Darrell Berkheimer: Disrupting the construction industry? | TheUnion.com

Darrell Berkheimer: Disrupting the construction industry?

A company in Las Vegas is attempting to revolutionize the housing industry. And, frankly, I’m hoping the company will be successful — to the point that it spawns some copy-cat competitors.

Its flagship model is the Casita — a small 20-by-20-foot house that collapses into a rectangle only 8½ feet wide so it can be shipped on a flatbed truck to the house site. It is shaped by panels that unfold, slide or swivel into shape; and the panels are made with fire resistant and waterproof materials.

The house sells for $50,000 — complete with most of the furnishings.

It was first unveiled at the February 2019 National Association of Home Builders International Builders’ Show in Las Vegas.

That $50,000 house is the one Elon Musk chose to place next to the small RV park at his space-launching site in Texas — as shown in an aerial photo advertisement. It’s also cited in stories published about him selling his mansion and moving into the little house.

It was built by Boxabl — the modular homes company that expects to forever change the home construction industry. Videos on the Boxabl website show a Tesla X car towing the Boxabl folded home outside the company’s new, huge assembly plant building. Perhaps Musk has invested in the company.

But that 20-by-20 home is just the beginning of the big plans detailed by Boxabl in its many videos. The company reports its huge manufacturing building is in the process of being equipped with assembly-line robotics and machinery to manufacture 20-foot-wide modules in 20-foot, 30-foot, 40- and 60-foot lengths with solid panels made from steel, concrete and expanded polystyrene foam.

The company is planning to offer various sizes and floor plans to build almost any style and size of home. For instance, two 20-by-40-foot modules placed in an L shape would provide about 1,500 square feet of living space.

In addition, the company anticipates its modules could be used to build units for merchants and multiple-story structures for apartments, condos and corporations — as shown in its videos.

The company has big plans for a boundless industry with Boxabl units shipped worldwide from more than 70 global franchise manufacturing and distribution sites.

Galiano Tiramani, Boxabl’s business development director, calls the modules “universal building blocks” — like LEGO bricks that can be laid side by side or stacked. He remarked it’s all about bringing the efficiency of mass production to the construction industry — a change that will “crush construction costs” by as much as 50 percent.

“Even modular homes that are built in a factory are built just one at a time,” says Tiramani. “Our solution is to fold up the homes we build and ship them via truck or by rail. Our plan is to have a mega-factory in Vegas and then ship our homes — as quickly as the day after they are built — all over the country.”

Boxabl’s website responds to a wide variety of questions, and claims its buildings conform to and exceed the requirements of any building code. Boxabl says its units will come with plans pre-approved by the state. And they “are rated for hurricane-speed winds.”

Boxabl says it already has received thousands of orders — some from every state, including more than 600 in California — for which the company offered some small discounts. In addition, 156 units have been ordered by ADS Inc. for the federal government. ADS is a military supply contractor.

Tiramani says one of the “really cool things about our product” will be Boxabl’s ability to ship a thousand units to a hurricane area where a thousand homes were destroyed. He noted they could be unfolded to provide emergency temporary shelter until the crisis subsides, and then the units can be refolded for use another time.

Yes, Boxabl is making some big claims. I suspect some are a bit exaggerated, and many questions remain to be answered.

In addition to building price, buyers will have lot cost, utilities installation and sewage disposal expenses.

The company is making its stock available for purchase by anyone, causing some investors to raise an eyebrow and question just how appealing the stock is to major venture-capital investors.

And, as “the proof of the pudding is in the eating,” time will reveal how well the company will meet its claims.

The construction industry sorely needs quicker, cheaper and more flexible building methods. If the claims ring mostly true, the company’s units will be a boon for our struggling, cash-short young adults and the burgeoning numbers of homeless citizens.

Darrell Berkheimer, who lives in Grass Valley, is a frequent contributor to The Union. He has eight books available through Amazon. His sixth, “Essays from The Golden Throne,” includes 60 columns published by The Union, plus a dozen western travel and photo essays. Contact him at mtmrnut@yahoo.com.

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