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Prefab Green Homes: Passive Solar House Kits from Green Modern Kits!

Our family's passive solar zero energy off grid house kit construction blog.
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Vintage! Hat! Friiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiday!!!!!!! Rises from the dead... Halloween Edition!

Oh yes, Vintage Hat Friday is back, a special Halloween edition before the real competition begins in the dark and gloomy winter. 
But beware: We take challengers DEADLY seriously... especially on Hallows Eve.

So if your company enjoys celebrating reuse, recycling, and stylish second-use clothes in the workplace [that means you, Eric Drivdahl of Seattle's Gelotte Hommas and our prefab Green Cottage Kits!], toss your hat in the ring now to compete in the upcoming Vintage Hat Friday 2010 Edition. We will resume our Vintage Hat Friday's for the season once it is dreary and dark enough - the purpose is to add a little humor to dark winter days, and ends with the first signs of spring, once you start to think about seedlings in cold frames and new growth of the garden season ahead.

If you are new to Vintage Hat Friday, here's how to vote: Tell us whom you favor and why by adding a comment, below.  The key to this competition is to remember: you always want to vote for ME. (Me as in Copeland. Just so yer not confused.)

Amy: Guten Morgen!

It may be a day early, but we here at C3 believe you can never have too flimsy an excuse for dressing up in something vintage and fabulous. I think that may actually be one of the bylaws in our company polices. So when I saw this sweet vintage Austrian dancing dress on Etsy back in August, I knew I’d hit the jackpot for costumey-goodness this year. It’s even got a dancing couple on the zipper pull! This dress is ready to ROCK! … Or possibly Polka. Whatever the case, paired with some knee highs, a pair of vintage styled heels I snagged from Goodwill, and a button down shirt I already owned (but which also came from Goodwill), I’m ready to….

Wait. What?

This is supposed to be a Vintage Hat Friday preview? Why wasn’t I TOLD? I thought we were just dressing up…. Uh… hang on. I need to go get my hat. I… um… left it… ‘in the car.’

OK… well....… I’m making a statement about remembering to be environmentally friendly this Halloween by using green materials for my head accessory. And for you diehards who aren’t buying it: you’ve heard the expression “old as dirt?” The bush grew in the dirt. The flower is full of nutrients from the earth, and that’s really, REALLY old. So this flower is practically super-vintage.

Vote for me!

Copeland: I call this outfit, "Out, Out, Danged Spot!"
After having the flu invade last week, and preparing for Halloween and a return to the land / prefab modern house kit this weekend, the chores and catch-up have been overwhelming.  The spot on my hand symbolizes all that frustration:

I want it out, gone, removed. So....  
Out, OUT, Danged Spot. 
'Cause we have living to do.

The gown I acquired, already used and threadbare, half-a-lifetime ago, in a dingy Broad Street shop (where I also found my prior Halloween dress).

The "veil" is made of a bolt of vintage fabric found in the same time period, and the hat (oh, I have to wear a proper hat for all of you bickering critics who insist the 'hat' has to be structure, no?) found and reused from an estate sale last year.


So there you have it: Vintage Hat Friday: Halloween Edition.
We now sink slowly back into the dark mists to await the winter re-awakening of...
[Creepy ominous laugh inserted here...]




Prefab Net Zero Off Grid Thoughts: Kitchen

Oh how prefab-ulous: We are ALL sick.
It is raining.
Coughing, sneezing, low grade fevers... we will not visit the net zero off grid prefab this weekend.
Yet inside, we're bustling about in our pj's and woolen socks, ill but happily busy, and I am researching:
Kitchen Appliances For The Net Zero Off Grid Prefab Modern House!

I have been toying over thoughts on the kitchen island and appliances for months.
General thoughts:
  • Kitchen island should face the chaos, so that I can happily participate as I cook
  • Upper part: contains juice and wine glasses so I can throw them at thirsty clamoring mutinous guests
  • Smaller fridge reflects our locally eating, buying fresh food, often, lifestyle
  • Composting bin
  • Smaller trash can because we compost our food waste, feed scraps to chickens, avoid packaging
  • and a recycling bin, of course
But something in the functionality I drew out earlier didn't sit right... I was still working on it...
The big barrier to energy efficient off grid appliances is that, frankly, they often cost a heckuva lot more.

Today I stumbled onto this: A green fridge that uses almost no electricity, made out of a freezer!

Freezers and fridges that open from the top make sense. Think about it: hot air rises, cold air falls. When you open a traditional fridge or freezer, the air literally falls out of the compartment as you consider, "Hmmmmm... what shall I have for lunch today?"

With the door on the top, you can keep the cold air contained within much more efficiently.
I again researched energy efficient appliances... then stumbled across what seems like a good solution:

A freezer with TWO access drawers and temperature zones! So the top could be for food kept cool... and the bottom, remain a freezer! (IF we even need to use a small freezer. More on those thoughts for you on that in another post...)

The Haier freezer I selected was rectangular, not square, because it makes sense that when you open it, with a more rectangular shape you can quickly scan the inventory vs. dig through layers trying to find something in a square space. I researched and researched, and found one for $329, not the least expensive, but with free shipping (shipping averaged $100 so in the end, it was a good deal).

Now I am going to play with crayons to show you my kitchen area idea:

(The reality will be much more sleek and modern, longer in width, much more stylish; I'm trying to explain the functionality. Dudes, I'm drawing with CRAYONS.)
  • Countertop:

    • Range
    • Cutting board area also doubles as where to put the dish rack when drying dishes, water can run off to be recycled with a surrounding groove into a container right in front of the compost top?
    • Drawer top to hold compost bin to the right of work area (doesn't need to be too big as we discard scraps at least twice a day - you can see the bin top to the left of the stove, it would be built in- metal container, flush with the countertop) - if I were left-handed it would go on the left...
    • Sink: shallow but wide enough for rinsing, washing dishes
    • Glass storage: facing me, sliding glass provides access to glasses

      This reflects the natural progression in how I cook:
      By putting the workstation between the range and sink, I can rinse & cut, add scraps to compost, then add the cut items to the pan all without moving the cutting board.

  • Underneath:

    • Pull out shelf (not drawer) reveals freezer-converted-into-fridge, yet allows access to bottom drawer of fridge (after I drew this I realized it should be under the sink, as I'm right handed and thus making it more accessible as I prepared / cooked)
    • Two drawers under sink for pots and pans

  • Side where the stools will be:

    • Sliding glass: provides access to glasses (the nonbreakable pewter cups of which we Virginians seem to acquire so many...)
    • Legroom under the glasses area for swinging, restless children's legs
    • Access to pipes if you need it by making that side face a latched door, able to swing open
    • Handsome Husband pointed out we could take that latched door just mentioned (that opens to the pipes, systems where the stools are) and instead have it lift up, not open sideways, and could then create a "insta-table" for extra guests.

  • Behind me, flush and built into the wall:

    •  Two shelves that open for more storage of plates, glasses, utencils, cloth napkins
    • Underneath: a pull out drawer separated into

      1. trash (as in, non food anything): which we have *very little* of...
      2. recycling (um... we have more of that. Hello, beer cans...)

Here is another crayon rough version of what it might look like...

Picture this room with the grey polished concrete floor, a built in bookshelf, smooth plywood finishes mixed with the recycled VMI basketball court on the walls and in the kitchen island.

Now I need to keep an eye out for cool, modern (hopefully reused, as I try to recycle, even better: vintage) bar stools, and juice and wine glasses.  I'm also looking for a marine stove...

After a split-second of thought, I decided I do not need an oven.  I use our solar cooker for fun, why not make it integral for our bread baking, etc. *every* time? Granted, that rules out a Thanksgiving turkey, but there are other, more creative ways to approach that dilemma. The reality is that I only use our oven a few times a year, and many of those times can certainly be replaced with the slow cooker, solar cooker, and other methods.

So there ya have my prefab house kit thoughts on the kitchen area!
All certainly to be refined, revised before you see photographs of the finished area...
But what else was I supposed to do on a sick, rainy day? : )

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Landscape Architecture For The Prefab Modern House Kit: The Root Cellar, and More. Guest Blog Post!

We will begin to have guest bloggers (weren't you tired of listening to me anyhow?), people who know a heck of a lot more than I on the next steps of the prefab SIPs house kit as it goes from a modern house kit shell to a sustainable modern homestead in the years to come.

Please welcome Heather Barber, founder of Topos, LLC, a landscape design studio dedicated to purposeful design through creating unique natural environments in Richmond, Virginia. The sustainable landscape plan by Topos was earlier mentioned here; today, she talks about visiting the off grid prefab modern house for the first time, and how sustainability is connected in the kitchen.

The rest of the post is her own.

turning the page on sustainability and the sufficient garden...

Sustainability and landscape go hand in hand, but to really understand sustainability from a livable principal you must put form in the background and set the focus on function. The two do not have to live entirely separately, but the thing that has driven landscape design for centuries must become secondary to to the primary purpose of function. A sustainable landscape does not have to leave beauty out of the picture, but it is there for many more reasons than just aesthetics.

Let’s take green modern kits casa ti as a prototype for understanding the adaptation of the built object to the site rather than the normal process of site adaptation to accommodate the built object. casa ti is a melding of modern living principles with a centuries old notion of living with the land, off the land, and of the land. casa ti is sited in the middle of rural farmland in Virginia.

At first sight, it seems as though there is a modern box sitting in the middle of this soft, rolling earth...still viable earth that is now a repository for a very static looking building. Understanding modern sustainability will turn this perception on it’s ear. casa ti, a prefabricated green modern kit home is actually a very dynamic part of the earth and a living, breathing entity that sustains the land it inhabits. The landscape that surrounds casa ti becomes a fulcrum that allows the exchange between the site, the building and the family that lives on the land.

So many of the sustainable landscape principals are the functional values that have been used in farming and land use for thousands of years. Many have been abandoned to the contemporary notions of density, aesthetics and convenience. Having the opportunity to attend the first casa ti open house I found it absolutely astounding that many of the local farmers grasp the notion of the sustainable system (being the building, the land, and the functions of the land, the landscape) and yet many of us ‘designers’ don’t really fully understand. I learned a tremendous amount about the importance of function from the resident farmers who came to support casa ti.

It also sparked a conversation with my father, a celebrated Landscape Architect whose heyday of design was in the 60’s and 70’s, pre autocad and plotters and computerized land forming programs. Now in his 70’s, Dad still uses a sepia printer (a ‘brown’ print machine) and a typewriter and still understands working within the natural systems of the earth rather than contriving them to fit the design. All of this being said, I have really re-approached my ideals of sustainable design and casa ti this week.

We are working on many planes with the prefab house nestled in the rural landscape. Foremost, casa ti is a structure drawn from modern design tenets. It is constructed in a way that would blow the doors off of most LEED and Earthcraft rated buildings. The siting (the location of casa ti) in a rural, traditional farming community is a great opportunity and hindrance equally. It allows casa ti to function as intended, as a fully self supporting, energy producing entity that forms a relationship with the land, the profile, the context, the climate, the macro and micro environments. The challenge is finding the craftsmen, the materials and the technology to make it all happen in a natural and budgetary way. It is all a learning process and I am honored to be a part of it.

So, how do we meld the aesthetics and function of the modern style prefabricated green modern kit home with a traditional rural site?

Again, we look at many of the sustainable attributes that already lie within the site. The immediate area around casa ti will become an extension of the living space and reflect the modern form / aesthetic. The people who live here want to live in a healthy way without sacrificing comfort and enjoyment and that is an absolute. Clipped hedges, exterior fireplaces, large planes for dining, and family entertainment areas will all be designed to express the modern style. The choices of plant material and hardscape materials will lend to the functionary aspect. The true beauty lies in how these areas are also those which sustain the mechanical, solar, and water treatment for casa ti.

The secondary environs become the threshold that allows the aesthetic transition between modern style and traditional farm style. Open space, groves, and more naturalized land forms set up view shed and flow into the actual working land and forested areas of the site. Again using native plant material and land forms from recycled earth becomes the functional aspect. They lend to the shade value and thermal support of casa ti, and provide sustenance.
Water harvesting and recharging will reduce the necessity for potable water waste on gardens and cyclical necessities within the residence. Vegetable gardens and fruit trees will be planted down hill and irrigated with the traditional agricultural flooding methods. Green walls add to the thermal value of the home and earthen berms protect the home from energy stripping climatic effects. A small pool will be used to house and recharge the water supply. UV filtering and a baffled rill will do the actual recharging. Seasonal crops will be used in the larger fields, always cycled one season with a green crop for essential nitrogen restoration. Seasonal fruit trees, berry shrubs, vegetables will be planted for 3 1/2 seasons of additional food stores.

A root cellar (which has been the most logical, yet baffling part of the design) will serve many functions. It will house the minimal mechanical equipment needed for casa ti, as well as add natural storage for vegetables and fruits, thus minimizing loss and the need for refrigeration.

This lends to another necessary discussion...the contemporary kitchen in a sustainable setting. The things that are of the utmost importance are storage, accessibility to the edible landscape and waste. Composting areas need to be close in order to minimize unnecessary waste in the kitchen, yet need the space and the ‘privacy’ to be their ugly smelly selves. The kitchen is also a great area for the collection of gray water for non potable use, and relatively economical to make happen. The kitchen garden must fulfill a certain portion of the food supply for at least 3 1/2 seasons. Sorry, you’re not going to get much out of this garden when the surprise March blanketing of snow occurs. Enter root cellar...again, the proximity to the house is important, but equally the type is too. Banked into grade change allows light and airflow and doesn’t turn it into the dungeon (horrors), but equally allows the proper amount of moisture to circulate so your carrots and potatoes don’t turn to chalk or worse. Of course, dependent on the size and location, additional venting and drainage is necessary. I’ve found several articles helpful, posted below for your reading pleasure. It truly is fun stuff.

As the casa ti plans evolve, the next chat will be about addressing other aspects of the sustainable site, such as parking courts, natives vs. invasives, and positive drainage for maximum water efficiency.

Relevant links:
-- Heather Barber, Topos LLC
    Richmond, Virginia

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Energy Audit Of Our Leaky Mid-Century Modern House: Why I Love My Prefab Energy Efficient House Kits.

Sometimes pictures speak louder than words.
Guy Du Bois, of No Energy Loss, braved the data and proof that although beautiful, and a frickin' Cool Mod Pad, our mid-century modern house has NOTHING on our energy efficient, passive solar house kits.

This all came about after we returned from another cool, fall weekend in our prefab house kit, which, you may have noted, STILL has no systems.  No heating, no plumbing, no electricity. Yet.

We have a blast "camping" in our prefab modern house. But enough already, give me off grid systems, please sir... now.

However, after returning from the lovely weekend, we entered our current mid-century modern house and...
just could not get over the fact that in our prefab house, despite no systems, we were comfortable, even cozy.  And now here I was, walking around my 1950's house, chilled and indignant that the temperature was about the same as in the prefab house... except that I was paying hundreds of dollars a month to match the net zero, off grid, NO SYSTEMS YET prefab!

That is when I heard Mr. Du Bois was providing energy audits, and we eagerly asked him to see how horribly inefficient our mid-century modern house is.
Because I need that pain.
It will 1. prove I am correct, the mid-century house IS soooooooooooooo much more inefficient than the prefab house kit made with SIP (structural insulated panels), and 2. motivate us to do something about it... now.

Hope you are all enjoyin' feeling my pain!
(Sorry the bedrooms are such a mess, everything here is in boxes and suitcases. Once we install systems in our prefab I can move most of that stuff to the prefab house kit and things will be much more tidy. I hope.)

If you are in or near Richmond, Virginia looking for an energy audit, check out Guy Du Bois's No Energy Loss!

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Green Modern Kits On Planet Green!

We are so focused on our prefab house kit projects it took me a few months to notice I had been nicely mentioned on Planet Green... oops. : )

Solar cooking is one of my favorite hobbies and I am always happy to share my experiments!
[Not. All. Successful. ]

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Prefab SIPs House Kit: The Contractor Speaks! Part 1

Ron Bernaldo, our fabulous contractor, shares his thoughts of the prefab house kit project at the prefab open house:

Prefab SIPs House Kit : The Contractor Speaks!

So, in a nutshell: 
Ron had never worked with SIPs (structural insulated panels) before building our prefab house kit.
His crew was Amish.
Ron explains the SIPs, how he worked with them, and answered many questions from prefab enthusiasts about his experience working with SIPs and the casa ti house kit.

Of note: "It took us five days to put the house kit together with 3-4 men working..."

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Prefab Modern SIPs House Kit : Gimme My Off Grid Systems!

If you really want to plan a super fall weekend in Virginia, plan it thus:
The second weekend in October, take Friday and Saturday off to enjoy the Richmond Folk Festival.

Then hop over on Sunday to Appomattox, for the Appomattox Railroad Festival.

Both include great live music, lots of culture, people watching, endless local food, and history.

Both are free.
Both are fun for young and old.
I know this, because I did both, and had an AMAAAAAAAZING time.

But back to the prefab SIPs modern house kit:
We expect the electric quote tomorrow from the electrician. Next, we get the plumbing quote. Then, we get a loan to finish the interior and snap on systems.
Then we're done.

Because it's that easy, right?


So, a prefab modern house kit recap:
We finalize quotes, then purchase and install rainwater collection and filtration, and solar systems.

Then we move to interior, reused, recycled design.
And from there, we start our sustainable landscaping plans.  (You may recall our initial post on Topos LLC's landscape architecture plan- there will be much more on that soon!)

We will spend years on projects such as crop tree release, crafty functionality, interior design, creating a sustainable farm... and I'm certain stuff I haven't even thought of yet.

But this is what I DO know:
I may have all these other decisions to make as a prefab mod consumer, but...
The passive solar SIPs house kit ROCKS.
Again I spent a cool fall weekend without any heat, and again I was comfortable thanks to the passive solar house kit design and the fact that the house kit is comprised of energy efficient structural insulated panels.

From Prefab Weekend In The House Kit: Appomattox Railroad Fest and More!

AGAIN I felt the chill of outside, then retreated to the steady comfort of the SIPs and passive solar design.  Again I experienced an entirely gray day today, yet the temperature indoors was 70.

Do you know what it's like to wash dishes outside in the rain when it's 50 degrees?
I do.

And that is when I yearned to be inside my cozy prefab house kit.
And that is when I fixed my aim on GETTING THOSE SYSTEMS IN so I don't have to wash dishes outside in the rain in January.

Much less take a shower as so.
Oh, let me rephrase that: Now I have been taking a shower, don't you call me dirty.
But I would like to go from this:

From Prefab Weekend In The House Kit: Appomattox Railroad Fest and More!

To...a shower.
A real shower.
A hot shower.
In January.
Please! : )

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