In the last "Green Office" segment here on Jetson Green, I talked about the merits of investing in a Think chair from Steelcase for your office. Need a desk? Some of you may shut down purely at the price tag ($2,200), but there’s a price premium for style + sustainability. You can find the Liege Desk, designed by Jeffrey Bernett + Nicholas Dodziuk, exclusively at Design Within Reach. The desk uses sustainable chestnut or oak veneers and the stainless steel is finish-free. The wood varnish is non-toxic and low in volatile organic compounds. Measuring H 30" x W 60" x D 30", the Liege Desk accommodates storage that can be placed on the right or left, depending on your orientation. It’s a pretty good looking desk solution and would definitely go well with the Think chair. Via Collin Dunn at Treehugger.
Green Wombat reports that the Governator was pumping up California’s commitment to create 3,000 megawatts of new solar-produced, clean energy by 2017. Think about that. We’re talking about governmental support for empowering and supporting residents to generate their own energy. Relatedly, the Solar Umbrella House is a modern + green example of what can happen when home owners take advantage of the governmental benefits of clean energy subsidization. It was an AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Project in 2006, by architect Pugh + Scarpa. What more can I say than that the Solar Umbrella House looks good and sunlight provides 95% of the electricity (less than $300 /year in energy bills).
In addition to being designed passively to optimize the balance of sun and shade, the home has 89 amorphous photovoltaic panels that are connected to the grid with a net meter provided by the city of Los Angeles. The house is decked out with energy-efficient everything. Indoor air quality is perpetually monitored. The design is LEED-H (v2) consistent. Certified wood, recycled materials + salvaged materials were used all over the place.
The photovoltaic system, solar hot-water system, thermally broken glazing, and energy efficient appliances cost about $39,000. Not cheap, but that’s where rebates come in. To pay for the solar panels, there was a $18,600 rebate from the City Department of Water and Power and a $4,000 rebate from the federal government. After applying the rebates, the payback on this investment becomes 12 years, and the solar panel warranty lasts for 25 years. Not bad.
So what’s the big deal? If your city isn’t on board with clean energy, there isn’t a 12 year payback and you continue to buy electricity created from dirty coal plants (unless it’s a green provider). Which is better? Option A) independent, site-generated electricity that pays for itself after 12 years + is warrantied for 25 years + creates lower electricity bills or B) no site-generated electricity + persistently increasing electricity bills + dirty air. This is common sense, get your state and local governments to support renewable energy so that you can create a better living environment for your family. If you do it like the Solar Umbrella House, you can do it in green style!
Quoting Jennifer Siegal, founder of Venica, California-based Office of Mobile Design (OMD): "I’m interested in how technology is influencing the way we form communities…because our lifestyles are demanding more lightness, our buildings shouldn’t be sitting so heavy." Siegal was featured in the October 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine, and praised as a "fresh face from the front lines of design." In a world where renderings are common and completed projects are not, aka, the prefab world, Siegal is really staking a claim in this ultra-stylish, sustainable chase for comfortable, affordable living.
Siegal’s work includes the Mobile Eco Lab (1998), Portable House (2001), Seatrain House (2003), and the Swellhouse. Her most recent work is a modern, modular home product line called Take Home. Go to the website and take a gander at her captivating architecture. You’ll find also that her work goes beyond the realm of aesthetics and mid-century modern vernacular and into sustainability. That’s going to be where architects will make a huge difference, I believe. In addition to that, I think OMD is taking pro-active steps to clarify the pricing of their prefabs and make modern + sustainable living more affordable.
Sustainability is a key issue in the design process at OMD. Prefab presents the natural green benefit of avoiding all the construction waste that plagues stick-built construction. With the Take Home, OMD also offers precision steel construction, high-end amenities (Italian Boffi kitchens + Duravit bathrooms), fully landscaped courtyards with pools, passive cooling systems, and AVAILABLE 100% solar power and water heating. Also available is bamboo and radiant heated flooring. Homes range in size from 800-5,000 square feet and cost $210-270 per square foot. Not bad at all!
The ultra-stylish bloggers at PrairieMod turned me on to a story in Kiplinger’s, which details the process that a couple went through to get their dream prefab home. I liked this article for two reasons: (1) they talk about the prefab process in terms of tangible, financial figures, and (2) they go through some of obstacles and intricacies particular to prefab purchasing and construction. With many articles on prefab, authors glorify the design (which makes sense because many of them are extremely stylish) and harp on the price. With prefab pricing, it seems that the common wisdom is that prefabs are cheap for custom-built, architect-designed homes, but they are expensive when compared to a traditional home.
Regardless, I still believe that prefab has the power to revolutionize and commoditize site-build tasks that are wasteful, thereby producing cost savings in resource, labor, and design. I’m brainstorming a business plan for this right now. Here are a few points that this article makes:
- Prefabs Require Unique Financing – as opposed to the traditional mortgage loan and its many variations, prefabs require a construction loan or a construction-to-permanent loan. Why? Some banks aren’t educated on the value of modular, modern, factory-built structures and they’re worried about the note collateral.
- Factory versus Site Finish-outs – sometimes it may be more difficult to get contractors to do the work on site and they may charge a premium. Depending, it could be more beneficial to get as much of the home built at the factory as possible.
- Panelized versus Modular – there’s a difference. Panelized prefabs have sections stuffed with wiring + insulation; they are trucked to the lot, more customizable, and cost a little more. Modular prefabs are built in units of entire rooms or bigger and can be constrained by highway travel (12 x 12 x up to 64?). Modular prefabs are likely to be less expensive.
- Pricing – prefabs are 20-30% cheaper than custom homes designed by the same architect, but they’re more expensive than tract-type, suburban homes.
- GIVEN – prefabs are not on the same planet as manufactured homes.
The McGlasson Home: Pricing
The McGlassons purchased an Alchemy Architects plan for a 780 square feet prefab. Alchemy outsourced the construction to a Wisconsin manufacturing factory (6 weeks). The actual home: $95,000. Delivery + crane costs: $6,000. Contractors connected the house wiring to the grid, dug a well, and did the finish-outs: $59,000. Total cost: $160,000 (including fixtures + appliances, not including land). Not bad.
Fabulous Prefabs: Save $ With an Upscale Dwelling [Kiplinger’s]
Wrap it Up + Make it Home (10 Popular Prefabs Comparison) [Kiplinger’s]
On Saturday at the Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Leo Marmol was kind enough to spend an hour and talk about his firm‘s work in the design-build and prefab context. I was looking forward to this lecture for about 2 months and was not disappointed. Marmol lectured on his firm’s work with mid-century modern residences and the four standards (Secretary of Interior Standards) for renovation: preservation, rehabilitation, restoration, + reconstruction. Towards the end of the lecture, he started to get into his firm’s prefab work and environmentalism.
Here are some notes…
- As a site-build firm, we know very intimately how inefficient and stupid architectural processes are. We live with that stupidity everyday. It’s a really inefficient, wasteful, cumbersome process that we use to build today. There’s a lot of reasons why we still do it, but it’s inherently wasteful, so our goal is to build as much as possible in the factory.
- We’ve seen lumber + steel prices climb, and even labor is a little strained. Materials are getting more and more scarce, more and more, therefore, valuable, and more and more expensive. That will continue in the future.
- We’ve seen the rise in design with the iPod and with Target enlisting Philippe Starke to create a toothbrush. Design is a marketing opportunity to set your firm apart from the norm.
- With Prefab, the goal is to provide clean, simple, modern living and do it as cost-effectively as possible. So prefabrication is a means to deal with the rising construction costs.
- If you’re an architect and a builder, and you don’t have guilt, you’re not paying attention. We put so much attention on the auto industry, but it pales in comparison to the architecture industry. Architecture is the greatest polluting force on the planet. There is no other industry on the earth that uses more of our earth’s resources than construction and there is no other industry to releases so many polluting, bad things back to the earth. Prefab allows us to deal with this guilt and be more efficient.
- Sometimes the media gets it wrong with regards to prefab, but they are enthusiastic about this technology. That enthusiasm can lead everyone astray. Prefabs are not manufactured homes. Prefabs won’t save the world or deliver homes for under $100 a square foot. Prefab is not a magic bullet. They are cheap in comparison to custom, architect-designed homes (LA price: $400-600 sq.ft.), but they are not necessarily cheap. Building homes is difficult and takes lots of money + materials.
It should be noted that Mr. Marmol’s prefab division is making a conscious choice to be environmental in the construction of prefabs. The prefabs are designed to receive LEED certification, made from recycled steel, employ Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs), and use FSC-certified wood, low-VOC Green Seal paint, solar panels, etc. Each prefab is designed with the site in mind so the structure can be attentive to natural light and shading. And if you’re interested in seeing one, there’s an open house in California (instructions below).
Open House of the Desert House:
October 28, 1 pm – 6 pm
Desert Hot Springs, CA
RSVP NOT REQUIRED
Navigate the Website for Map
This building is a little old hat for many of the readers here (it was an AIA/COTE Top Ten Green Project in 2004), but I think there are some important aspects of the projects that can be remembered and applied to new green projects. This building is in the highest eschelon of LEED ratings, the platinum standard (LEED-NC, v2), and if you follow the links below, they’ve been generous enough to explain how they received all the points towards Platinum certification. You can even take a virtual tour of the building if you’re interested.
The building is the corporate headquarters for a biotechnology firm and houses 900 employees in 12 floors. Here are some of the many green features: high performance curtainwall glazing system with operable windows on all 12 floors; steam from local plant is used for heating + cooling; about 1/3 of the building uses ventilated double-facade that blocks summer solar and captures winter solar gains; the central atrium acts as a huge return air duct and light shaft; air moves up the atrium and out exhaust fans near the skylight; natural light is brought in from solar-tracking mirrors above the skylight and reflected deep throughout the building; the building saves water use comparably by 32% by using waterless urinals, dual flush toilets, automatic faucets, and low-flush fixtures; storm water supplements the cooling towers and irrigates the landscaped roof; partial electricity generation is provided by the building integrated photovoltaics (PV); nearly 90% of the wood is FSC-certified; and the building materials were chosen based on low emissions, recycled content, and/or local manufacturing. Not a bad list!
Really, I think this enormous achievement required the collective efforts of many different players with a similar vision. Architect and lead designer was Behnisch, Behnisch & Partner, executive architect – base building was House & Robertson Architects, tenant improvements architect was Next Phase Studios, landscape architect was Michael Van Valkenburgh Architects, and Turner Construction Company was the contractor.