Idaho homebuilder looks to launch into other markets with backing

Steve Sinovic//September 19, 2019

Idaho homebuilder looks to launch into other markets with backing

Steve Sinovic//September 19, 2019

indieDwell’s Caldwell factory. Modular construction offers cost savings and efficiency. Photo by Liz Patterson Harbauer

An Idaho company that constructs affordable and sustainable homes from old shipping containers is looking to build a higher profile, thanks to a $5.5 million financing round.

According to a Sept. 17 press release, Caldwell-based indieDwell has secured funding from the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, Northern Trust, The Colorado Health Foundation and Gary Community Investments. The money will help the business expand into new markets around the U.S.

The company did not break down the individual investment amounts from its funding partners.

At its factory in Caldwell, indieDwell is rolling out a new home every four days. In the process, the affordable-housing manufacturing company, which launched in 2016, has created dozens of new jobs for experienced tradespeople as well as those at the entry level of their construction careers.

Individual homeowners and nonprofits in the Treasure Valley have been drawn to the unique design and price points of the indieDwell structures.

indieDwell has completed several dozen new homes, a company executive said in a recent interview with the Idaho Business Review. The first one was installed late last year off Whitewater Park Boulevard, in the 800 block of North 32nd St. Since then, more have been moved onto lots across the country. A two-bedroom, one-bath house costs $65,000 uninstalled.

The company said it will be making an announcement shortly regarding its second factory and is in advanced discussions to launch into other markets.

The company’s focus on durable, energy-efficient and sustainable modular houses, with a mission to help solve the affordable housing crisis while improving the health of the environment, clearly resonated with its investors.

“Housing costs have skyrocketed, negatively impacting the most vulnerable communities, and we believe everyone deserves to live in a beautiful, high-quality and healthy home, that’s also affordable,” says Scott Flynn, co-founder and CEO. “We’ve built a company and a product that is a force for good and will withstand housing market trends.”

“Everyone deserves a safe, stable, affordable place to call home, which is why CZI supports innovative efforts to improve housing affordability and champion equitable access for all,” said Ruby Bolaria Shifrin, housing affordability manager at the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in a statement. “We see this strategic program investment as a way to jumpstart new thinking and new models that can help close the widening gap between urgent housing needs and insufficient supply.”

indieDwell aims to address the housing shortage with modular building processes. Photo courtesy of indieDwell

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative’s Donor Advised Fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation was one of the first to support indieDwell.

The Chan Zuckerberg Initiative is a limited liability company established and owned by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, with an investment of “up to $1 billion in Facebook shares.”

The company’s profile has risen of late for a couple of reasons. An indieDwell home was shipped to Washington, D.C., where it was put on display by the department of Housing and Urban Development as a new housing prototype at the inaugural Innovative Housing Showcase on the National Mall. HUD Secretary Ben Carson later visited the company’s factory.

The company also snagged an award for excellence in sustainability at the recent City of Boise Building Excellence Awards.

At the indieDwell factory, which is bursting at the seams, forklift drivers usher the containers down the “Hyster Highway” where they are cleaned, pressure-washed and any rust is removed. A seven-step process results in a 960-square-foot residence ready for a home site, where a foundation typically has been laid and utilities are ready to connect.

The all-steel studs are manufactured to size and snap into place before being welded together. Everything is added on the factory floor, from electrical conduit and HVAC systems to insulation, roofing, flooring, drywall, paint and light fixtures.

Scott Flynn, CEO of indieDwell talks about the heating system in the shipping container homes his company builds, March 15, 2018.

Some “mom-and-pop” custom builders make use of steel containers for a one-off residence or commercial structure, said Flynn. “But we’re the only business in the world building them in this fashion, and in a factory setting,” he said of the employee-owned company.

There are also companies that make modular and manufactured homes, but with conventional building materials, and not from steel shipping containers, which indieDwell obtains from a supplier in Utah for $4,200 each.

“After seven years, shipping companies decommission them,” said Flynn of the containers. “Many are still in great shape.”