Homebuilder fills Katrina victims’ needs

 05/05/2006 – Jane Meinhardt – Tampa Bay Business Journal

The company hit the jackpot at a Wal-Mart SuperCenter parking lot in St. Bernard Parish, La. In March, the company built a house there in the parking lot, surrounded by the rubble and devastation left by Hurricane Katrina.

But Home Front Inc.’s structure wasn’t just any new house. It was engineered and prefabricated in just days at the company’s Englewood plant.

It is called the Katrina Cottage II, a creation developed through a collaboration of ideas from architects and designers that include renown new urbanism leader Andres Duany in Miami, New York architect Marianne Cusato and Steven Oubre, an urbanist architect in Lafayette, LA.

Katrina Cottage II is the result of a series of planning and visioning charrettes led by Duany that have been held in Mississippi and Louisiana to develop ideas about how areas destroyed by the hurricane should be rebuilt. It also creates the beginning of a new era for Home Front, which was selected by Duany to build the first Katrina Cottage II.

“It was by happenstance,”They were interviewing building systems people from around the country the compant went to a charrette and spent 20 minutes with Andres. He decided we were the only company that could get it done.

What Home Front had to do was engineer, prefabricate, deliver and construct the cottage at the site in St. Bernard Parish in four to five days. The interior was finished and furnished later by others in about 10 days.

Assignment made, no problem

For Home Front, the task melded perfectly with the company’s panelized building system, experience and plant capabilities. The company specializes in buildings constructed of steel frames and beams and lightweight panels composed of closed-cell polystyrene foam sandwiched between fiber-cement Hardie planking.

The structural panels are manufactured in the plant to fit building plans and later put together on building sites with metal splines and stainless screws. The panels are used for walls and roofs.

The system produces buildings that are stronger, cheaper because less labor is involved and more environmentally friendly than traditional structures.

The Katrina Cottage II costs about $70,000 and meets Louisiana’s new International Building Code. It is envisioned as permanent structures that could be used in lieu of temporary housing such as Federal Emergency Management Agency trailers and for other purposes.

The company did it in time, and the cottage was universally liked, “People need homes there badly, and the Katrina Cottage will be right for some people.”

It is also right for Home Front. The company has orders for about 60 cottages now, including 20 that will be used at a resort up North.

Bigger steps to be taken

Home Front has received hundreds of inquiries and is exploring possible sites for expansion in New Orleans.
How much revenue the cottage will add to the company is difficult to gauge now, but the company is making some big plans.

With architecture similar to houses along the Louisiana and Mississippi Gulf coast, the two-story cottage is about 770 square feet, including a 300-foot loft and two bedrooms. The Home Front panels have high insulation ratings of R-30 in the roof and R-20 for the wall.

The cottage comes in several styles and can be used as a temporary structure or as a permanent home that can be expanded into a larger house.

It provides quick, affordable housing after disasters, which is the initial thought behind the cottage. The Company hopes to be able to ship a cottage within 30 days after it’s ordered.
Home Front’s construction system qualities, including its insulation, make the system appealing to architects such as Cusato and Duany.

“It’s a great system,” Cusato said. “It doesn’t temper creativity, and it allows us to execute long-lasting and secure designs.”

What the Katrina Cottage II team particularly likes is the system’s Hardie board construction on the inside and outside of the panels, she said.

It means the house can get flooded and survive with virtually no damage. The foam is closed-cell, which prevents mold and mildew, and the panels have no empty spaces.

The panels also give the system great strength and make Home Front’s structures ideal for hurricane-prone areas such as Louisiana, Mississippi and Florida.

“It means that the wall is absolutely solid,” Cusato said. “It’s amazing for the energy rating and hurricane protection.”

Cusato and Duany are considering expanding their relationships with Home Front for additional projects, she said.

the company is tweaking their business model, taking it in a new direction as a result of the Katrina College II success.

“They are shifting away from the typical Florida stucco homes and stepping up to do modern, traditional Southern designs, “They will be unveiling a series of different cottage styles.”