Archive for the ‘Green Prefab & Modular Homes’ Category
March 13th, 2009
Our journeys through the green modular landscape often take us to the big cities of America. That’s not surprising, for that’s where you find the high densities of green architects / builders, green consumers and manufacturing plants that really make a prefab company sing. Recently, though, we came across a prefab company from rural West Virginia that will give any of its urban counterparts a real run for their money: Eco Structures, out of Maidsville, West Virginia.
Eco Structures is the brainchild of John Garlow, who has been building timber frame homes and using structural insulated panels (SIPS) out of his own workshop since the late 1970s. Several years ago, when it became clear that the green prefab housing market was ripe for liftoff, he decided to put his many years of prefabrication expertise to use with a new “green” twist. He designed and built a prototype modular Eco Structure on his own property and a new company was born.
The Eco Structure homes are targeted for LEED Platinum certification by the USGBC (process under way), and they come in 450 square foot modules that can be assembled in various configurations according to a client’s needs. Some of the more innovative elements of the Eco Structure system:
- Passive Solar and Ventilation Design. Almost all of the home’s heating, cooling and hot water is provided via smart use of passive solar design. The south side is primarily glass, and awnings and decks provide shade in the summer but allow sunlight in during the winter. Exterior air is drawn in through large pipes buried in the ground, which warms it in the winter and cools it in the summer.
- High Efficiency Building Envelope. The home’s exterior walls and roof are all made out of SIPS that attain insulation levels of R-36 to R-46 and meet the latest in energy codes across the country. Windows are all quad-paned - energy-efficient dual-pane windows are combined to surround a layer of inert gas, offering maximum efficiency.
- Rainwater Harvesting and Water Efficiency. In John’s prototype, rainwater is filtered to drinking water standards and stored in a 2,400 gallon cistern. The system provides nearly 100% of the home’s fresh water demand. The prototype also employs graywater recycling and composting toilets (although these might not be to code in all jurisdictions).
- Advanced Home Automation System. A home automation system made by Home Automation, Inc. controls all of the energy, security, smoke detection and home entertainment systems in the house, and can be configured and monitored over the Internet.
- Solar Thermal and Radiant Heating System. Water is heated via two separate solar thermal systems (one on the roof, one embedded in a vertical wall) and then stored in an in-home tank. Hot water goes to both fixtures and an in-floor radiant heating system. In the prototype, the radiant system is also connected to a backup wood-fired boiler.
(Click here for more information on other green building components and systems.)
Clearly, some of these elements aren’t appropriate for all settings. Each base module can be configured with any of the various options above, depending on client needs and local permitting standards. The 450 square foot modules are easy to transport, so Eco Structures can serve most of the Eastern and Southern US. And, they are compatible with pier foundation systems, so you don’t necessarily need a crane to move them into place. The target price (confirmed in the prototype) for an Eco Structure home is approximately $150 - $175 per square foot.
Popularity: 7% [?]
March 6th, 2009
The rewards of building green are many, but they often come with some frustrations on the side. One of the greatest challenges can be sourcing building materials - that great green design or green building certification might rely on materials that are very tough to find in your market.
Wood products are a case in point. If you insist on using only the best green wood in your project (wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, or FSC), then be prepared to run around a bit. You might be able to find FSC-certified core building materials such as framing lumber, flooring or decking at your local home improvement store, but you’ll likely be more challenged finding local sources of doors, windows, cabinets and finish materials.
With some hard work and a great contractor, though, it’s possible to use nothing but green wood, as shown by the 2008 winner of FSC’s “Designing and Building With FSC” award. Portland, Oregon builder Green Hammer, Inc. won the award after using nearly 100% FSC-certified wood in their LeapFrog project (the only exceptions were some limited materials salvaged from local buildings or milled from on-site trees). Among the wood products used were FSC-certified Douglas fir, hemlock and spruce from local forests for framing lumber, floor, trim and cabinets and FSC formaldehyde-free plywood. Best of all, Stephen Aiguier, president of Green Hammer, estimated that the use of FSC wood only added 1-2% to the cost of the project (via GreenSource Magazine).
- Geothermal heat pump for radiant floors and panels, and domestic hot water;
- Advanced framing techniques (staggered studs) that minimize thermal bridging in the walls and allow for an uninterrupted layer of insulation;
- Rainwater catchment system with purification that provides 100% of the home’s water needs (wow!);
- “Cool” metal roof without any plumbing or ventilation penetrations - energy efficient, offers the possibility of lasting for 100 years, and assists in funneling clean water to the catchment system.
Oh, and if your interest has been piqued AND you happen to live in the Portland area, there’s one for sale! The $690K pricetag is a bit steep, but I’m sure the huge energy and water bill savings with this home will take a big chunk out of that through time.
Visit Low Impact Living’s directory of green builders to find help with a similar project near you. Or, read more about selecting sustainable wood, using geothermal heat pumps, and selecting eco-friendly roofing materials.
Popularity: 6% [?]
February 20th, 2009
Written by Brian Liloia, courtesy of Green Building Elements.com
Last week I talked about how to live simply and decrease your carbon footprint living in a tiny house. Even better than buying a tiny house is making your own, and Michael Janzen is blazing a trail with his free tiny pallet house. Not only is his house made out of recycled shipping pallets, it isn’t costing him anything to build. And lucky for us, he’s sharing his plans so you too can build your own tiny free house.
You can save money, sharpen your DIY skills, and further decrease your environmental impact by following Janzen’s example of building a free pallet house.
Keep pallets out of landfills
Here are some disturbing statistics about shipping pallets:
- Approximately 40% of all hardwood harvested in the U.S. is for making shipping pallets
- About two-thirds of pallets are used only once before being thrown out
- 1/4 of all wood in landfills is from used pallets
You can help prevent deforestation and keep pallets out of landfills by finding creative alternative uses for them, like building a house. Pallets can be found everywhere. Once you start looking for them, you’ll see them scattered all over your town or city.
Contact a local warehouse, supermarket, or any business that receives large shipments, and get permission to pick up their used pallets. Most companies are happy to give their pallets away.
Plans for a free pallet house
Janzen has made plans for building a free pallet house available on his website. These plans are a guide for building what he calls a disaster preparedness and emergency shelter. Janzen says:
As hurricane Gustav plowed across Cuba headed for the gulf coast of the United States memories of Katrina and the potential displacement of thousands got me thinking. I wanted to do something to help. It occurred to me that someone else might find what I now about building with shipping pallets useful in the coming weeks and months.
With some creativity, you may find that shipping pallets can be reappropriated in other ways to build your own free tiny house. For example, I have a friend that has disassembled shipping pallets and used the wood to build roof trusses for his straw bale building.
Ultimately, you can help prevent deforestation and keep pallets out of landfills by using them to build creative housing.
Think tiny and free!
Popularity: 6% [?]
February 14th, 2009
If you are interested in green architecture then please spend a moment welcoming GreenPods on to the market. These are wonderful, small, highly eco-smart dwellings.
GreenPod Developmentis based in Washington and they seek to design and construct affordable, sustainable, modular homes. At right you see one of their “SoloPods”, but the also have other designs that are equally compelling. Below you see the model called the “Floating Pod.”
The Pod designs range from 300 to 800 square feet. But if you need additional square footage, the Pods can be joined or stacked. Pod designer Ann Raab uses movable walls, multi-use furnishings, lighting, and windows to visually enlarge the Pod’s living spaces.
The Pods boast many environmentally-savvy features. All Pods utilize passive-solar design principles to cut energy use. Every Pod features low air infiltration design,energy-efficient windows, energy saving appliances, low-flow plumbing and LED lighting. They also make extensive use of daylighting.
Currently GreenPods is working on projects in Washington and California, and they can also service Oregon. Founder Ann Raab told me that they hope to be able to serve more parts of the country next year. I also asked her about costs and she said that depending on the size and features one selects for the their Pod, the cost would range between $150-$250 per square foot.
In case you are in Washington, you can stop by the GreenPod showroom. It’s at Artisans on Taylor, which is located at 236 Taylor Street, Port Townsend, WA, 98368 (across from the Rose Theater).
Popularity: 15% [?]
December 1st, 2008
Can you see a green prefab home from where you live? Probably not, although the unending parade of new companies and designs might lead you to think otherwise. The sad truth is that we’re now in Year Two of the mortgage meltdown, so you probably aren’t seeing much new on your block except perhaps foreclosure signs. That’s part of why prefab hasn’t moved all that far beyond the museum, trade show and exhibit floors where so many designs play such a central role.
But there are other reasons, which are that certain flaws in the prefab business model are starting to come to light. Many companies have struggled to bring compelling designs into mass production. Supposedly short installation timelines are often drawn out by permitting and finish work. And low up-front pricing oftens end up much higher due to multiple factors: fees paid to designers and manufacturers, sitework and foundation construction, crane rental, finish work such as plumbing and electrical, and repair of damage done during shipping. This blog posting from Chad Ludeman on Jetson Green provides quite a bit more detail on these challenges.
Some prefab companies are beginning to listen to the critics. One in particular is aiming their business directly at the challenges above - Blu Homes, a relatively new entrant out of Boston. Blu offers attractive modern designs, but where they’re really focusing is on the “pain points” in the prefab process. They’re striving to deliver attractive, liveable green homes at reasonable prices for a completed home, not just for the modules themselves pre-installation. They’re focusing on new tools and techniques so that you know exactly how much your home will save you once you move in via reduced energy and water bills. And, perhaps most important, they’re striving to provide support from concept through permitting all the way through to move-in. They emphasize the process of designing and building a prefab home as much as the product.
I first found out about Blu (then unnamed) at the 2007 version of West Coast Green, where I met one of Blu’s co-founders, Maura McCarthy. I recently spoke to Maura and Blu’s VP of Product Development, Dennis Michaud. They filled me in on the latest with Blu and talked about when you might be able to find one near you.
Popularity: 5% [?]