If you’ve heard of the Husten-Haskin house (mentioned in NYTimes + SF Chronicle), then you’ve heard of the architect behind the the Vital House prefab: Erin Vali of Ulterior Mode. The Vital House is designed to be both economical (1,500 sq-ft. at $300,000) and eco-friendly. Practically speaking, the firm is Brooklyn-based, so this prefab design will serve the east coast, at least in the near short-term, but this four-bedroom model was designed to adapt to virtually any location. The prefab utilizes solar-power and passive heating during the winter (with double-height walls on the south + east orientation). It also has water-filled tanks placed on the south + east spaces, which absorb radiant energy and distribute it through the house. Interestingly, construction is raised slightly off the ground, which accommodates both flat and sloped land sites. Another benefit of raised construction is that wind + air can cool the home. Some of the other specifics on the Vital House are still in flux, but I think this is a good start.
Recently, I blogged about Jennifer Siegal and Office of Mobile Design (OMD) and wanted follow up because I found this video of her Venice, California show house. It’s a short, 2-minute video packed with modern + green information and mentions the following products: Japanese recycled grass board called "Kirei" (Japanese for pretty or beautiful), radiant heating ceiling panels called "People Heaters," the in-wall iPod sound system called iPort, energy-efficient appliances by Sub-zero, a tank-less water heater, and industrial-grade flooring in the bathroom to withstand heavy use. Take a look at some of these products if you’re doing a renovation and enjoy the video if you’re interested in modern + green prefab.
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
Introducing "Grey to Green." It’s a snippet from the Design: e2 series narrated by Brad Pitt. We need a paradigm shift in the methods we employ to construct US buildings! Watch this video on construction waste and think about the status quo. Did you know that American buildings account for 10% of the world’s energy use? They do.
Part of the draw to modern prefab, for me, is that it presents the opportunity to efficiently, and relatively wastelessly, produce attractive, sustainable living spaces. That’s very important. Technology and process innovation can help us quit wasting energy, supplies, and materials, etc. Construction waste is not only damaging the earth, but by continuing on the current path, we’re just throwing money away (both at purchase and trash points). We need to understand the issues and find creative, innovative, positive, and attractive solutions.
This video is extremely informative, and you can order the PBS series DVD from their website for $29.95. The DVD includes all six episodes (The Green Apple, Green for All, The Green Machine, Gray to Green, China: From Red to Green, + Deeper Shades of Green). I can’t catch it on TV, so I’m going to go ahead and purchase it. Really, watch the video and you’ll realize why it looks to be a good series.