Made in ... Germany? -
Home importer turns to Europe for quality, speed and energy efficiency, not to
Rocky Mountain News (CO)
February 3, 2007
Author: Lisa Marshall, Special to the News
With its stout timber beams, steep
tile roof and enormous floor-to-ceiling windows, Ralf Meier's chalet-style
mountain home looks as if it had been plucked straight out of a Bavarian
village and transplanted to the pine-tree-studded foothills of Boulder County.
That's because it was.
It was just over a
year ago that workers in the quaint lakeside enclave of Bad Saulgau, Germany,
neatly packed the 5,400-square- foot prefabricated house into six 40-foot
containers and loaded it onto a procession of flatbed trucks for the first leg
of its 5,000-mile journey.
It would spend two
weeks on an ocean barge from Antwerp, Belgium, to Houston and several days en
route to Colorado via train before it was hauled up Meier's treacherous
mountain road and lifted via crane onto his windswept 35-acre property up
But despite the
epic journey, Meier had the walls up, windows in and roof on in two weeks.
The obvious question:
Why would anyone go to the trouble and expense of shipping an entire home here
speed and energy efficiency," says Meier, a German-born wood importer who
has since started his own company, Platz Haus USA, in hopes of doing the same for
other would-be homeowners.
In January, his
first client, Mary Ellen Vaughan, watched her 2,000- square-foot German chalet
go up in a matter of days in Salina, down the road from Meier's house.
you can imagine went wrong weatherwise, and we were still able to build it in a
week," says Meier.
home-builders beg to differ, Meier argues that European homes tend to be
better-built for many reasons: Because families own their homes far longer, the
homes are "built to last," using slow-growing Nordic timber that has
tighter rings and, thus, makes stronger boards. Because fuel costs have always
been higher and government regulations tighter, energy efficiency in Germany is
top priority. Walls tend to be thicker and better-insulated, passive solar
heating is the norm and building materials are greener, he says.
"The style of
this house combined the modern aspects I like - all the glass that I love and
the stainless steel - with the typical mountain-looking home," says
Vaughan, a jewelry designer who lost her home on the same site to a fire a year
At first, it was
the speed of construction that intrigued her: "Insurance gives you a year
to settle a claim, and traditional construction can take much longer than
that." But after visiting the factory in Germany, she became convinced
that she couldn't have such a high-quality house built for the same price in
the United States.
incredibly well-built, state- of- the-art and environmentally sensitive, everything
you would want in a new house," Vaughan says.
president of the Modular Housing Council for the National Association of
Homebuilders, says that while Americans are increasingly importing manufactured
homes from Canada, he's never heard of anyone bringing one here from overseas.
Given what he sees
as "prohibitive" transportation costs, he highly doubts it will
become a trend:
more than 40,000 modulars made every year in the United States, and there are
more than 200 manufacturers," says Connell, who contends that
American-built homes are very energy efficient and extremely well-built.
"There is plenty of opportunity to get supplies within our borders much
Meier estimates it cost $65,000 to transport his own home to the United States,
and in the end it cost about $1.35 million to build. Vaughan's home, which is
smaller, cost about $40,000 to ship; the finished cost is expected to be around
But Meier points
out that all homes require importing wood and other supplies, a hidden cost
that's built in even if the home is constructed here.
Given the speed of
construction and the ability to get workers out of the weather and forging
ahead indoors quickly, he predicts it will catch on fast in
towns: "It's just a better way to build."
* Both homes were made in the century-old Platz Haus factory in Bad Saulgau,
Germany, which ships 100 homes annually around the globe. These were the first
two shipped to the United States.
* The prebuilt
walls hold electric wiring, eco-friendly insulation and plumbing. The company
sent two craftsmen, or zimmermen, to piece it together. "They are trained
in Germany for two years to put up a house like this," says Platz Haus
owner Ralf Meier. "It's like putting together a big puzzle."
* Meier says he's aware of negative connotations associated with manufactured
homes in the U.S. "People automatically think you are talking about a
trailer." But one look at his own home and that stereotype is blown. It
has wall-size windows that tilt open at the top or slide open to the side, warm
wood paneling and a contemporary, clutter-free style. Nearly everything inside
is imported from Germany, from the sleek wall-mount toilets to the oak kitchen
cabinetry to the Bavarian-style solid-wood garage door.
* To keep hot air
out in summer and warm air in during winter, electronically controlled aluminum
shades are mounted on the exterior of each window. An energy-efficient
water-heating system kicks in on the rare occasion that solar heat isn't
enough. "We have a 1,000-gallon propane tank, and we have barely used
it," says Meier's wife, Maryanne Bruno.