Modular building Is the luxury home of the future

I'm thinking about buying a house in a box. Not Ma and Pa Joad's, but a high-end modular that will let me be both frugal and green.

The Washington Post did an encouraging story on the trend. It quoted not only people who had bought one of these houses and paid more than a $1 million or $2 million (way out of my league) and also people who watched one being built next door, who first shuddered and then applauded.

The story featured Haven Homes, a modular homebuilder based in the Washington, DC, suburbs. Haven CEO Jerry Smalley says the publicity is good for business, but he wishes that people didn't refer to his homes as modular. "Modular is a technique, not a type of house," he says.

It's true that once these homes are finished, it's impossible to tell by looking the difference between them and what the industry calls "stick built." But these homes are built in a factory to architectural and buyer specifications and then trucked to the site where they are erected on a previously built foundation. This Washington Post video shows one being constructed with amazing efficiency.

Smalley says his company doesn't sell to do-it-yourselfers. There has to be a builder in the middle. "There are so many technical dimensions that it takes a builder to deliver finished results," he says.