Eric Schaefer, Fading West Development

Date:

In a 110,000-square-foot factory in Buena Vista, Fading West is building affordable modular houses to try to help solve Colorado’s housing shortage. Working with nonprofits, businesses and municipalities, the company is helping teachers, police officers and service workers become homeowners.

Q. How did Fading West get started?

A. We started out originally as developers—how we got to where we are now is almost hard to believe. Charlie Chupp, our CEO, was living in Buena Vista and saw the same problem we’re seeing all over the state, all over the country: the missing middle just wasn’t able to afford housing. We had 22 acres we wanted to develop, but there were no general contractors to build it. We pivoted to modular not really knowing a whole lot about it, but realizing that, for mountain and rural towns, it was probably the best option.

Q. What are the benefits of modular building?

A. Right now, one house takes us about 10 days to build, and we’re building about five or six homes a week. Once the homes are shipped, we can set and stitch the house in as little as 40 days. In rural towns and mountain towns, we’re coming in at about 20 percent less expensive, and the building time is dramatically reduced. One of the projects we worked on would have taken years with traditional building. We did it in a quarter. In addition to speed to market, creating high quality and architecturally interesting houses is important to us. The houses are all electric, and many of them use heat pumps and solar. Our hope is that affordable doesn’t mean cheap. We want these to be quality homes that people are proud to live in.

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Q. What are some of the challenges and how do you work around them?

A. People have to commit to modular really early on in the process. We have a 16-foot-wide box and an 18-foot-wide box. If the plan calls for a 21-foot-wide box, you can’t do it. We see ourselves as a Toyota factory building Camrys and Corollas, except they’re houses. We have one white quartz countertop; we have two types of cabinets. We have value-engineered the kitchens so every single one is similar. When you’re working in affordable housing, every penny counts, and by streamlining, we’re able to keep costs low. We’ve had to do some work to educate developers, nonprofits and cities on that. 

Q. What’s the future for modular building? And what does it mean for traditional building?

A. Do we see that stick built is going to go away completely? Absolutely not. But by 2035, something like 40 to 45 percent of the construction workers will have aged out of the industry, and the numbers coming in aren’t enough to replace them. We’re going to have to do this because there aren’t enough workers to do this the way we’ve been doing it for the last 50 years. We’re 3.8 million homes short for the country, and the problem just keeps getting worse and worse. Our goal is to help this housing crisis. It doesn’t have to be us, but there needs to be 10 factories in our state. If you can’t have restaurants open in Breckenridge because people can’t afford to live there, it’s really going to start hurting these towns.

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Author

  • Corey Dahl

    Corey Dahl is managing editor for Colorado Builder magazine. She has written for a wide variety of news and trade publications, in print and online. Corey has a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Colorado and a master's in communications management from Webster University. She lives in Denver with her dog Rosie.

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