Ready-made modular home can multitask

Debuting at the B.C. Home and Garden Show, the chic Karo Cabin is aimed at laneway housing, back-yard studio, or starter cottage

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      While many urban dwellers might entertain the notion of putting in a back-yard studio, a guest house, or revenue-generating laneway housing, who has the time or funds to make the dream a reality? Everyone knows construction jobs can spiral out of control—in terms not just of budgets, but of the months it takes to finish a project and, most of all, of stress.

      But what if someone could basically bring the building to your doorstep on a flatbed truck, fully wired and plumbed and ready to plug in? All that, without it looking like a glorified trailer after it’s been installed.

      Alberta-based Karoleena Homes is about to unveil its new Karo Cabin at the B.C. Home and Garden Show next Wednesday to Sunday (March 2 to 6) at the Vancouver Convention Centre, and it’s a modular, ecofriendly unit that brothers Kurt and Kris Goodjohn have spent five years developing. With sleek lines, an indoor-outdoor double-sided fireplace, and a chic stone, aluminum, and cedar exterior, it’s about as far from the trailer park as you can get.

      “We had been doing very high-end custom homes modularly, and we wanted to create an affordable one—an architecturally pleasing product that doesn’t cost a ridiculous amount,” explains Kurt Goodjohn, speaking to the Straight from Calgary, where he’s putting the finishing touches on the cabin for the home show there before travelling to Vancouver.

      In fact, the standard one-bedroom unit of 650 square feet runs $129,900, with appliances, plumbing, wiring, and heating included. And because it’s modular, it can be added to infinitely.

      Goodjohn likes to say the cabin is “future-ready”: that means you can make it bigger or change all the layouts easily. Karoleena has partnered with DIRTT Environmental Solutions to incorporate movable walls, and because everything from the toilet to the appliances is hung from them, they can be relocated at any time.

      The display cabin at the home show will cater to another use for the units: as a starter cottage, complete with deck, that can be expanded as a family grows.

      “It’s for, say, the young couple that gets married, inherits their grandparents’ land, and probably can’t afford to put up a big cabin,” Goodjohn says. “They can start with a modular cabin, and as their family and income grow they can expand up to an infinite size.” The Karo Cabin also reduces the hassles of building on-site in the B.C. wilderness, he adds: “Getting equipment into remote areas is always difficult.”

      Whether it’s used for a recreational property or for laneway housing, the Karo Cabin’s biggest appeal lies in its ecofriendliness. It’s not just that the modular home has a tight building envelope, energy-efficient furnace, sustainable materials, and optional solar-energy panels. The construction of modular homes is just better for the Earth, Goodjohn argues.

      “It’s the process alone, building them in a factory rather than on-site,” the affable young developer explains. “We can speak firsthand to this: the amount of waste created on a [traditional construction] site is embarrassing, really. Here, there’s virtually no waste—all your workers are in T-shirts, in a climate-controlled factory.”

      But is it really environment-friendly to be trucking these units, if all goes as planned, around North America? Goodjohn answers with a definite yes: “No matter what you do, you’ve got to truck stuff to the site—when you build on-site, you make 50 trips for one job, whereas this is all going to the site, and it’s all thought out in advance.”

      And all those trips to the hardware store, plumbing-supply outlet, and lumberyard can cause huge holdups and headaches.

      “Price is one thing, and value’s another, but there are also those intangibles of managing a construction project,” explains Goodjohn. “Say there’s a professional couple, and they’re each working 60 hours a week—they don’t have the time to oversee an on-site project.” In other words, of all the pluses of the modular home, from environmental to financial considerations, one of the biggest might just be its mental-health benefits.



      Michael Lyons

      Feb 24, 2011 at 9:36am

      Unfortunately, these modular homes don't work well for laneway housing in Vancouver because you can't get them onto the site pre-assembled like this. Laneways are tight and have lots of overhead lines and other obstructions.

      On the other hand, prefab construction that uses panelized pre-built walls and roofs work well because the custom panels are assembled 'on-site'... without sacrificing the precision quality and environmentally conscious points discussed in the article.

      Modular homes I've seen also don't address the sprinkler system requirements of this market. On first glance, this one doesn't seem to either.

      Smallworks (, based in Vancouver, builds quality prefab laneway houses right here for the local market. They make great cottages for recreational property too.

      Michael Geller

      Feb 25, 2011 at 5:16am

      As an early proponent of modular laneway housing, I support this approach. However, as Michael Lyons has pointed out, not every site is suitable for a unit that has to be hoisted into place. Also, the city zoning generally prevents a longer, deeper unit like the one illustrated, except on lots deeper than 130 feet. Finally, before getting too excited about the price, by the time you add in all the city charges, BC Hydro charges, sprinklers, separate sewer connections, stormwater management measures, consultant fees, insurance and financing, start to approach $250k which is fine for accommodating a family member, but too much if it's just to rent out and make a few dollars.

      But it is a nice looking unit, and I wish the proponents well.

      Bryn Davidson

      Feb 25, 2011 at 10:09am

      This is a nice little building, but the challenges listed by Michael and Michael are very real when it comes to building in a lane. In our projects we've opted to use prefab panels that are assembled on site to provide homes with R40 walls at prices competitive with 'typical' stick frame construction. Here's a video of one of the prefab roof panels being installed on a lane house:


      Feb 26, 2011 at 1:54pm

      Wow, guys, thanks for taking some time out of your busy days to generate some free advertising for your businesses!


      Mar 1, 2011 at 9:55am

      Otis - at least they're making relevant contributions to the conversation - unlike your comment.

      Ryan Spong, Owner, Preform

      Mar 3, 2011 at 11:42am

      We've run into similar problems in the LWH market. We conceived our i-House as a potential solution ( early in the conversation, but the "wee" houses are more for folks with properties in remote or difficult to build place. We priced the i-house at $150k, but on a per square foot basis, that's fairly expense because you've got all the fixed costs of a full scale house (mechanical, kitchen, bathroom) for much less square footage. All the "soft" costs that Michael Geller points out are also spread out over that same small area.

      I think the main advantages of modular construction are for clients with substantial site-work who are on a specific timeline and budget. The whole idea is to build more efficiently; cost-effectively and to reduce your carbon footprint. If you consider that delivery is "extra", I can't see how any of that is accomplished by shipping in from another province.

      Karoleena Homes

      Mar 14, 2011 at 4:44pm

      Hi all,
      Thanks for your input on the karocabin. We can indeed build to suit all laneway requirements, be they size, height or sprinkler mandates, and ship from either our factory in Lethbridge, AB or Kelowna, BC. Our fully-finished pre-fabricated steel frame modules are as small as 10'x14', and can be stacked where applicable.
      We've assembled some pretty tricky two-story inner-city homes together on 25' lots over the last 6 years, craning them overtop of power lines and trees without breaking a branch. Our first modular laneway homes will be arriving in Vancouver this summer. Stay tuned, and thanks again for the interest!