June 12th, 2008
It seems everyone is “going modular” these days with the rapid growth in the movement of green prefab design and construction. The buzz in modular construction is causing a rush of new designs, innovative products, and advanced modular systems being introduced. The goal of prefab is still the same as minimizing waste while maximizing efficiency. To learn more about prefab design and what makes it a compelling form of green building, please click here.
No longer are the days when just calling yourself a prefab company is considered environmentally progressive. Homes are now being made from materials like reused shipping containers, recycled steel, and certified sustainably-harvested wood. The new challenge for prefab companies is balancing the economics of innovative sustainable design with the realities of construction and raw material costs.
We want to highlight some companies doing some very interesting work in the prefab space.
Eco-Steel Homes focuses on streamlined design and their homes use 76% recycled steel sourced from recycled vehicles, appliances and industrial scrap metal. They encourage us all to “start dreaming in steel.” Their models use no wood, making them mold and insect resistant, and come pre-engineered and pre-insulated making them ultra-efficient. You can combine different modules to create your dream (metal) home.
In sharp contrast to these visions of ultra-modern prefab, look at these warm, rustic homes from International Homes of Cedar. Their homes carry an impressive insulative value using interlocking layers of construction lumber from sustained yield second growth forests. Cedar is an extremely durable wood and one of the best choices for construction due to its moisture resistance, pest resistance, and thermal resistance.
Prefab structures don’t always have to be an entire home. With gas prices soaring, why drive to the office when you can set up a modern working space right in your backyard? Start small and own a prefab home office or even a prefab garage. Modern Shed designs are colorful, fun, and utilize green materials in both the interior and exterior finishes and options for their prefab structures. For example you can choose insulation made from recycled denim, cork flooring, recycled decking and more. Modules start as small as 8’ x 10’ sheds for under $5,000 and go up to 1,200sf dwellings. The sheds are ideal for home office space, artist’s gallery, machinery work space, or even a child’s playhouse.
Envision Solar sees the garage as an opportunity to have not only a prefab structure, but having it powered by energy from the sun! The Lifeport garage (23’ x 23’) or its smaller counterpart the LifePod solar structure (10’ x 12’) allow homeowners to own cost-effective and attractive shade structures to protect their cars or serve as a pool house that will pay for itself over time. The entire roof structure is covered in solar panels and will not only power your garage, charge your vehicles, and can also contribute to offsetting the electricity use for your house. The modules are easy to construct and actually give back to the environment rather than taking away.
Lastly, maybe you just can’t get to the gym but would rather have a workout room like the Nomad Yurt by EcoShack? This yurt can be used as an outdoor luxurious portable room for yoga class or as an office. Kids would love it as a play-space as well. Think “outside the house” and maybe you will come up with a use of your own.
We hope you have enjoyed our modular outburst of new ideas. Personally I am still waiting for someone to come up with a Biomimicry-inspired prefab structure. Until that happens, we can all feel good about the progress that prefab is making and will look forward to new innovations and technologies.
Popularity: 9% [?]
June 9th, 2008
Sometimes we find pieces so perfect for our Low Impact Living audience, we have to share them. The Los Angeles Times did an excellent piece on steel prefab homes this weekend, and thought you’d find it interesting.
By Michelle Hofmann, special to the Los Angeles Times, June 8, 2008.
ARCHITECTURAL writer and music critic Thomas Small, 49, and wife Joanna Brody, 44, a public relations consultant, had outgrown their two-bedroom town house in Santa Monica.
So in 2004, they bought a “decrepit” Culver City cottage to remodel. Unable to salvage the 1,500-square-foot fixer-upper and hoping to create an affordable, custom-built home, the couple turned to Whitney Sander, principal architect and founder of Venice-based Sander Architects, who uses prefabricated steel to provide a cost-effective building option.
Construction on the new home started in December 2005 and this February, the Small-Brody brood, which includes two large, hairy Briard dogs, Calvin and Hobbes; and two infants, Joey, 1, and Lyra, 6 months, moved into their 3,800-square-foot part-prefabricated steel, part-custom home.
The Culver City residence features a main house with three bedrooms, 2 1/2 bathrooms, two offices and a separate one-bedroom rental apartment above the garage.
“From certain angles, it has an industrial look,” said Small, who didn’t want to hide the metal aesthetic with stucco or conventional sidings and used corrugated-metal-siding panels to finish the exteriors. “So some of the traditionalists in the neighborhood didn’t know what it was when it was going up. But the way it turned out, most people really like it. And it has gotten a very warm reception.”
With costs below those of conventional building methods, quick and easy assembly and no termite issues, prefabricated or pre-engineered steel buildings are finding a place in the residential home market.
For Small and Brody, metal also helped them stay true to their green theme. “Most of the metal in this house is recycled and will be recyclable at the end of its use in this house,” Small said.
“And there’s also very little waste with metal. It was made at the factory and then shipped here. There was no sawdust. No cutting,” he said. “And we didn’t have to hire specialized builders. It was built by the contractor who built the rest of the house, and bolted together very easily.”
To read the rest of this article, click here.
To learn more about green prefab, click here.
To find companies offering green prefab options, click here.
Popularity: 3% [?]
February 25th, 2008
Recently I had the good fortune to interview Jonathan and Mary Jo Davis, co-founders of Davis Studio Architecture + Design and the new line of modular houses, pieceHomes. They have been working in the sustainable architecture field for many years, and have recently launched pieceHomes as a new venture.
Q. How did you get into green architectural design?
Jonathan: The first house I designed –right after college– was in Shreveport, LA. It was a custom home and a really a green home. It was located on a lakefront, so it was designed to be raised up for flooding, sited to take advantage of the views of the lake, and we carefully surveyed the trees and sited the house to save as many as we could. We incorporated solar hot water panels, geo-thermal wells for heating and cooling, heat-recovery units behind the fireplaces, into the design, as well as a self-contained sewage treatment plant that put out pure water right at the lakefront. We also used recycled brick throughout the house.
I was also into camping, being outdoors, and sailing….it all tied together and made sense. After grad school I went to work for Frank Gehry….we did a building for a utility company over in Germany that was a showcase for green technologies… I was very much involved in that building. After leaving Gehry, I completed many projects with recycled materials and sustainable systems. These elements have always been part of my palette. And six years ago when Mary Jo and I met and started Davis Studio A+D, we made this our mission. We design for sustainability and we educate our clients about sustainability.
Mary Jo: Two years ago we built our own house and we wanted to use our house as a showcase to show clients that you could build it green and build it affordably. And now it is a prototype for our pieceHomes concept.
Q: Great—please tell us a bit more about the genesis of pieceHomes and where it is heading.
Jonathan: Through interactions with a client of ours several years back we were working through some ideas related to modular homes. We were interested, but we weren’t ready to try to break into the market. Prefab is a huge industry—especially on the East Coast—so to break into that market isn’t easy. But as we designed and built our own house we started to work with these modular concepts more. Then at West Coast Green we met Tim Schmidt who is the CEO of XtremeHomes. He was starting a new factory that builds green homes….and they are very flexible about what they will build. They will basically build a custom home in a factory—or 20 versions of a house, in modular pieces. So when we saw that they could provide the flexibility that we were looking for, we decided to move forward with pieceHomes. From their factory location, we’ll be able to serve the West Coast. Interestingly though, we’re seeing huge demand on the East Coast…particularly in North and South Carolina. It’s amazing. I never would have predicted it. That’s a market that has surprised us…and we’ll have to figure out how to serve it.
What’s interesting to us—we’re a small architecture firm and all of a sudden we come out with this line of factory-built homes and we’ve gotten exposure all over the world. We’re on peoples’ radar, which we never would have been able to do as a small architecture firm. It exciting but it also presents some challenges for us. We’re used to dealing with clients on a one-to-one basis, and now we have so many people coming to us on the modular front. It’s a different way of doing business. And we’re having to having to adjust our practices to meet the demand.
Mary Jo: I’m excited because off-site built has the potential to change the entire architecture industry. Home building has essentially not changed in centuries…but this is a real departure. Prefab could bring architecture to so many more people. We love that aspect of it.
Jonathan: And for us affordability is key. A lot of companies are selling their factory-built work at $400-500/suare foot—and they are gorgeous, but very expensive. Our goal is to produce some homes at the $200/sq foot level….we’d prefer to sell more smaller, affordable homes to more clients than a big, expensive home to a really wealthy client. We’re also looking at selling the whole package…we’re not selling a kit, we’re delivering the whole house, lock stock and barrel. In the future that would include furniture, linens… we want to create the full package—the client can say check, check, check, and get the whole thing delivered.
Q. Tell us about the projects you are working on now.
Jonathan: We are working on several homes now….the first one is a custom design. It’s called Rindge. It started off as a conventionally built house. But we realized we could build it in modules with some minor changes to the structural engineering. We realized we could save money and time going that way. It’s going to be in Playa Del Rey and we’re signing contracts now with the builders, so we hope to be done by the end of the summer.
Q. Are you hitting any roadblocks—challenges?
Jonathan: It’s a bit more work to do the permitting for off-site built—you have to get two permits—one for what’s built in the factory—and one for what’s done on the site. Two sets of drawing. But it’s not insurmountable. In California at least it’s a fairly clear process.
The second project we’re working on, we’re in early design phase. The client has an old one story house in Venice, LA. Right now they want a new garage and a studio space….but they eventually want a new house. So we’re going to take it in stages. First we’re going to do the garage with a studio module on top of it. That’s the first phase. Then we’re going to do a 2-story addition to the existing house—2 modules—which we would lift over the existing house. The third phase will involve deconstructing the existing house and then with another set of modules we would build a new house, which would connect to the 2-story addition. It would be a seamless integration. The new house will be much better related to the site in the end. Using modules allows us to do it in stages, and it allows the family to continue to live there while this construction is going on. We’re planning to do Phase 1 this summer.
Mary Jo: We’re also talking to people in SF, Seattle, Denver, Texas….and for some reason a lot of people were asking about building homes in Hawaii. But shipping these homes to Hawaii would be a trick!
Q. Tell us about the materials for the homes you’re working on.
Mary Jo: As much as possible, the exterior materials will be installed in the factory. This reduces cost and on-site work. We’ll be using materials such as cementitious panels, galvanized corrugated steel siding, Mangeris wood (from sustainably managed forests). We’re also looking into other materials such as Ecoclad.
As for the interior items, for all of the living spaces we’d offer cork or bamboo floors as the basic. We offer Expanko as well, which is a rubber-cork composite. Or Forbo. We use EcoTop for the counters. No VOC paints and finishes. We use vegetable-based oils on exposed woods. We’ll use formalhyde-free MDF cabinets. Of course Energy Star appliances and a tankless water heater. LED lighting as an upgrade. Whole-house water filters. Dual flush toilets, low flow water fixtures. In our house we used wheatboard…but now the price has gone way up. There are many upgrades available—Kirei board or Palmwood for example.
Q. Will you seek LEED certification for pieceHomes?
Jonathan: We’re talking about it….certainly if the client wants it, we will do it. And all of our homes will be Build-It-Green certified. We can offer the possibility of homes getting LEED certification but not do it as a standard process. If the client wants it, we can go for it. Build it Green is more flexible. It’s a California based rating system and it’s an easier process. We’re planning to do that for all of the homes. A highly rated Build It Green house it’s quite comparable to a LEED house.
Q. Well thank you so much for your time and insights. We’ll be very interested to see PieceHomes popping up across the landscape over the next few years!
Mary Jo: Thanks—we’re excited. Green and modern are merging. It’s a great time.
Popularity: 5% [?]