Michelle Kaufmann Studio’s New Line of Net-Zero Prefab Designs #LEED #architecture

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For forty years, architects have predicted prefab would become a major housing option. So far, it’s always sidelined by the flexibility and quality of stick-built. This month, Residential Architect features architect Michelle Kaufmann’s three new net-zero models.

Katy Tomasulo, Deputy Editor for EcoHome, writes in RA:

The Zero Series homes—Vista0, Ridge0, and Contours0—are designed to produce as much energy as they use, along with being healthy, efficient, and comfortable through the integration of efficient design and healthy, durable, and resource-conscious products. At the same time, the units, which range in size from 422 square feet to 2,643 square feet and start at $66,500, fill a need in the industry for more affordable options for architect-designed green homes.

“They make it more accessible to have thoughtful, green homes,” Kaufmann explains, adding that widespread acceptance of green modular housing means they can’t take more time to build, cost more than regular green homes, or be difficult to buy.

After permitting, the units can be built and installed in about four months. Building permit barriers have long been the fly in the ointment because city inspectors want access into wall and ceiling cavities. Once the drywall is installed at the factory, inspections of wiring and plumbing is impossible. Now factory certification programs are accepted in many jurisdictions, paving the way to prefab.

The houses are said to be less expensive than site built and offer some flexibility in configuration, size, and product selections. The basic models meet LEED certification, with upgrades such as solar panels in order to qualify for higher levels.

After seven years in business, Kaufmann’s prior Oakland CA venture fell victim to the recession last year. An established industry frontrunner in green prefab, Michelle Kaufmann Designs is now a subsidiary of Blu Homes, an east coast prefab home manufacturer.

Will prefab ever go mainstream? If so, is that time now? If not, what holds it back?

Comments

  1. Randy Sovich says:

    Very nice. Questions: Houses like this are so often shown in vast landscapes. Are they targeting vast wealthy estates, assuming trickle down to the urbanized masses? How much energy will one use to get to these houses? How will such house group?

  2. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    Randy: you are so right, the wide open landscape implies a wealthier client. Or maybe the enlightened farmer? hm.. no signs of food production. And so, how green is living in an exurb? Is it by definition energy intense?It could be environmentally balanced if the people do not commute to work, yes? and perhaps we have to say school too? and there is a theory that we need a rural population for social balance (a key downfall of Rome according to Jared Diamond, loss of rural and middle classes). At some point we will get a system for assessing the environmental costs of various living situations as well as the building. We are really dealing with just half of the formula when we certify buildings without qualifying site inefficiencies, I agree completely, Randy. Kaufmann’s options include one urban type: http://www.mkd-arc.com/homes. thanks for your comments, Cindy

  3. Randy Sovich says:

    I think the idea of aiming for NetZero is admirable, however, the whole lifestyle must be considered. If I have a house that uses no energy but I drive a 5 mpg Ferrari every time I go out to get an italian ice, then it is green washing. NetZero has to be the whole enchilada. Environmentally sensitive design has to mean small and close. Even in rural locations. Compare European farm villages to American models. In America, the farmhouse in the center of the property at the end of a drive. In Europe and Asia, the houses are grouped along the edges in villages-close. I appreciate the topics you are bringing up. Thanks.

  4. Cindy Frewen Wuellner, phd, faia says:

    Thanks Randy, v glad you find these ideas important. We care about the same issues, dont we? as usual, you pinhole the most vexing problems. Sustainability by definition requires a systems approach, not a piecemeal one, so true. Prefab and net-zero are just two components in a far larger eco-footprint. And then we get to social issues. We are a long way from offering truly sustainable lifestyles for all. Intriguing contrast on the layout of American farms vs Europeans and Asians, excellent point. They surely know how to develop and live resourcefully based on deep cultural lessons. Cindy

  5. Randy Sovich says:

    Yes. I do like the two posts you have here, about small and about NetZero. About the farms, there is something about the American spirit that desires? expects horizontal space. Maybe it won’t easily change.

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