Prefabricated construction (prefab) is the manufacture and assembly of building components in an off-site factory which is then transported to construction sites as complete structures or sub-assemblies. This technique is traditionally known for low-cost, low-quality buildings; however, thanks to digital designing tools, advancements in 3D printing, and robotics, it is now becoming a mainstream sustainable construction solution, delivering fast, high-quality results.
A growing number of startups are coming up with prefab techniques to build all types of structures, including single-family and multi-family residential units as well as commercial buildings. By utilizing fewer resources, generating less waste, and incorporating energy-efficient features into buildings, the aim is to achieve sustainable long-term savings and reduce the environmental impact of construction.
As traditional construction faced project delays during the pandemic, prefab gained momentum and rose to cater to the rising demands of people who wanted to migrate to quieter areas, governments looking to build shelters for housing insecure people, and medical buildings that needed rapid development.
Plant Prefab ’s revenue grew 17% year-on-year (YoY) in 2020.
Connect Homes recorded the most number of bookings in history in 4Q 2020.
Dexterra was chosen by the Toronto Council in May 2020 to build 250 units of housing shelters, to be able to provide shelter for the housing insecure to practice physical distancing.
PCL construction developed a Covid-19 testing center using modular construction at the time of reopening University of Denver in November 2020.
While a few startups operate in multiple segments, a majority specialize in just one. The single-family residential units segment has the highest number of startups, as demand has increased due to remote work becoming the norm. This also stems from the growing need for privacy and the preference for living in suburban or rural areas.
Incumbent traditional modular housing developers only operate in residential and commercial buildings segments and are yet to move into emerging areas such as 3D printing and sustainable mobile houses.
While most startups are at the early and growth stages, sustainable mobile houses and fully 3D printed buildings are at the seed stage, as they are still emerging technologies.
Veev (formerly Dragonfly Group) develops prefabricated single-family and multifamily residential units as well as accessory dwelling units (ADUs) from its factory located in Union City, California. It also offers house units on lease. The company started as an asset management company in 2008 and by 2013, started developing housing units. The company adopted prefabricated construction techniques by 2017 with the aim of making affordable housing. In 2019, Veev consolidated its subsidiaries to focus more on the residential housing market.
The company uses new technologies such as panelized wall systems, which use advanced material and digital fabrication to improve longevity and resilience against moisture, earthquakes, wind, fire, etc. Instead of using wood in its houses, Veev uses steel and a high-performance surface (HPS) material that is more durable and environmentally friendly. The company also uses proprietary design software that automates up to 70% of construction across mechanical, engineering, and plumbing functions. The houses also include room-level temperature control and a sensor-based smart building ecosystem to improve resource usage efficiency. By June 2021, Veev completed four single-family residential units and five multifamily residential projects, with more than 800 housing units in total, while several more are under construction.
In March 2021, the company raised USD 100 million, bringing its total funding to USD 197 million. Veev was the first company to be listed on TASE UP, a platform launched by the Tel-Aviv Stock Exchange (TASE), which allows technology companies to raise funds without going public. The investors that contributed to the round include More Investment House, Migdal Insurance Company, Psagot Investment House, and Shavit Capital—all leading public institutions in Israel.
Single-family residential units:
Multifamily residential units:
Prefabricated commercial buildings and structures:
Most incumbents started out as providers of manufactured houses (movable houses, trailer homes, etc.) built on chassis and have been in business for more than 50 years on average. These companies moved into the prefab industry through a mix of acquisition and in-house development to pursue increasing demand for sustainable construction. A majority of these incumbents conform to most of the green/sustainability certifications.
Out of the incumbents, only TriWest Capital Partners has developed proprietary technology, whereas most disruptors have developed their own technology, covering various aspects such as designing, building systems, material, etc.
In-house Product Development
Berkshire Hathaway is a multinational conglomerate holding company owned by Warren Buffett which operates in several business verticals such as property, construction, insurance, food processing, aerospace, media, automotive, consumer products, etc. The company offers modular housing solutions through its subsidiary, Clayton Homes.
Clayton Homes, which offers a diverse range of construction products, such as modular homes, manufactured homes, mobile homes, tiny homes, and traditional site-built homes, was acquired by Berkshire Hathaway in 2003. Clayton Homes also has several subsidiaries engaging in housing development. Clayton modular construction process aims to achieve sustainability by 1) reducing material wastage through ordering pre-cut materials, purchasing material in bulk, and recycling/reusing, 2) having several pre-designed floor plans to utilize standard material dimensions as much as possible, 3) offering smart home packages, including energy efficient lighting, water heaters, tight seams, etc. In 2019, the company was recognized by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as the ENERGY STAR (a program run by the EPA to provide information on energy consumption of products) certified homes market leader after more than 3,000 Clayton homes (around 6% of total Clayton homes built in 2018) being certified in 2018. In addition to Clayton Homes, Berkshire also offers designing software for modular construction through its subsidiary MiTek; a company providing steel connector products, and design engineering software targeting the building components market, which it acquired in 2001.
No investor data is available