Sustainable Prefab Housing

I had the distinct pleasure of attending a course on sustainable prefab housing last week at Yestermorrow. The course was taught by architects John Connell (who founded Yestermorrow) and Giocondo Susini. One couldn't ask for a more thoughtful, kind, knowledgeable and entertaining pair of teachers. John Connell is massively connected into the architectural and building community in the Mad River Valley and surrounding environs. These connections benefited the class via the field trips and speakers John was able to arrange.

My classmates were a delightful mix of folks hailing from as far away as Austin, Texas and having a wide range of design/build experience. Everyone was in good spirits and we all shared many ideas through the week as our projects developed.

I worked on a possible retirement house design based on modules offered by Huntington Homes, a family-owned company whose factory we visited early in the week. Below are a couple of renderingsof the ranch-style home model I developed that would use four HH modules for the main structure. The garage and screened porch would most likely be stick built on site. Larry Roux, a HH homes sales manager, was kind enough to provide a preliminary quote for the building, which I'm pleased to say was within our price range.

HH is producing a very well constructed module with a 12" thick double 2x4 wall using dense-pack cellulose for insulation. This wall assembly struck me as a good compromise solution to a super-insulated wall, reaching an R-value of around 40.

We also had a great visit to the Connor Homes factory. Connor produces all the components for its higher-end houses and ships them out to the building site as contractors are ready for them. They produce really beautiful versions of the region's tradtional vernacular architecture.

In addition to the field trips we had guest lectures from representatives of structural insulated panel (SIP) maker Vantem and the famous (at least to fans of This Old House) Benson Wood timberframe/prefab company. Both lectures were extremely informative.

The class used SketchUp right from the start for all our design work. Students were required to bring a computer to the class capable of running SketchUp. I applaud Yestermorrow for taking this step, and hope that they apply it to the core class for the Sustainable Design and Building certificate program. There are still some rough edges in the approach Yestermorrow is taking to using SketchUp (more on that in my next post) but it is definitely the right way to go in a world with increasingly powerful digital tools.

If you are considering building a home you could do yourself a big favor by attending a future meeting of this course.