People have long stuck their noses up at the idea of modular homes, according to Michael Hunn, the owner of Future Surroundings, a custom modular home business in Southampton.
But Mr. Hunn predicted that might all change on Sunday, May 16, when they see the 3,000-square-foot home Future Surroundings helped put together in Pine Mountain, Georgia, for the season finale of ABC’s “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”
“The whole world is going to see now what modular is, which they’ve never seen before, or they’ve had preconceived notions,” he said during a telephone interview last month.
The Georgia house—a sprawling one-story contemporary that features a courtyard, three bedrooms and a covered porch—was built this February. The home is much like the more than 250 homes Future Surroundings has installed on the East End of Long Island since the company opened up shop in 1984. It was put together assembly line-style in a Florida factory and trucked in nine pieces to the construction site, where cranes laid it on its foundation.
For “Extreme Makeover,” hundreds of volunteers, including Mr. Hunn and two members of his staff, worked nonstop to finish the house in less than a week, while the four-person family due to receive their new home was shipped off on a vacation.
In each episode of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” a reality television series that premiered in 2004, producers pick a family that has suffered a recent hardship, like a natural disaster or a disease, and coordinate local contractors to knock down their old home and build them a new one. Georgia newspapers have reported that the May finale will feature the family of a high school football coach who was recently diagnosed with ALS, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, a fatal and progressive disease that attacks the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord that control muscle movement.
Mr. Hunn said he was part of the crowd that looked on as the coach, Jeremy Williams, his wife, Jessica, their daughter Josie, 8, and son, Jacob, 6, (who has spina bifida and is confined to a wheelchair) saw their new house for the first time.
“It was pretty amazing, seeing some good people who caught some bad luck along the way and you’re able to help them,” Mr. Hunn said. “So that was a big motivation for us, too, because we were able to help.”
The builder said he didn’t know much about the house that stood there before—just that it was dilapidated and it was set in a muddy field.
Along with rebuilding the house, which is now valued at about $600,000, designers with the show also added landscaping, according to Mr. Hunn.
Though it might seem strange that an East End company was tapped to participate in a building project in Georgia, Mr. Hunn is no stranger to the American Southeast. After taking the reins at Future Surroundings in 2004, he started a second branch of the company in Pensacola, Florida. He reported that the conditions for builders on the Gulf Coast are similar to those on the East End: the cost of living is comparable, there is a demand for oceanfront homes and the building codes are similarly strict.
This winter, Nationwide Custom Homes, a modular homes company that Mr. Hunn has worked with in Florida, asked him if he would volunteer his time and expertise on the “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition” site, which is approximately 1,000 miles from his County Road 39 office in Southampton. Mr. Hunn said he spent his days during the whirlwind construction phase helping take the plastic wrapping off the pieces of the house, and coordinating workers as cranes lifted the pieces and set them into place. After the home was set on its foundation, Mr. Hunn said he did carpentry and other odd jobs—anything he was asked to do in order to get the house ready in time.
Building a whole house in one week might seem daunting, but it’s standard fare for modular home builders, according to Dan Goodin, the vice president of sales and marketing at Nationwide Custom Homes. And despite the misconceptions, Mr. Goodin asserted that modular homes are often of equal or better quality than their standard “stick-built” counterparts.
“We think we’re one of the best kept secrets in the whole building industry,” Mr. Goodin said. “We’re going to show in prime time what we’re capable of doing.”
By and large, putting a ready-made house together is much cheaper and easier than building a house from the frame up, on-site, according to Mr. Hunn. But the Georgia project was not devoid of challenges. At one point, workers scrambled to take out the light switches in Jacob’s room and reinstall them closer to the floor, where he could reach them from his wheelchair, Mr. Hunn said.
In many ways, it was not unlike the many modular home sites he has overseen over the years, Mr. Hunn said. Typically, after the pieces of the house are trucked in from the factory, they are assembled in a single day. But it’s delicate work—if a crane operator is off by a fraction of an inch when a piece is set down, the walls won’t line up—so the process can be fraught with pressure.
“When you come to a set, the circus has come to town,” Mr. Hunn said.
The Georgia house was the first foray into modular homes for “Extreme Makeover,” according to senior show producer Diane Korman. Last week, she reported that the experiment paid off, an announcement which is sure to make Mr. Hunn and other modular home builders happy.
“Nationwide Homes was the first time ‘Extreme Makeover: Home Edition’ has used a modular home, and we hope the first of many,” she said. “A modular home is perfectly suited for our accelerated time frame, while remaining an extreme dream house for our families.”
And so, while helping to create a dream come true for the Williams family in Georgia, perhaps Mr. Hunn’s wish of changing perceptions about modular homes will also be realized.
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