By Kimberly Miller
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
RIVIERA BEACH — House in a Box – A Riviera Beach company is betting its off-the-grid manufactured homes that spring from 20-foot-long steel containers will appeal to developing countries as well as wealthy buyers in remote areas.
The Mesocore design,which has been percolating in the brain of company CEO Joe Esposito for more than two decades, is similar in basic concept to the old mail-order Sears homes that arrived by railroad and were built on site with minimal expertise needed.
But the 1,000-square-foot homes manufactured by Mesocore are designed to operate completely off the grid, supplying their own electricity through solar panels and trapping water in a rain catchment system on the roof that can hold 2,000 gallons.
“I’ve always been intrigued by the possibility of manufacturing this kind of house in a factory,” said Esposito, 67, who graduated from City College of New York and now lives in Jupiter. “This is like a Lego set. Someone who can lift 60 pounds of weight can build this house.”
The home arrives in a steel chassis, similar to a shipping container. It uses that chassis as part of the construction to house the plumbing, solar batteries, rainwater purification system and bathrooms. Walls and a roof are built around the chassis and on a concrete slab.
Concrete is the only thing not included in the package. The homes are expected to cost about $80,000, not including $2,000 to $4,000 in shipping fees.
Esposito incorporated Mesocore with the state in 2010 and has been awarded a handful of patents. The company built its first prototype house in Lake Park in 2012, which has been running on its own 24 two-volt solar batteries since it was finished.
Although some tweaks were made to the Mesocore design since the Lake Park home was built, the idea remains the same.
“A single delivery makes the whole house,” Esposito said. “I think this is a whole new industry.”
University of Florida School of Architecture Director Martin Gold said used shipping containers have been turned into unique homes for years, but that Mesocore’s design is different in that it deals with how to transport the homes and make them livable in areas without electricity or running water. Mesocore also uses a new, specially built container.
“It has some interesting viability,”said Gold, who reviewed Mesocore’s website. “For Third World housing, I think it can make sense for that kind of market.”
But Gold said there is competition in the developing-country housing market. While there may not be a product similar to Mesocore’s, many agencies and companies are working to provide adequate housing in areas without amenities.
Tracy Kijewski-Correa, an associate professor in the University of Notre Dame’s civil engineering department, said most of the families she works with in developing countries, such as Haiti, would not be able to afford a home above $5,000.
“Getting things into some of these countries can be a nightmare,” Kijewski-Correa said. “But the pricing is the biggest issue.”
Still, Mesocore’s product could be viable if governments are willing to subsidize the price of the homes, she said. And those are the regions Esposito is focusing on.
He said he has a deal with Nigeria, which is Africa’s biggest oil producer and named this month as having the continent’s largest economy. South Africa is also a target market for Mesocore, Esposito said.
Esposito, who has seven employees, is looking for a new warehouse to manufacture the homes and hopes to start building and shipping by the fall.
“So far we’ve been working under the radar,” Esposito said. “We are now at a point where we have the design ready and are ready to talk to the world.”