Modular Homes Section

New England Modular Homes CEO Interviewed

John Ela
Owner and CEO
Epoch Homes
November 2011

Modular Today met up with John Ela, the man behind all of the magic at Epoch Homes. Mr. Ela was nice enough to share some insights as the CEO of a leading modular home company and from his many, many years of making home buyers happy.

Modular Today: How did Epoch Homes become a leader in energy efficient modular homes?
John Ela : Epoch Homes sells quality custom homes to custom home builders serving discerning home buyers. Over our 29 year history we have developed a reputation for selling homes that are much more of a custom designed home than many in the industry. This has allowed us to also serve upscale markets and helps us attract customers who have done their homework and know what they want. This discerning customer is also more often an early adopter of new technology. Hence we have seen more demand for green building and when we have responded with new structures and green options, we have found many enthusiastic buyers. From our perspective Green Building is simply an element of building quality custom homes. As a custom manufacturer we have been very open to working on projects that have pushed the envelope.

In the late 1990's, we partnered with the US Department of Energy on a co-housing multi-family project that established a number of new approaches to energy efficient building. Since then we have achieved a number of Green Building firsts, including being the first Green Approved factory in the US, certified by the NAHB Research Center. And recently, we were able to work with Team Massachusetts to compete in the DOE's 2011 Solar Decathlon with a Passive House designed net zero energy home. In addition, we have built numerous homes certified to LEED and the National Green Building Standard.

Modular Today: What should home buyers do before they start looking at modular homes?
John Ela : It depends a bit on what they are looking for in a modular home. A good first step is to put on paper why they want to build a new home instead of buying a used home. Next they should write down what they want in the new home, and determine what level of quality they are seeking. For example, there are many suppliers out there that focus on producing cookie cutter homes at the lowest possible cost and, therefore, at the lowest possible quality. In that case, buyers should decide how low they want to go in terms of quality and price, and find a builder that can show them houses similar to what they are seeking. In today's market, many of these price shoppers should think about if they really want to build, or, perhaps should consider a used home.

If buyers are looking for a quality new custom home, that is built using the technology of factory building, then there are several important things to consider.
  • Does the manufacturer really understand green building and have they made substantial changes to integrate green building, or are they just doing what they have always done and highlighting how any modular home is greener than a comparable stick built home?
  • Does the manufacturer have a Green Building Resume showing a number of certified home and the adoption of new processes and products?
  • If buyers are building because they have specific design elements that they wish to include, can the builder show them similar homes or at least some truly custom homes?
  • When a builder says custom, do they mean custom, or just a willingness to customize an established design with some minor tweaks?

Modular Today: Can you describe the typical buying process for an Epoch modular home customer?
John Ela : Because everything Epoch Homes builds is custom, the process starts with the design process. Working with our staff and your Independent Epoch Homes Builder, you will develop a conceptual floor plan and elevation for your dream home. Some of our customers are working with an architect, but most utilize our process for developing their custom design. Early in the process, based on a conceptual plan, the Builder will provide a conceptual price quote. From that estimate you will develop a more detailed plan and budget. Once you have decided on your budget, the Builder takes a design deposit and develops detailed plans and develops detailed specs defining all of the materials you want to include. This allows you to develop a contract price for a very specific plan. When you are satisfied with the plan and contract price, the Builder takes a production deposit and Epoch proceeds to build your custom home. If you are in the Northeast, Epoch Homes offers free seminars every month to help give you a detailed understanding of the custom design build process.

Modular Today: How does Epoch Homes make their modular homes special?
John Ela : Epoch Homes makes their homes special by recognizing that all of our customers are special and by working hard to build the home that you want, not just a home that fits a particular factory's standard routine. Green materials, process and options are just a part of the full range of custom features available in an Epoch Home. For example, Epoch's Product Manual has over 200 pages of product choices and we often go beyond that to meet the unique desire of each of our unique customers. We strongly believe that the term "modular" should mean a technique of construction and not a style of home. As the title of our custom homebuyer seminar reflects, we think you should "Build Your Home, Your Way."

Modular Today: Which upgrades should smart modular home buyers choose?
John Ela : Again, because we are in the business of building custom homes, we really do not think in terms of upgrades or down grades. They are all just choices and trade offs the home buyer is making to balance a range of possibilities with their own budget. Having said that, there some items like our high performance wall system with Icynene foam insulation that have an attractive payback and will reduce the energy consumption and cost of ownership for the life of the home. Any home we build would be certifiable to the National Green Building Standard. We ask our customers to tell us how Green do they want to be, and offer as much guidance about choices as they would like. In fact, we also offer a free consumer seminar about how to decide which Green Building choices are right for your project.

Modular Today: How does Epoch Homes balance green building with personal aesthetics?
John Ela : There are only a limited number of Green Building choices that directly impact the aesthetics of a custom home, and those are largely based on design choices of the buyer. We have built some of the Greenest homes in the country, certified by the national Green Building Standard and LEED. Every one of those ultra Green homes had very different aesthetics, from traditional to ultra modern. It is all about understanding the design goal, both aesthetically and from a performance perspective. We can design and build a Green home to match almost any aesthetic preference.

Modular Today: What common mistake do modular home buyers make?
John Ela : The mistakes that we most often see are buyers who are unwilling to acknowledge that in housing, like every other product, you pay for what you get. Yes, in general, a home built with modular technology will be lower in cost than a similar stick built home. But there are huge differences between the quality of workmanship, engineering, and materials between different modular companies that are always reflected in the price. These customers often get seduced by a low price and then get shocked by what is delivered. Take the time to understand the details of what you are buying. Visit different factories. Look at finishes. Look at the brand names of products used. Look at the work being done in the plant. Ask about similar projects the factory and builder have done. Do your homework and be a discerning buyer. There is a market for quality at various levels. The smart customer makes sure that the quality level they are seeking is the one they end up buying. The old saying, "penny wise and pound foolish" very much applies to housing when you consider upkeep, repair, energy costs, and resale value.

Modular Today: What financial advice would you give to modular home buyers?
John Ela : Now is a good time to buy because interest rates are low. The cost of a home is best thought of by the monthly payment, not the overall cost, so interest rates play a larger factor than overall price. Also take into consideration the monthly energy bills and maintenance expenses. A new home may cost more to buy, but cost much less to live in over the time you plan to live there. Another fact to consider is with a custom home you are designing in exactly what you want. With a used home, you are often paying for items that are not important to you in order to acquire other features of the home that are important. With a new custom home you can fine tune the design to your exact needs, and plan for your future lifestyle, resulting in a better overall value.

Modular Today: What achievement are you most proud of?
John Ela : At Epoch Homes, we are very proud of our brand, and encourage our Builders to proudly fly the Epoch flag in their own marketing. Our brand is our personal and professional reputation for custom building, quality, sustainability, and integrity. The numerous design awards, Green Building awards, and certifications that we have achieved are important to us individually, but more importantly as a reflection of our reputation in the community. Our reputation is also reflected by the high level of referral business from past customers and by the many customers who have built multiple houses with Epoch Homes. Indeed, we are most proud that our customers do not say they live in a modular home, rather, they say the live in an Epoch Home. And, we think that says it all.

John Ela can be contacted at Epoch Homes 107 Sheep Davis Road, Route 106 Pembroke, NH 03275 or just pick up the phone and call Epoch Homes at 603-225-3907. Epoch Homes has received a 5 star rating from Modular Today for their fully custom designed modular homes and also their great work on green homes, cottages and even mansions.