Reimagining House Construction

Seacoast Online | December 16, 2018 | By Paul Briand

An architect, builder and 3D animator have combined their skills to create an online home-building process that rethinks how houses are designed and constructed.

At its core, Profile Homes was created to shorten the construction schedule and avoid cost overruns, yet give clients appealing choices on the design, look and fit of their new homes that are also environmentally sustainable.

“I asked myself: If I were to reinvent the process of how we build a home, what would it look like from start to finish?” said Matt Silva, Profile Homes’ founder. “And if I were to use the technology available to us today, how would I make it a better process for our clients and, in turn, more affordable to build net zero energy homes? We just started to work a process from there both in design and schematically to understand it.”

Silva is the builder, having come into the trade, by his own admission, backwards. He worked first in home building on the sales and marketing side before actually swinging a hammer and getting himself regularly covered in dirt and sawdust.

“I started on the operations side, and the sales and marketing components to building and remodeling,” Silva said. “So the joke was always soft-hands Silva out there.”

Jennifer Ramsey is the architect. She is the founder and managing partner of SOMMA Studios in Portsmouth, with a long resume in commercial and residential design and development. It is her home designs on the Profiles Home.

“Here’s an opportunity where buyers get highly curated home packages that are timeless,” Ramsey said. “They are getting the professionalism of myself and all of our team.”

Stefan Vittori is the 3D animator. He is owner of Tangram 3DS in Kittery, Maine, a company that provides customized services in design visualization/animation for architectural, industrial, millwork and furniture design. His three-dimensional animation gives the client that “in the house” feel of what the home will ultimately look like when constructed on the lot they purchased and fitted inside with its finishing touches. That’s especially true when virtual reality goggles are used to view the project.

When Silva and Ramsey speak of technology, they talk not only of the advances online with the capabilities provided by Vittori, but the advances in pre-fabricated building materials, heating/cooling and electrical components, and home management systems.

Profile Homes went live online in September. Silva and Ramsey initially met about a year before that, bringing in Vittori as their vision developed. And, for three years prior to that, Silva had been kicking around in his head ideas for how today’s technologies might be applied to the traditional home-building process.

Silva and Ramsey hadn’t met before that meeting, held to discuss a project for a client that ultimately wasn’t done. But in that meeting, Silva talked about a vision he had for recreating the home-building process and Ramsey began imagining what she described as the “highly curated” style homes that could fit that vision.

Their goal is to create a house, using building energy efficient materials such as structural insulated panels and heating and cooling systems powered by solar panels, that has no utility bills. The term is net zero – a building with zero net energy consumption, meaning the total amount of energy used on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount of renewable energy created on site.

“It just took getting all the pieces together,” Silva said. “The cost of solar has come down. The technology has gotten so much better for heating and cooling systems so that they can operate on a limited amount of solar.”

For the style and look of the homes, Ramsey uses the best ideas from more than 20 years of experience in small and large residential and commercial projects. She has designed eight homes for the Profile Homes website and is working on more. Styles include: barn conversion, bungalow, coastal cape, cottage, farmhouse, inland cape, modern, and New Englander.

Generally, they have three to four bedrooms, and 2½ baths in the 2,000 square feet range, starting at $400,000. Ramsey leaned on the styles familiar to the region.

“They grew up in a saltbox, or they love the cape or New Englander or the bungalow. The modern farmhouse is a big trend right now,” Ramsey said. “We figured out what is it that resonates with people that’s nostalgic, that means home.”

While Profile Homes chooses the building materials and mechanicals – the guts of the house – clients choose the style and the finishes for the kitchen and other rooms.

“We’re providing you the opportunity to make these selections, which I think is unique and at a good price point,” Ramsey said. “We’re trying to set people up to be in the best possible position to feel like that had some say in how their home came out, what it was and what it means to them. It’s just another way to get a little bit of that architectural experience and customization without going for the deep dive and spending possibly lots of money.”

The savings on these curated homes comes in the construction timeline, according to Ramsey and Silva. A traditionally built home from design to building finish could take from a year to two years, depending on the complexity. Silva said a Profile Home start to finish is four to six months.

Silva also noted the fixed price at the outset helps eliminate cost overruns, and there is savings long-run as a net zero home.

To Silva’s thinking, there was an unfair image attached to modular homes as being cheap, and he intends to upend that image with Profile Homes.

“In that career path, I had gone to work for a custom modular home company that’s just outside of Westchester County, New York. And I thought, ‘Gosh, if you could just erase the stigma that comes with modular,’” Silva said. “It’s a great system and a great way of building, so systems building makes a lot of sense. You’re seeing this happen in a lot of other areas, especially the West Coast, where any systems build process you can do is really taking off. New England hasn’t really grabbed a hold of it yet, but it is the way to do it.”

Silva and Ramsey say the homes they offer appeal to a broad range of clients, from first-time homebuyers who want some control over the construction of their first house to empty nesters who are looking for a forever home that can easily convert into home for aging in place with everything on a single floor.

“Everyone seems to want the option to having a master bath or master suite on the first floor at some point in their life if they ever have to the single-family age in place,” Ramsey said. “We have a study or an extra room that’s adjacent to a bathroom, or an oversized closet that can be converted. You’ll see how the master can move downstairs. We tried to pull together the critical things that people are going to look for.”

Silva envisions a future where the Profile Homes concept can appeal to other states in the Northeast with franchises in Vermont, Maine and Massachusetts with new style homes being brought online to reflect a region’s particular style.

Right now, they’re busy with Profile Home projects in the Seacoast.

“The interest and response have been amazing,” Silva said. “The challenges we face are not the ones that we thought we would. It’s really just a lot about people finding land, people finding the right location, because we’re now building a house that is a forever home.”

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