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There's a New Prefab in Town: Michelle Kaufmann Designs + mkSolaire

Mksolaire If you haven’t noticed, there’s a new prefab in town.  But if you’ve been following the modern prefab movement, you’ll recognize this newest installment comes from an experienced architect:  Michelle Kaufann Designs.  MKD is behind the glidehouse and sunset breezehouse prefabs that have become the talk in modern + sustainable building circles.  But these aren’t just prefab concepts or designs.  Recently, MKD finished building the first U.S. factory dedicated to sustainable, modular custom homes (www.mkConstructs.com).  This Washington (state) factory is wholly-owned by MKD and will serve California, Washington, Oregon, and Hawaii. 

Solaire_interior The mkSolaire is an open, loft-like home designed for healthy, green living in the urban context.  The architecturally designed roof and windows allow a perfect mixture of air and light to enter the home.  Initial design to completion lead time is roughly 8-14 months, which varies depending on a variety of factors specific to your design and location.  Some of the things that will be available include solar panel roofing, geothermal system, wind generator system, hybrid system, icynene insulation, bamboo or reclaimed wood flooring, recycled paper countertops, recycled glass countertops, on-demand water heaters, water-saving dual-flush toilets, non-toxic paints, and formaldehyde-free cabinetry, etc. 

Solaire_roofSolaire_18  Solaire_17

Because the mkSolaire is built from a modular system, there are endless possibilities as far as layouts and floorplans.  The website has 5+ floorplan options, but it looks like those can be further customized.  And if you’re really interested in taking the plunge, MKD has tried to take the sting out of prefab costing by explaining how it all works.  This stuff isn’t cheap:  factory costs ($150-175 square foot), transportation + installation ($3,000 – $8,000 per module), site costs (depends on location), and miscellaneous costs (permit fees, architectural and engineering fees, sales tax for some states, appliance costs, add-on costs, etc.).  That said, homes do come with high-end Kohler  and Hansgrohe fixtures, Anderson windows + doors, and slate-tile flooring.

I could go on and on, so feel free to visit their site and see if this looks like something you’re interested in.  As far as modern + green custom architectural design is concerned, this is about as good an option as they come.  Source via Linton + Yahoo Finance

Green Building Throwback: Landscaping Common Sense

Colonial_home I was reading an article somewhere that said one could increase a home’s value by planting trees and properly landscaping the grounds.  Ostensibly, there are two reasons for this:  first, trees and landscaping can make a house look good, and second, they take time and care to grow, so mature landscaping illustrates the care a homeowner gives to their residence.  (Aside: this reason is akin to buying a 3 year-old vehicle from a retired person that only put 15,000 miles on it and stored it in the garage.)  But if we pay attention to history, there is a third reason–one that affects a home’s livability and monthly costs.  Proper landscaping can provide cooling for the interior. 

I came across this old Philadelphia, Pennsylvania statute from about 1672 that I think applies: 

Springfield_colonial_homeEvery owner or inhabitant of any and every house in Philadelphia, Newcastle and Chester shall plant one or more tree or trees, viz., pines, unbearing mulberries, water poplars, lime or other shady and wholesome trees before the door of his, her or their house and houses, not exceeding eight feet from the front of the house, and preserving the same, to the end that the said town may be well shaded from the violence of the sun in the heat of summer and thereby rendered more healthy

We’re talking about a time when people didn’t have air conditioning or electricity.  Sure, they lived differently and had different lifestyles, but I like to think they wanted to stay cool when they could.  So landscaping can have a dramatic effect on the interior temperature of your home.  Well-shaded homes requires less air conditioning and that cuts back on your electricity/energy bills.  Proper landscape planning will allow you to maximize natural light and minimize violent sun rays.  And this is important to healthy home living. 

Contemporary Furniture: Going Green with Exceptionally Designed Bicycle Parts

S2_modulus_diningoffice_chair This isn’t just some ordinary, run-of-the-mill furniture, slapped together with no thought for the environment, comfort, or design.  Andy Gregg founded Bike Furniture Design in the 90s with the seminal, original bike chair.  Since then, his collection has grown to include bar stools, high-quality tables, loveseats, and more chairs.  While his furniture is made primarily from recycled steel and aluminum bicycle rims, handlebars, and frames, his collection has grown to include parts from other transportation industries such as trains and planes. 

Again, this stuff isn’t slapped together, it’s pretty darn close to artwork.  Upholstery options include leather, rubber, cork, clear + colored acrylic, and vinyl.  And his business is starting to reach a tipping point.  In 2004, revenue picked up enough to allow Gregg to focus on the business.  Growing demand has pushed him to explore the use of new materials, and he keeps coming up with great pieces.  This can be attributed to his art and mechanics background.  So if you have an idea in mind, I’m sure he’d be able to crank it out (no pun intended). 

S2_swivel_barstool_1Milano_lounge_chair_1S2_bar_table

Extra Links:
Fortune Small Business Article
Silicon Valley’s The Wave Magazine Article
HGTV "I Want That!" Episode #313

1920s San Antonio Industrial Compound Converted into Eco + Modern Residence

Lakeflato_architects_home Every project is different and depending on the circumstances, one will have a bevy of options to choose from to move forward with a green plan.  Some projects need to be torn down.  Some projects can be renovated and greened.  It depends on the economics, politics, and persuasions of all parties involved.  In this case, San Antonio architects, Lake/Flato, decided to reuse this industrial compound’s existing footprint to renovate the place into a green + modern residence, otherwise known as the Dog Team Too Loft + Studio. 

The house is well-positioned to receive natural light, so the energy requirements for lighting are minimal.  The architects used fritted panes for windows, which is glass covered with tons of tiny ceramic dots that let in light and maintain a semblance of privacy.  The glass is similar to using something like light-transmitting blinds because it allows lower-intensity light into the interior, but it also reduces the heat gain, which translates into savings for not having to use the A/C as much. 

Lakeflato_stairs Lakeflato_living_room_2 Lakeflato_saw_tooth_2

The original roof was lost due to a fire, so the saw-tooth roof visible in the above picture covers the entire residence.  Some of the interior walls are plaster, and their high sand content keeps the indoor air cool.  The architects also used various cheap, but creative, items to finish out the interior.  They used galvanized stair treads ($3 each) and treated the floor with crankcase oil from a nearby lube shop.  The interior dining room window was scrap from another project that the firm was doing, so it was put to perfect re-use.  The Lake/Flato architects definitely prove that re-use can be the perfect option when deciding what to do with that run down place.  Source via Metropolitan Home

Bamboo, Too

Bamboo-forest

Grist Magazine wrote about being bamboozled, Dwell talked about bamboo in this month’s article, and Green Source mentioned it recently as well.  Quoted in Dwell in reference to a person’s choice of flooring, Eric Corey Freed said, “Guilt is no way to approach environmentalism. You shouldn’t feel guilty. What you should do is question where the wood for your floor comes from.”  In any event, since everyone is talking about bamboo, I thought I would add a few thoughts. 

When I visited China in May, I was amazed by the labyrinth-work of bamboo used as scaffolding for workers laboring away on huge buildings. From what I understand, curious observers from around the world have visited China to study their method of scaffolding. The bamboo is strong, yet forgiving, and it’s easy to set up, take down, and re-use.

When it comes to green building, bamboo is often referenced with regards to flooring. Bamboo flooring can contribute towards LEED certification, but should it? EcoTimber sells the stuff that they harvest from plantations. It’s good because it grows in various climates and takes about four to six years to be ready-to-use. EcoTimber makes its bamboo flooring with low-VOC finishes, but not all bamboo floor makers do that, so watch out!  To quote Mr. Freed, people take bamboo and finish it with that “nasty oil-based toxic lacquer.” So what’s the purpose of using bamboo?

Bamboo has a quick harvest life and it makes economic, business sense for bamboo sellers. Being a bamboo grower wouldn’t be that bad of a gig. It’s quick, cheap, and multiplies like rabbits—especially when compared to the slow poke tree. Bamboo is easier to replace than a tree, and in some ways, it’s better than a tree. It’s stronger. Often, the end product comes directly from the cheap manufacturing country of China (cheap being a reference to cost, not necessarily the quality). And therein lies the rub.

The amazing eco-grass, bamboo, travels half-way across the globe before it finalizes in the floor of your nice, elegant, modern, new, sustainable, LEED certified home or LEED-platinum office building. Feels good right? Depends.

Here’s what you should start thinking about: Your purchase of bamboo includes a transportation and carbon premium. Built into the price of bamboo is the cost of shipping and transporting bamboo half-way across the globe. So a slice of the price includes payment for oil, gas, and/or coal, depending on the transportation methods.

How’s that for being green? To me, it conflicts with one of sustainable movement’s basic tenets—acquire materials locally. If you’re importing the materials from half-way across the globe, how are you supposed to be ecologically responsible?  There needs to be local farms growing the stuff; with our American ingenuity, someone has to be able to make bamboo floors locally for less than the Chinese (considering they’re paying for shipping, too).

Good Links to Read:
[+]  Wikipedia on Bamboo
[+]  Bamboo of the Americas
[+]  American Bamboo Society
[+]  Environmental Bamboo Foundation
[+]  A Thousand Uses of Bamboo

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