Here’s What 50 Years of Prefab Innovation Looks Like

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By Sarah Akkoush / Published by Dwell
Presented by Deltec Homes
Founded in 1968 to build A-frame homes for resort communities, Deltec has evolved to specialize in bringing quality, high-performance prefabricated homes to the masses.

With the popularization of prefab building, there are an ever growing number of options for prefabricated "kit" dwellings. Few, though, have resiliently stood the test of time through changes in technology and trends like Deltec Homes. A family-owned company based in Asheville, North Carolina, Deltec has been a groundbreaker in the prefabricated building industry for fifty years.

Initially operating in the commercial sector, building A-frame homes for resort communities, the Deltec founders soon realized that this type of home was not especially efficient in terms of energy, heating, space, and material use. When they began re-thinking the design, their focus shifted to round homes, and their audience to residential. Today, 85 percent of Deltec homes are family residences.

The round ‘classic’ Deltec model has no structural walls, allowing complete design freedom at the interior.

The round ‘classic’ Deltec model has no structural walls, allowing complete design freedom at the interior.

The ‘classic’ design, their very first iteration, is still a core product offering today – but with countless additional customization options. The round shape has no load-bearing walls, which lends itself to complete freedom at the interior. Nearly any desired floorplan is possible. Under the self-supporting roof system, there are numerous wing and connection options. Mixing and matching these options with the ten available round model sizes yields a nearly infinite set of possibilities. "We actually did the math, and there are over 1.8 million combinations available," says Steve Linton, president of Deltec Homes. In addition to the design freedom offered by the classic model, the strength of the round structure lends itself to application in hurricane resistance. While all Deltec homes are built with the strongest framing lumber available, the aerodynamic shape of the round models means that wind flows around the structure. In a strong storm or hurricane, about 30 percent less wind pressure builds up outside of a round home compared with a rectangular home. With a 99.99 percent survival rate against every hurricane in the past 50 years, this design has proven itself to be the best option for coastal areas.

The versatile round model comes in ten different sizes, fitting a wide range of homeowner needs.

The versatile round model comes in ten different sizes, fitting a wide range of homeowner needs.

A round Deltec beautifully fits in with its environment. In addition to being stronger than traditionally-built homes, all Deltec models can be configured to be net-zero.

A round Deltec beautifully fits in with its environment. In addition to being stronger than traditionally-built homes, all Deltec models can be configured to be net-zero.

Offering a prefabricated, ready-to-assemble system allows a less variable and faster construction process at the building site. As a panelized builder, Deltec prefabricates the "structural shell" – which includes the wall system, roof system, and floor system. The shell is then packaged and shipped to the job site, where it is quickly and efficiently assembled, typically in less than one week. A professional builder can be contracted to assemble the structure, but it is simple enough for homeowners to do themselves if they choose. From there, the interior is finished just as a traditionally constructed house would be.

The prefabricated structural shell is shipped directly to the jobsite, where it is typically assembled in less than one week.

The prefabricated structural shell is shipped directly to the jobsite, where it is typically assembled in less than one week.

After developing and refining the round model, Deltec continued to grow and adapt to bring new and innovative offerings to the public. Responding to the demand for high-performance and net-zero homes, and striving to appeal aesthetically to a larger audience, the Renew Collection was born. Although non-round designs were completely unchartered territory, the Deltec team found a way to introduce both traditional and modern homes that would fit various lots, needs, and preferences. While it’s possible to configure any Deltec home to be net-zero, the Renew Collection is pre-designed to use 2/3 less energy with features like passive solar design and tailor-made energy packages based on the homeowner’s location and climate. With the Renew Collection, achieving net-zero energy use is much more attainable, and if desired, homeowners can power the remaining 1/3 of their energy needs with a much smaller solar array.

The Ridgeline model, like all homes from Deltec’s Renew Collection, is pre-designed to maximize energy efficiency, and consumes 2/3 less energy than a typical home.

The Ridgeline model, like all homes from Deltec’s Renew Collection, is pre-designed to maximize energy efficiency, and consumes 2/3 less energy than a typical home.

Once the structural shell of a Deltec home is built, the interior is finished just as a traditionally constructed house would be.

Once the structural shell of a Deltec home is built, the interior is finished just as a traditionally constructed house would be.

Deltec’s longevity, quality, and environmental consciousness are all key differentiators that they are proud to hold as core company values. With a reputation for quality spanning decades, 99.9 percent of the materials they use are made in America. Using framing material that is two times stronger than traditional lumber, Deltec homes are not only more durable, but require much less maintenance over time. Beyond the final homes being energy-smart, with low or net-zero energy usage, the manufacturing process itself is also exceptionally green. Sustainable manufacturing practices have long been a priority for Deltec; their factory is powered by 100 percent renewable energy, and 80 percent of construction waste is diverted away from the landfill. This passion for environmental responsibility made Deltec the first prefabricated builder to become a Certified B Corporation, a certification given only to companies who meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance.

As one of the earliest prefabricated builder in the United States, Deltec has not only survived, but has continued to innovate and thrive. Emphasis on environmentally responsible practices has been an unwavering priority, even in the face of economic pressure and cyclical recession. While over 170,000 small businesses closed in the U.S. between 2008 and 2010 due to the recession, Deltec not only resisted pressures to cut corners, but invested in forward-thinking green infrastructure. They installed a 273 solar panel array at their manufacturing facility, which was, at the time, the largest array in North Carolina. The solar assembly allowed them to cut energy bills, and realize a goal they set long before the recession. Sticking to their core values, and maintaining a sense of environmental consciousness, they believe, has allowed them to survive and keep innovating, all these years later. "We’re focused on not just making things ‘less bad than they used to be’," says Linton, "but to find a way to build homes that have a restorative effect on the planet."

Deltec’s reputation for innovation is as strong as ever today. Right now, they offer virtual reality tours of two Deltec homes at their Asheville headquarters. They’re currently working to make these immersive 3D tours available to non-local audiences so people can walk through a Deltec without ever leaving their home. More models will soon be added to their library, and eventually , the virtual reality capabilities will be combined with their design services, so that homeowners can experience the layout of their new home before it is even built. Rejecting the status quo, Deltec nimbly and thoughtfully adapts to its customers’ needs – continuing to grow and innovate fifty years later.

Immersive virtual reality tours are offered at Deltec’s Asheville headquarters – with plans to expand to non-local audiences.

Immersive virtual reality tours are offered at Deltec’s Asheville headquarters – with plans to expand to non-local audiences.