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Perspective

Why Is the Homebuilding Industry Stuck in the 1940s?

Embrace pre-fabricated, adaptable homes! Growing inequity, out-of-reach housing prices, and the speed of innovation in energy efficiency and technology demand it.
A row of Grow Homes in Montreal. Spaces can be left unpartitioned for the occupants to “grow” into as they need and can afford.
A row of Grow Homes in Montreal. Spaces can be left unpartitioned for the occupants to “grow” into as they need and can afford.Avi Friedman

Danny Cleary looked tense as he watched the first prefabricated wall panel rolling off the assembly line in his newly opened factory near Montreal. He asked his production manager to hand him a tape measure. He carefully measured the left side of the panel, then walked around the assembly table and measured the right side and then across. “Quarter of an inch difference. The table needs adjustment,” he said quietly in French.

I had met Cleary a few years earlier. He called me after he’d joined his father’s midsize construction company and found out about my Grow Home design. “Most of the clients in our area are young, first-time homebuyers who can’t afford large homes. Your design will suit them,” he explained. His instinct served him well. Our conversation was in the late 1990s: In the following years his firm sold over 400 Grow Homes to become the largest builder in the region.