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Prefab Debate - My Take

If you haven't heard, (and I hadn't until yesterday) there was supposed to be a debate on the "green-ness" of prefab house kits vs. conventional building on Treehugger this afternoon, but the arrival of one of the debater's baby has postponed it to next week (congrats!).  I am looking forward to listening in on what they say.

As you know, our passive solar prefab house kits at Green Modern Kits, Green Cottage Kits, and Green Cabin Kits are much more (purposely) bare-boned than others. That is for several reasons, starting with the fact that more complete turn-key prefab is beyond the financial grasp for many and does not embrace local reuse / a frugal mentality.

I thought I'd take a moment to discuss my own thoughts on our own prefab house models and why I think they're "green."

Because they are made with SIP, the energy efficiency is assured.
Your contractor needs to seal up any areas not covered with SIP (around windows, etc.), but that is certainly less time and cost than 1.framing a home,  then 2. doubling back to then insulate the whole house.

Because our prefabs are meant to be finished with local labor, it lowers the cost of the prefab home as
1. there is less to ship
2. you can make each line item decision with your contractor based on your style, locale, desired function and budget.

By using local labor, costs are in line with what you would pay in your community vs. flying in a team from afar to put it together.

You also leave green building skills and knowledge within your community.  Most of the people with whom we've worked had never worked with SIP, or built a passive solar house.

We build based on need. My salary doesn't depend on "moving X units of product" a year. People come to us for a house, because they need one; we don't build to sell. Our business model is also made of several revenue streams, so we are not dependent on build, build, build.

And when we say our house cost $100,000ish, that *is* our end cost. For us, the consumer. I am not going to build and flip, exponentially increasing the price for the second buyer. So you can transparently see the cost *to the consumer* for an energy efficient, off grid, zero energy 1,200 square foot prefab house, because that's what it costs to build a house of that size in our area.

And finally? Many, many people don't have access to contractors who have an appreciation for passive solar or energy efficiency. By purchasing our prefab house kits, you ensure 1. the custom architect (that they might not be able to otherwise afford) can send their aesthetic vision and passive solar design out to areas they would not otherwise reach and 2. the efficiency power is put in the hands of the consumer, not a developer saying "you can choose X, Y, or Z, and that's all we offer."  YOU decide on the sink, YOU decide on the systems, you even get to pick the door handles, honeys.

We plan on passing on our own off grid, zero energy prefab house kit and homestead on to our family, for many generations. The average developer-builder only lives in their model home long enough to resell it... is that green?

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At 5/19/11, 10:27 AM , Blogger Carlos said...

My concerns with a new home are these:
1. The new home uses new land and materials
2. Most often they have to be built where land is available(far suburbs). Thus, increasing the dependence on the car.

These issues concerns me. Thnks cope and for your blog

At 5/19/11, 12:38 PM , Blogger Passive Solar Prefab Homes said...

Carlos, I completely agree on the point where land is available and suburbanization is something I abhor.

It's a hard solution.
Fortunately where we are there is no desire for suburbanization but room for homesteading, preserving the lots that are being broken up from 100-500 acres into 50ish acres. Not what I want to support (I would love to keep each parcel intact but that is not the seller's reality), I would have loved to keep together *our* original farm lot but could only afford to purchase one of the two lots. But at least we're maintaining and preserving it.

I'm also a huge building reuse / preservationist. But when I look at the cost to prop up a drafty, built with cheap materials, not-insulated-because-they-didn't-have good-insulation-in-those-times home (and there's lots of 'em in Virginia!), it is not financially a best choice (for me).

And by having the prefab house kit allow so many line items, we were able to use local, recycled materials in many, many places - basketball court on the walls, an antique wood cookstove, and much, much more! Plus we hired local craftspeople, like I said, leaving green building knowledge in new hands.

At 5/21/11, 3:08 AM , Blogger Spatial Architect said...

Copeland, I believe the debate will focus on the differences between prefab houses and prefab kits (or a hybrid model as Chad Ludeman refers to it). The debate stems from an article that Chad made on Jetson Green a couple of years ago questioning the "advantages" of green prefab homes.

While I do not remember all of the points made by Chad, some of them were cost (check out the price for the Breeze House for instance), the additional structural material needed for transportation of the structure, and shifting during transportation creating cracks that allow air infiltration. His solution was a hybrid of prefab and site-built homes; essentially what you have already done... creating an SIP kit that can be delivered on a single truck and finished on-site.

My wife and I eventually plan / dream on building a house outside of the city limits (where we can have chickens); we are thinking the R1 Residential, but we will have to build our own garage. An unfortunate side-effect of Michigan winters is that 4-wheel drive is sometimes needed. So obviously I side with Chad and Copeland that the hybrid / prefab kit route is the way to go.

At 5/21/11, 9:41 PM , Blogger Passive Solar Prefab Homes said...

Thanks Spatial Architect for your comments, I am on the land in my own (still under construction as we do pay-as-you-go) prefab hybrid, and because we're excavating (buried the rainwater collection cistern this week!) the solar is disconnected which means I'm typing via my power from my tractor battery again! So can respond more when I get more power. : )

Keep pushing for the chickens. As an architect, you have a great opportunity to walk in professionally to your BOS and sway them. They now believe in LEED, show them that the buzzword "sustainability" goes beyond LEED and includes other higher standards, including... passiv, breeam, and... CHICKUNZ.
; )


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