build, which treats the planning and construction phases as distinct and sequential.
Pricing is scarce on the website except for one FAQ question that uses the homestead 19 (H19) as an example. With a square footage of 1,900 including a lofted second floor, H19 costs $593,000 (excluding land costs).
11. Runner-up: Haus.me
Haus.me is a company that sells autonomous, self-sustainable, smart houses. They rely on solar + storage for energy, come with their own water storage tank and air and water filtration systems.
It’s highly energy-efficient and super-insulated, featuring six-paned glass windows.
The company website contains a very informative FAQ page that will probably answer 99% of your questions!
Haus.me is fully functional without being connected to the grid and public water and sewage systems, but hookups are possible if you want added peace of mind. Since haus.me will diagnose problems before they occur, you shouldn’t have any need to worry at all. Of course, all systems are remote controlled.
The only problem with haus.me is that its plastic (“composite polymer” is the term used on the site), a non-sustainable resource. This is why it’s listed only as a runner-up on our list of eco-friendly prefab homes.
A 400 sq. ft structure with a bathroom and kitchen starts at $199,000. This doesn’t include delivery, lands, or permits. Unlike other prefab homes listed in this article, no concrete foundation is required for placement of your haus.me.
FAQs about eco-friendly prefab homes
Q: Is prefab construction better for the environment compared with traditional home construction?
A: In general, eco-friendly prefabs beat out traditional home builds hands down in terms of how environmentally friendly they are. Since they are built so quickly (compared to stick-built homes that frequently encounter weather delays or unforeseen problems) and need fewer workers, there is considerably less driving to and from the job site. This translates into fewer carbon emissions.
Most if not all parts of prefabs are put together in a climate-controlled factory using computer design and precise machinery, so there is no weather damage to materials and very few errors during the build and construction phases. This means there is little to no need to replace damaged building materials. In other words, there is considerably less landfill waste with prefab homes compared to traditionally built houses.
Q: Are the materials used in prefab homes better for the environment than those used in traditional stick-built homes?
A: Every company selling prefab homes is different. However, in general, they use sustainably sourced wood and recycled insulation. Consumers should contact all companies they’re interested in purchasing from to ask about using reclaimed or recycled building materials for your project.
Companies building stick-built homes use the cheapest materials which are not environmentally friendly. They are derived from unsustainable fossil fuels. Paints and varnishes often contain toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, a petrochemical that is also carcinogenic.
Fiberglass or spray plastic foam are commonly used as insulation in stick-built homes. These carry a higher carbon footprint than all types of eco-insulation which, although they’re usually more expensive, insulate just as well if not better than fossil fuel-based insulation.
Consumers should note that some companies, claiming to be eco-friendly, also use fossil fuel-based insulating materials. Consumers should ask questions before purchasing to ensure their future home will truly be green.
Conventional houses are built with fossil fuel-based HVAC systems, which contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Eco-friendly prefab structures usually depend on solar, wind, or geothermal energy, all of which are much cleaner energy sources than fossil fuels.
Q: What should I look for in an eco-friendly prefab company?
A: When you’re in the market for an eco-friendly prefab home, there are several signs of an authentically green company to look for. You (along with your building expert) should:
- Examine the entire architectural design and layout even before signing a contract.
- Take a behind-the-scenes tour of their factory.
- View photos or videos of houses the company is currently or has recently built.
- Spend the night in one of their demo homes.
- Speak with some of their past clients.
- Read reviews online.
Q: What should I do – or make sure happens – during the process of purchasing an eco prefab so I won’t regret my choice later?
A: There are several steps you can take to make sure your prefab will be well constructed.
- Ask one (or preferably two) building design experts to assess the plans for your prospective home drawn up by the company.
- Hire your own architect and structural and mechanical engineers to be directly involved in the process. If the company refuses, look elsewhere.
- Hire a HVAC specialist to be involved in the selection and installation of your heating, cooling, and ventilation systems.
- Bring on a builder you trust to work with your chosen company. They should be involved in all stages of the process from drawings to completion. Especially pertinent to the project is their supervision of how the plot is prepared, the foundation placement, and the installation.
Q: What costs aren’t typically included in the prices I see on eco prefab company websites?
A: There is wide variety among eco prefab company sites concerning what they include or exclude from their posted prices. This makes it difficult to cross compare. Always inquire with the company to be sure.
Usually, fees for these following are not included:
- Land cost
- Utilities (water, electric)
- Interior fixtures and furnishings
Design fees may be separate, too. Pre-designed builds with little to no modification are always cheaper. Custom deluxe designs easily go into the millions of dollars when all is said and done.
As a general rule of thumb, plan on an additional $25,000-$35,000 for design costs. This works out to be approximately 5-8% of construction costs plus engineering fees.
Wrap up on eco-friendly prefab homes
Carbon-conscious consumers looking to lower their environmental footprint may do so in a major way by choosing an eco-friendly prefab home instead of a traditional stick-built home.
In this article, you can choose from the top 10 companies building eco-friendly prefab homes. They are certified as passive houses or net-zero.
By purchasing and living in a prefab house, you’ll reduce your contribution to our climate crisis. And that is to be commended.