5 Prefab Companies That Are Changing the Way We Think About Smart Homes

5 Prefab Companies That Are Changing the Way We Think About Smart Homes

By Jennifer Pattison Tuohy
Check your aftermarket smart home gadgetry at the door—these five prefab companies are building smart from the start.

"Smart home technology is something people have always wanted in their homes, but it was very expensive," says Plant Prefab founder and CEO, Steve Glenn. "Now, it’s become much more accessible, and much more pervasive." 

Plant Prefab’s approach is to integrate intelligent technologies from day one—they deliver all of their homes with a standard smart tech package, which cuts down on the need for aftermarket gadgets. A wave of prefab manufacturers are at the forefront of this fundamental shift in home technology, which is ultimately driving us toward homes that are not only intelligent, but are also built smarter. 

Roombus is a new prefab home manufacturer building its Nest homes with its own RoomOS smart home platform.

"These new prefab homes are higher performance homes, and the connected tech in them helps optimize that performance, whether it’s energy savings, water monitoring, or indoor air quality," explains Sara Gutterman of Green Builder Media, a company that partners with prefab builders to develop smart home concepts. "The housing sector is experiencing a major disruption, and prefab is on the leading edge. These companies are inclined to be more progressive and advanced in the way they are building homes."

Another example is Dvele, a prefab home builder that has developed its own software to manage connected technologies in its homes. "DveleIQ was developed to deliver on three tenets: one, the health of the occupants; two, the health of the planet; and three, the health of the building," says Matt Howland, president of Dvele.

The layering of smart and prefab technologies promises a more holistic approach to homebuilding, since it takes into account the entire life cycle of the home. "These are not going to be your least expensive options up front," warns Gutterman, "but when you look at the full cost, you’re investing in technologies that are yielding zero utility bills, require less maintenance, and are more durable and resilient."

Here, we look at five companies pushing the envelope when it comes to building smart from the start.

Dvele

Dvele’s projects are built on the DveleIQ smart home platform, which uses artificial intelligence to optimize the health of the building and its occupants.

Who they are

San Diego–based builder Dvele produces high-end modular homes built to Passive House standards. Their homes can go off-grid for up to four days, thanks to a full solar array and battery. Every home features their DveleIQ software platform, which is designed to provide automation as well as monitor and control building health and energy efficiency.

The company has a dozen different customizable designs, ranging from a 430-square-foot mini home starting at $165,000, to a four-bed, three-and-a-half-bath, 3,500-square-foot home that starts at $670,000. Dvele currently ships homes within a 1,000-mile radius of its factory near San Bernadino, California, and their prices don’t include shipping or home installation.

Each of Dvele’s homes has over 300 sensors embedded in the walls to monitor temperature, humidity, air quality, and energy use. Pictured here is their Sedgemore model in Santa Rosa, California. 

What they offer

Dvele’s homes are fully integrated smart homes. Each is equipped with over 300 Z-Wave sensors that relay real-time information about air quality, energy consumption, and home health to DveleIQ—an artificial intelligence software embedded on a hub in each home. DveleIQ interfaces with a number of well-known smart home brands—including Lutron lighting, Honeywell thermostats, Nuki locks, and Sonos audio—allowing everything to be controlled from a single app via your smartphone or iPad.

Upgrades on offer include smart bulbs that can adapt to your circadian rhythm, home leak detection, a sensor package to monitor every door and window, and an enhanced audio/visual system. 

Why it’s smart

DveleIQ is a learning platform designed specifically for its homes. It can use "Predictive Flows," which means the home’s systems adapt to your everyday routines. "If you’re taking a shower every day between 7 a.m. and 7:15, we’ll actually start pushing the hot water recirculation button for you, so you'll automatically have hot water at the right time," explains Howland. The system also constantly monitors air quality and can send a notification to you to turn on your hood fan if cooking is polluting the air. Or—if you allow it to—it can do it for you automatically. 

This is the next level of smart home—a home that is able to react to its inhabitants to improve the living environment. With environmental sensors that collect data, and a software platform to process that data, Dvele’s homes are embedded with a deeper layer of intelligence that goes beyond the capabilities of a series of connected gadgets.

Plant Prefab

LivingHome 9, a modernist redux of the classic American farmhouse, was designed by Plant Prefab’s in-house design studio. It features three bedrooms and two and a half baths in a svelte package. 

Who they are

Plant Prefab LivingHomes are designed to be energy efficient, sustainable, and healthy for both the homeowners and the planet. They offer a range of designs from an impressive list of architects and firms that include Ray Kappe, Yves Béhar, Kieran Timberlake, and Koto. The styles range from a farmhouse-esque structure to a modernist townhouse. Additionally, Plant Prefab can custom design a home for you. All LivingHomes are solar capable. 

The interior of LivingHome 11, designed by Plant Design Studio for the Los Angeles City Small Lot Ordinance, can be built on a lot as small as 18 feet wide. Still, it offers 1,800 square feet of living space. 

What they offer

Plant Prefab’s LivingHomes include the standard Living SmartHome package, which is centered around Amazon’s Alexa ecosystem. (Amazon invested in Plant Prefab in 2018.) Preinstalled in every LivingHomes home is an Eero Mesh Wi-Fi system that ensures connectivity throughout the home, an Amazon Echo Dot speaker, and a voice- and touch-controlled Echo Show 5 smart screen to manage home automation devices.

An Ecobee smart thermostat manages the HVAC system using room sensors that measure temperature and occupancy, and a Lutron system keeps your lighting on task. A Ring video doorbell and Schlage Encode door lock work together to manage access to your home through one app, and a Sense energy monitoring system keeps track of your home’s energy use.

An entertainment package upgrade includes Sonos speakers and an Amazon Fire TV Cube for voice controlling your television. A security package upgrade featuring a Ring Alarm and a Ring Stick Up Camera can be used indoors or out. "All the devices we select can integrate with each other, so you don't have to think about it," says CEO Steve Glenn. And, once your home is in situ, Amazon will send out a technician to set everything up.

Why it’s smart

Balancing convenience, control, connectivity, and smart energy management, LivingHomes offer a comprehensive yet easy-to-use smart home package. Well-known brands interface smoothly with the Alexa smartphone app to provide a central place to manage the home, and the option to control everything with your voice.

Additionally, the Sense energy monitor adds a deeper layer of connectivity and control, pairing with Energy Star appliances to help the homeowner manage and monitor the home’s energy use. "It shows you in real time what’s happening, and then also over time," says Glenn. "There’s been a lot of great research that shows that when people get feedback about their energy use, they tend to use less." 

Connect Homes

Connect Homes has been building and installing prefab homes - such as this one in Los Angeles - for over a decade.

Who they are

Founded by Jared Levy and Gordon Stott in 2013 (both previously of Marmol Radziner Prefab—a company that pioneered the modern prefab movement), Connect Homes offers a streamlined approach to homebuilding. "We saw this huge demand to get modern, smart, sustainable homes, but they just had to be at a more affordable price," says Levy. The company says its homes can be installed in two months and shipped anywhere in the world, thanks to a patented modular system that cuts transportation costs by up to 90 percent.

Connect Homes’s 14 models range from 460-square-foot single-module homes to ten-module, 3,200-square-foot residences, and are priced between $174,00 and $825,000. But, unlike most prefab manufacturers, the pricing includes all design, manufacturing, transportation, and installation costs. Connect Homes allows you to tweak or upgrade their models, but they don’t allow custom designs or bespoke homes. "We’re trying to make it a lot like buying a car," says Levy. They offer standard models, but you can move windows and doors around and fine tune with different finishes, fixtures, and technologies.

Connect Homes come with a selection of smart home features as standard, with the option to add upgrades such as smart motorized blinds, and a smart security system.

What they offer

All Connect Homes come solar ready, and are pre-fitted with smart lighting, a zoned and ductless HVAC system, smart smoke alarms, and an energy recovery ventilation system. The Lutron Caseta lighting system includes dimmer switches and LED bulbs. A Lutron Bridge allows for voice control, phone control, and the ability to set scenes and routines. Nest Protect smoke alarms monitor smoke and carbon monoxide and can send alerts to you when you’re away from home.

Upgrade options include Lutron Serena smart shades, a wireless Ring video doorbell, a Ring or Simplisafe security system with sensors and cameras, and a wireless Sonos home audio system. Homeowners can also add a water system by Moen that monitors for flooding; if a leak is detected, it automatically shuts off the water valve. 

Why it's smart

The company’s standard smart tech helps its homes be more efficient, adds convenience, enhances ambiance, and provides security and safety. "A well-executed smart home meets your needs, and also makes it more efficient and better to live in," says Greg Leung, CEO of Connect Homes, and a former Apple executive. But the company’s advantage, according to Leung, is that its process is vertically integrated, and it has control of the entire homebuilding process. This allows them to "piece it all together in a way that’s coherent, and actually works together," he says. "To date, the smart home has really underdelivered, and we think to deliver on the promise of the smart home you have to have great products that are properly installed and, on the software side, work together seamlessly."

Method Homes

Method Homes can design and install prefab homes of all sizes, and they can customize an existing design or create a custom one for you. Smart home options are similarly entirely customizable. 


Who they are

Method Homes is a Seattle-based luxury prefab manufacturer. Similar to Plant Prefab, they offer architect-designed models you can choose from and then customize. Or, you can work with them to design your own home.

They offer LEED, Energy Star, Passive House, and net-zero energy homes, and all models are prewired for solar and can be delivered throughout the Western U.S. and Canada. Home styles range from 656-square-foot studios starting at $154,000, to a five-bed, five-and-a-half bath, 4,800-square-foot home with a garage and rooftop deck starting at $800,000. Those costs don’t include the design, engineering, permitting, or transportation of the home. 

Method Homes streamlines the installation of smart home technology by manufacturing parts in a controlled environment. 

What they offer

Method Homes offers the latest in smart home technologies, but there is no standard package. Instead, you select add-ons a la carte. Typical options include smart lighting from Lutron and Noon, wireless audio, Nest thermostats, and smart, motorized window coverings. "One benefit of having a smart home is the ability to control all of your home from wherever is convenient," says Brian Abramson, CEO and founder of Method Homes.

Why it’s smart

Method Homes’s approach is to layer technology on top of the existing home’s systems, much like what you might do in a more traditionally built dwelling. However, it is all preinstalled and preconfigured to work together. Additionally, the company offers a number of different smart home systems, ultimately providing the buyer with more options. "We try to stay flexible and not get locked into any one system," says Abramson. "This helps us keep up with the evolving technology and provide future flexibility for our customers."

Roombus

Roombus's all-in-one smart home—the Nest—comes in three sizes and has all the connected living features built into each unit. They’re powered by the company’s proprietary RoomOS smart home system.

Who they are

A brand new company based in Los Angeles, Roombus is launching its first modular smart homes this summer. Called Nest, the disaster-proof homes resemble shipping containers, though the company’s CEO and founder, Dami Jegede, emphasizes that they aren’t. They are designed to be high-quality homes that are embedded from the beginning with Roombus’s RoomOS operating system.

Three models—240 square feet for $59,000, 336 square feet for $69,999, and 480 square feet for $89,000—can be configured in a variety of ways to suit your needs. 

A Roombus kitchen with a control panel operates on the Roombus RoomOS smart home software.

What they offer

Roombus takes an entirely different approach to the smart home, dispensing with name brands and instead building its own devices into the home. Electric locks are embedded into the door, sensors for humidity, temperature, and air quality are built into the walls, and HVAC controls are all digitally managed by RoomOS through either an iPad built into the home or with your smart phone. The whole building operates on a computer in the home, so it doesn’t rely on the cloud, and your data is stored locally. 

Why it’s smart

In addition to standard features such as smart lighting, remote control, and security, the home’s integrated systems can proactively help the homeowner. For example, it is able to monitor indoor air quality and automatically turn on a built-in air purifier, or if the outdoor air quality is good, bring in fresh air from outside and condition it to room temperature while you’re away. An integrated voice assistant—Roland—uses artificial intelligence to learn from your daily use and become more helpful over time.  

Related Reading:

Plant Prefab Launches Its First Passive House LivingHomes With Net-Zero Capabilities 

The Definitive Guide to Prefab Home Companies in Your State


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