Tiny Tuesday: Go Prefab and Go Home

One of the most appealing things about a tiny house on wheels is that you don’t have to build it where you intend to put it. Construction can happen in your driveway, or in a friend’s yard, or even inside a garage, protected from the elements. When work is complete, you can tow your house to the site. The result is faster construction, lower cost, and better workmanship.

Recently, hotel developers have taken this concept to a new order of magnitude. An article on Hotel News Now describes an emerging market for hotels made of modular rooms, which can be pre-fabricated in a factory and lifted into place onsite. It’s a brilliant concept: a mid-range hotel room is about the size and shape of a shipping container (or tiny house), and factory construction lends itself to producing lots of identical rooms. The article explains how prefab can standardize all the tricky trades – electrical, plumbing, and HVAC – allowing each room to install “like a dishwasher.”

Indeed, connections are the toughest design issues when you’re stacking together lots of prefab pieces or connecting them to a core (lobby, hallways, elevators) built in place. A tiny house is in essence just one prefab piece, so connection issues don’t come up. For a hotel, you’ll need excellent quality control to ensure the stubs of cables, pipes, and ducts land in the right places for easy hookup. Structural issues may crop up as well: a shipping container may be designed to stack ten high, but the consequences are pretty minor if that stack tips over. Not so in habitable spaces, where the building code may require strong shear connections between units for the occupants’ comfort and safety. If the designers in the article have solved these issues, and still produced an attractive-looking hotel, then their work has applications across the building industry.

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