Rendering of completed Module homes in Garfield, courtesy of Module.

Homebuyers usually want just the right amount of house — no more, no less.

That’s the idea behind Module, a Pittsburgh high-tech housing startup building small, ultra-energy-efficient houses that snap together from prefabricated parts like giant LEGOs. The group has just completed the modular installation of their first major project, a four-unit build on Black Street in Garfield — including one market-rate house, one affordable home and one duplex.

“Our homes are designed for the 21st-century customer,” says Module CEO Brian Gaudio. “The reality is a lot of Americans don’t live in a nuclear family. It might be a single-person household, might be a single-parent household, it might be an aging baby boomer. These folks aren’t really being served by the big traditional homebuilders.”

The Module houses were constructed off-site at a factory in Strattanville, PA, about 90 minutes north of Pittsburgh, and shipped to Garfield, where they were lifted onto their foundations. The process went from foundation to fully “dried-in,” 70%-complete homes in two days.

“That means we can build them faster, and with better quality control,” says Gaudio. In a factory, he explains, you don’t have to worry about weather issues like wind-driven rain getting into the building. It makes for more durable homes, he adds.

The Black Street project, a partnership with the URA and Bloomfield Garfield Corporation, features four homes: One duplex serves as the model home, while another allows a buyer to live above and rent below. One of the units will be a market-rate home for sale — with three bedrooms, 2.5 baths and an integral garage. The other unit is a two-bedroom, 1.5-bath unit that will be sold to a buyer who makes 80% or less of the median income in Pittsburgh.

“We’ve got some gap financing from several sources at the URA to help subsidize that cost, and sell that to a homebuyer who’s in need of affordable housing,” says Gaudio.

Black Street Module home interior.

The affordable home is 1,100 square feet and listed at $183,000, with an option for a URA second-deferred mortgage. The market-rate house is 1,600 square feet with a garage and listed for $435,000.

Some Module houses can be designed to expand over time if homeowners decide they need more space.

“We have a removable roof system that we are developing that will enable customers to add stories onto their homes afterward,” says Gaudio, who adds that they’re testing the concept with one of the homes on Black St.

Module house lifted into place in Garfield. Photo courtesy of Module.

Energy efficiency is a major consideration in a Module house, with all houses built to a high standard for performance based on the U.S. Department of Energy ‘s Zero Energy Ready Homes (ZERH) program. That includes extra mechanical equipment to push out stale air and pull in fresh air for better indoor air quality.

Gaudio says they would like to fill vacant lots all over the city with little Module houses. “We’d like to build 100 homes in Pittsburgh in a few years. Elevate the quality of housing of people here in Pittsburgh — market-rate homes, affordable housing, we want to work on multiple kinds of projects. Then we’d like to expand to other cities probably in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic region.

“We’ve actually gotten a lot of inquiries from over 30 states, for us to build homes in their cities. But we’re not up to scale yet to do that. We want to do right by Pittsburgh first, then move to other cities.”

Blockhouse Residential is the contractor on the project.

Module just announced on their Facebook page an initiative to help alleviate the expected shortage of local hospital beds due to the pandemic.

“We are assembling a task force of local leaders in construction, emergency medicine, and design to develop and implement a rapidly deployable housing solution,” reads the statement. “We’re working toward one which can alleviate pressure on hospitals in the short-term and eventually be converted to ‘aging in place,’ affordable housing in the long term.”

“If you have a way to help us and to be a part of the task force, please reach out to us via email:”

Michael Machosky

Michael Machosky is a writer and journalist with 18 years of experience writing about everything from development news, food and film to art, travel, books and music. He lives in Greenfield with his wife, Shaunna, and 10-year old son.