Sunday, November 23, 2008

Interview with a guy who toured the i-house at the Knoxville show

GREENOTTER: Since architecture is one of those things you
have to experience, walk through and feel -- and I haven’t seen the i-house -- "Atomic" has been kind enough to consent to answer some questions. He toured the Clayton i-house at Clayton's show in Knoxville earlier this month, November, 2008.

Here’s a copy of the link below, to some photos he took, where we can finally get a better look at the red cube 2nd bedroom/flex structure:

GREENOTTER: As someone who likes to build things myself, although they don't always turn out like I anticipated, I like to look at manufactured homes and even RVs, to get ideas of how they do layout, and what works in a space, especially smaller spaces.

Did you go to the show to see the i-house specifically or just to see
the show in general?

ATOMIC: I heard a radio commercial about the show and the iHouse, which is the only reason I knew it was going on. I've been interested in building my own house and, currently paying a $200-$300 electric bill, am planning on building something energy efficient, possibly off grid if I can make it happen.

GREENOTTER: What were your first thoughts on the outside appearance of the i-house?

ATOMIC: I liked it. I like modernistic structures, but I'm also into Roman and Victorian structures, 60's tv and radios, "mad scientist" labs, and Steampunk. Tastes may vary. ;)

The Cement board siding is a good idea however the metal bars between them looks a bit tacky and having to repaint the red section would be a bother in highly sunny areas. I've seen many houses in corrugated steel; if you can get the steel in colors it'd be a nice alternative. As is, the unit looks like a single wide trailer and I was informed by one person it would be labeled as one, then by another who said they would be working to prevent it from being classified as one.

GREENOTTER: Yes, one of the newspaper articles mentioned something about them working on zoning issues, and I thought it was probably the singlewide/doublewide problem. I live in an area now, where everyone has two acres or more, and the zoning allows doublewide manufactured homes, but no single section homes.

What did you think of the separate second bedroom upon first seeing it. Did you know what it was?

ATOMIC: I like it, but more as an office space then as a bedroom. As you mentioned in your blog, people won't want to have their kids in a separate structure at night and anyone going to and from will have to endure the weather, including being rained upon since it's not a covered entrance.

GREENOTTER: When you went in the house, how did the living/kitchen area feel as a space, especially with the ceiling sloping longitudinally (it looks like it might do that from the roof line), and gradually, from the kitchen to the end of the living room. That right there strikes me as something very different and I don't know how it would feel. Was it strange or cool, you know, was it a room you step into and think "this feels really nice," or the kind that is more "this would take some getting used to"?

ATOMIC: I didn't notice the slope of the ceiling from the inside; I believe its level. If it’s not level, then the angle wasn't noticeable.)

On a comment you made about the washer/dryer combo in the kitchen: it has a set of doors in front of it that close, hiding it from view and dampening the sound.

I like the setup they have in it, what I felt was a mix of modern and Japanese culture. That being said, most people will be putting big bad faux wood cabinets in it (the "American standard" they already own) , which won't make the space as appealing.

GREENOTTER: How about the windows? Did it seem like too many windows for that size space?

ATOMIC: Actually, I felt it had a distinct *lack* of windows.

With the way the building is setup all the windows would be facing the owners front yard. Let’s face it, we don't always put a building’s front side facing South for the best solar gain in winter, but instead houses usually face the street. Personally I want to see my back yard more then I do the road: if they reversed the plans and had all the large windows facing the back of the house and small, long "slot" windows above 6' facing the front I think it would make it more enjoyable.

GREENOTTER: I don’t know if manufactured home builders sometimes do reverse plans. Regular home plans sometimes come that way.

You mentioned that there was a serious lack of closet
space and they were using at least one free standing closet. My
thought with that may be that given the smaller size, they wanted to
show the prototype as being spacious, but that a regular closet might
be an option, at least for the master bedroom.

ATOMIC: If you look at your posted picture of the bedroom the tall doors to the left and right of the bed are the "closets." I believe you are correct in that they wanted it to look spacious, but I was hearing several women talking about the lack of closets, which echoed my opinion.

GREENOTTER: What were the bathrooms like? Sleek and modern, or more like the ones in their other homes?

ATOMIC: The bathrooms were nice, but they could do away with the door to the master bedroom in the bathroom in the main unit. With a place this small the extra door isn't necessary AND getting rid of it would add valuable "wall space" in the master.

GREENOTTER: Between the wall thickness in the photo, the bamboo
floors, and the Andersen windows, did the interior have a feeling of
higher quality from other homes in the show?

ATOMIC: The bamboo floors were noticeable to me since I've researched them, but I'd think the average person will just think "hardwood floors", however that’s not a bad thing. The only thing I really noticed with the walls is that the windows have wood beams across their intersections, which makes a nice architectural feature that is enhanced by the thickness of the wall. the things that make the inside interesting is the decor they put in and the table surface above the kitchen sink which is a metallic laminate.

GREENOTTER: Thanks for mentioning that you asked one of the designers, that the price would be about ($130,000). Do you know if that is the base price or would that come with solar panels?

ATOMIC: Sadly I was informed this is the base price, that the solar panels are optional.

GREENOTTER: Before your photo, I'd never seen a photo of the fa├žade of the 2nd bedroom structure. Was it good looking? And how about the interior of that? Nice layout?

ATOMIC: It was kept basic and minimal, though there was a decent rack setup on the inside right. not much could be said about it though, since it's kept as an open space except for the bathroom. I uploaded a few pictures I took of it:

GREENOTTER: Yes! The money shot I’ve been wanting to see, the front of the cube “flex” room. And I like it. If that cube were made as a slightly bigger house, I’d point that big sliding door to the South and have great solar gain.

Did they let you climb to the roof deck? From your photo, I can tell they let some people up there.

ATOMIC: Yes, and this is one feature I LOVE about it. I have two acres of land on top of a mountain and I've been trying to plan out how to do just that exact thing, which would allow me a much better view of the surrounding mountains and sky. Not only that, but it lets you use what would normally be wasted space, increasing your "yard" size. (and as a not so random thought, you could close it in, seal up the drains under the deck, and have yet another enclosed space to live in!)

GREENOTTER: Do you think the deck structure linking the two parts of the house comes with it, and that there were things under it like an electrical conduit and/or water pipes?

ATOMIC: If not, it should be, if for anything but the fact they're advertising it with it. That is a question I did not ask, but it should be. The electric box is on the back side of the red cube and the water and electric lines do run under the deck.

GREENOTTER: So, the house is set up for solar, "solar-ready," and they probably will offer off-grid and grid-tie options.

ATOMIC: Yes, the off-grid setup of having the panels charge batteries is something you would have to pay extra for. Same with collecting the rain from the roof for reuse in the toilet and garden (Though they weren't sure if that was going to be done or just go to a rain barrel.)

I asked one associate and was told the electric bill wound be around $65 a month. Another said around $35, which I'm guessing this price would be with the solar panels installed.

GREENOTTER: Finally, did you notice other people's reaction? What did they make of the house. Were they curious….anyone laughing, scoffing, or marveling at it, that kind of thing.

ATOMIC: Most people were impressed by it and liked the way it looks on the inside, curious and unsure about the outside appearance, loved the rooftop deck, and loved the idea of the low power consumption, but many agreed it's small, needs a closet, and didn't like being exposed to the elements when going to the second bedroom.

GREENOTTER: Did you see any other homes in the show that you'd think would be a better way to spend $130,000, if you had it to spend that day?

ATOMIC: Yes, I did in fact see one, and it was around $55k. A double wide that was under or around 1k sq ft. It didn't have that "trailer" feel to it that most single or double wides have and could pass as a true home in appearance. Not only that but many places are putting restrictions on land that prevents single wides from being brought in, and despite its small size this would allow it to bypass that restriction. With this price you could cover the roof in solar panels for less then the price difference!

GREENOTTER: Yup, that’s exactly my feeling about the Karsten (now owned by Clayton) RC-2 with dormer option, but it might jack up the price putting in Andersen windows instead of the standard fare.

Thank you for your answers. I appreciate it, and if there is anyone else out there who saw the house, or would like me to post your photos or a link to them, please leave a comment, or contact me at zorastro(at)gmail(dot)com.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Will modernism kill Clayton's i-house

HERE are some nice modernist green designs, finalists in a competition for designers come up with a $100,000 green house. They are designed for coastal flood areas, and there's no telling what the houses will cost by the time more than a few get built.

One may wonder, why I am blogging the Clayton i-house specifically. Again, while dozens of designs may come from competitions and private architects, few of these individuals or companies have the resources of a company like Clayton to mass produce and market it. Mass production not only helps keep a price low, it can also help a home become popular and available in more areas.

Affordability of Ford's Model T or the Volkswagen are what contributed to making them successful. If a home works well -- is energy efficient -- and is good quality, buyers will also warm to buying an affordable mass produced home.

The question is, will modernism kill a new house's mass popularity, even if it is all those things.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Suggestions to Clayton about the design of a green manufactured home

1. Keep it simple and affordable.

A house with bamboo flooring, tankless water heaters etc. is obviously going to cost more than baseline homes with no upgrades, but keep the price close to average. Save the buyer money and energy by cutting down on square feet. Remember, the Prius debuted at around $20,000, which is low/mid-priced.

I think the Cavco "Freedom" solar park model is a good example of simple, good green design, and it is reasonably affordable relative to other park models (400 sq. ft.), but from an energy standpoint (as well as solid construction) R-11 insulation and 2 x 4 walls are disappointing. It would have been nice to see SIPS walls with R-20 or more.

A “green” double-wide around a thousand square feet would be fine. It can be done with making the master bedroom small and the 2nd bedroom even smaller. A home of 700 to 1000 feet would gain a market for small families, retirees, single people, and vacation home buyers.

As a country, we have become a nation encouraged to shop and want more than we can afford. In homes, including manufactured homes, the idea that bigger is always better, is part of the problem. Smaller is going to be back, and energy efficient is going to be "in" for several years ahead. The new home market is faltering at this point. People can buy foreclosures at bargain prices. However, I expect that well designed manufactured homes will have a market in the new homes market, especially for the approaching bulge in baby boomer retirees.

An example of a nifty interior floor plan and an attractive exterior in a smaller doublewide, is the 864 sq. Karsten RC-2, with the dormer option. It is their smallest model. Without the dormers, the interior loses its character (light, aesthetic appeal) and feeling of spaciousness. I've toured one, both ways, with and without dormers. On the web, there isn’t a photo or even a drawing of the exterior of the home. Instead the Karsten website shows a drawing of a generic home when you do the “brochure.” I took many photos of this charming house a few years ago, but lost them when my hard disk got fried in a lightning storm.

One reason I like this particular home, the RC-2, from the standpoint of heat conservation, is the lack of registers and heating ducts. The home is designed to have the central heater, with passive circulation throughout the house. No ducts losing energy, or getting dirty. No sound of fans blowing through ducts. It is both the design and the small size of the home that allows this. It probably never sold well for the lack of a 2nd bathroom. Karsten is now owned by Clayton.

2. How about a model of manufactured home with R-30 to R-50 walls, that are a foot or more thick. The higher thickness would be best suited to areas with winter climates with temps below freezing.

Insulation is the most cost effective way of improving efficiency, and thicker walls, usually necessary to fit in more insulation, give a home a feeling of permanence and quality. For the thicker walls and frame structure, engineered woods, SIPS, or a sandwich of blown-in insulation between two sheets of oriented strand board, such as in Dr. Feist's "passivhaus" See article in THE NEW YORK TIMES.

Feist's passive houses, have R-60 walls, and are heated in the winter by appliances and human occupants, or supplemental heating by a very small heater. They use less than one tenth the energy of an average home of the same size. In the last decade thousands of these passive homes have been built in Europe, and architects like Karin Klingenberg carry on his work in the U.S.

3. Forget water catchment for a while.

While water catchment might be good for some remote locations, people who want it can get put on rain gutters and do it themselves if they need it. Instead, center the design around passive and active solar. So, a roof (shed, gable, or split gable with clerestory windows), oriented from 40 to 60 degrees. Use the same heavy gauge metal as is on the i-house. And silver is a good color.

Passive solar design should include one or two double-door sized windows on the South side, including one in the bedroom on the south side smaller windows on East and West and just a few small windows on the North side.

There’s a problem using a shed roof, for solar panels, in that if you want passive solar orientation, the high wall ends up on the north side. That can be avoided by using a flat ceiling inside. If using a flat ceiling, make it 9 feet high.

4. On option of slotted rolling shades, for the large windows on the south of the house. Insulated shades with a reflective or white exterior (for summer).

5. Use a conventional door for main entry into the house, instead of a sliding door.

6. Stick with the Andersen windows, bamboo flooring, Ikea cabinets, tankless water. All those features are well worth the extra money.
One thing I see that might be right about a flatter roof depends on how many homes are sold to parks, where people don’t have an option of facing the home and its roof for optimal southern exposure.

One other thing I'd like to see a manufactured home company do: A garage with apartment above unit, with the apartment about four hundred to 550 square feet. Again, it would have multiple uses: garage and guest house, vacation home, mother-in-law home, extra rental income, or home for a single person.

Lastly, as via my suggestion in an earlier post. If the design for the i-home ends up undergoing drastic alterations, or being scrapped, consider expanding the 2nd bedroom into a tiny home. I think on its own, or maybe something a little larger, it would make a nice cottage. I would like to see a photo of it head on, and also the inside.

While I saw a Prius at a local dealer when it first came out, and then some driving around, it is very hard for people in some states to see a new model home. Dealers carry only a few models. In New Mexico, I've never seen a "park model" anywhere, although I know they must be somewhere. A few dealers have one model on display. In Phoenix they are all over. How many people can go to a show?

So, please take some videos, or at least comprehensive photos, of all your homes, no matter how fancy or humble. I watch amateur videos that some RV dealers do on youtube or their sites. Even though they don't bother with extra lighting, and they are usually bad quality, I like seeing the tour. Dealers of manufactured homes don't seem to be doing many videos like that. I'd like to see a video tour of the i-house. It would prime people's interest in the green direction of manufactured housing.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

The wutizit factor of Clayton's i-house

MIT designed House-of-the-Future had "it," at Disneyland.

Fuller’s Dymaxion house had it.

And the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile has it, and it tastes good.

Clayton's i-house

Although it doesn’t look like a food item, the i-house has it too, a high wutizit factor. It is the type of structure that might cause a passerby to say:

“What is it?”

“Some kind of single-wide right near a utility shed or phone company switching shack?”

When people are looking for a house, they don’t usually want a high wutizit factor, even if the three top priorities of “location, location, location” are perfect. If you see people pointing at your house, you want it to be because it is handsome or cute, not because they are trying to figure out what it is.

Marianne Cusato’s tiniest “Katrina Cottage,” at 300 sq. ft., is both handsome and cute:

Following the tradition of a vernacular -- in this case the shotgun style of Louisiana and Florida -- and if the proportions and quality of the house are done well, then a general acceptance will follow, right?

EXCEPT, there are issues of size and zoning, which has been a big stumbling block for the Katrina Cottage since its introduction in 2005.

People not living in them, apparently feel good about the toxic FEMA trailers are disposable, and will be gone some day, to a landfill, but the residents of of some neighborhoods in New Orleans, shudder at the prospect of communities of attractive small cottages, less than a thousand sq. ft., that could stick around.

Cusato’s designs use a vernacular in a way that makes it sing. They have proportion and style. Log siding on a double wide manufactured home is successful at evoking the charm of a log cabin, on some manufactured homes, but on others it just looks like lipstick on a hockey mom. Cement plank costs less, and it doesn’t rot and termites won’t eat it.

Modernism doesn’t have as much of a reference point. It is not following an existing style, even a fake-look tradition, like log siding is supposed to look like a log cabin. It isn’t easy to make a house look good when creating something brand new. “Keep it simple” would be a good plan to follow for a manufacturer to keep costs down.

Wealthy people can afford to buy new modern style houses, no matter how unusual the design, because they don’t have much of their net worth tied up in a house. Middle and lower class people have to worry about resale value. After working thirty years to pay off a mortgage, most want their house to be worth as much as possible.

Few people make outside appearance their top priority when buying a house. With all the ugly houses around, that is obvious. However, most people veer toward traditional, even if it is referencing a style that ends up not being all that successful.

I know what it is like living in a house that attracts attention for being odd. Years ago, I bought this funny looking 1930's owner-built cottage in a picturesque mountain town in Colorado:

You can laugh if you want. I did the first time I saw it. It is hard to tell from the photo, but the window on the 2nd story is somewhat to the left of center from the picture window in the story below. It has two entrances in the front, with two stair cases. The one on the right is curved. People used to ask me if it were a duplex. The condensed vertical proportions of the house make it look different too. The hipped roof is different too. I thought I’d get used to the way it looked, but I didn’t. When my brother saw it, he dubbed it the “Hobbit House.” It is set back in the cliff and looks bad on all sides.

Inside, the house was cozy, sunny and practical. The first floor ceiling was too low, another thing I never got used to. A side wall with big windows overlooks a neighbor’s terraced flower gardens. Fortunately, the house is elevated about six feet higher than street level, and the street in front was steep. People didn’t look at my house when driving by. It wasn’t in a high traffic area anyway. People on foot would stare at it though, the few who might take a stroll in the neighborhood.

That town was full of quirky little houses, and some of them were cute and interesting. Mine was just odd. Not one person ever called it cute upon seeing the outside.

My priority in buying the house was location, and the location in that town was expensive. The price I paid was a steal for the property alone. It tripled in value in six years. For the same price, I could have had a nearly new townhouse in a neighboring town that was boring, and noisy when people went to work in the morning. From this house, I could run a few blocks and be up in trails in the mountains, walk downtown along a pretty creek, and even go in caves.

So, I bought into a funny looking house, for the property value and location. For initial buyers of the i-house, they have to take a chance on the way it looks. No property comes with the i-house.

Why didn’t Clayton go for a simpler double-wide design?

Introduced this summer, here’s a photo of the Cavco solar “Freedom” park model, which can be used off grid.

Most “park models” are 400 sq. ft., and look similar. They have regular peaked roofs, sometimes with added gables. They are classified as an RV. Snowbirds live in them in Arizona and Florida. I’m showing this, because it is a fine design.

Although its construction -- with 2 x 4 sidewalls and R11 insulation -- is not nearly as good as the i-home, it is a nice looking style. They went with a simple shed roof (for the solar panels) and clean lines. Inside, they use Ikea cabinets and bamboo floors, just like the i-house. The solar park model is on the market now, starting at about $45,000, and according to one article, a company person says they are “flying out the door.”

I wish they’d fly out the door with better insulation, but the size and the way their manufacturing facility is tooled, probably puts a restriction on that.

The feeling of solidity in a house has a lot to do with wall thickness. Seeing a thick inside perimeter of a window, for example, reminds you that you are in a house, not an RV.

Except if offered as an upgrade, nearly all single-wide trailers use 2 x 4s in the sidewalls instead of 2 x 6’s. It appears the I-house uses 2 x 6’s, at least.

Clayton has alluded to the fact they’ve spent a lot of money making this i-home. I don’t understand why they didn’t put more effort into its appearance.

I like modernism. But will the i-house look good or fit in anywhere?

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A tale of two parts: Clayton’s revolutionary green i-house

When I first read the article in the Knoxville newspaper (find link in my first post of this blog), announcing the debut of Clayton’s first green manufactured home at their home show, perhaps the most striking thing about it, is not the butterfly roof for rain catchment, or its ability to accept solar panels, but that it comes with a 2nd bedroom and bath which is detached from the main home. The orange structure with stairs on the side is the second bedroom/bath. In effect, it is like a guest house, or it could be used that way.

My mind started spinning with the advantages and possible disadvantages of that feature alone. After thinking about it for a while, I concluded that the advantages would outweigh the disadvantages for me, and probably for many other people too. In fact, it would be great.


When it comes to guests, I know how practical it is to have a home with a split bedroom design, and a 2nd bathroom of course. A few years ago, I lived in a newer home -- a custom stick-built adobe imitation -- before my stocks went south and I downsized. The home was only 1400 sq. feet, but had two bedrooms, each with bath, and each bedroom was on the opposite side of the house, diagonally. That was a better design than having to put guests in the room next door, or even across a hall. It gives everyone more privacy.

Better yet, would be having a home like the Clayton i-house, where you could put guests in their own separate guest house.

It would also make sense for people with older children, or an elderly parent, to give them their own space. A separate guest house is usually a luxury item that only wealthy people can afford.


Anyone with smaller children, or an elder they need to keep a close eye on, putting them in a separate structure might make them feel a little isolated, or difficult to monitor. However, in this age of technology, an audio or video monitor might be an option. Also, some people have homes large enough, that even having a split bedroom plan, especially one upstairs and one down, makes bedrooms farther away from each other than this separate house.

During the winter, someone sleeping in the second bedroom, would need to go outside when they wanted to come over for breakfast or enter the main house for any reason. If they were in the main house, and needed something from the 2nd bedroom, they would have to step outside. Doing that would allow heat to escape.

However, would the difficulty of going outside be that much worse than going up and down a flight of stairs in a two story house. It would probably be easier.

One other disadvantage of the two part structure, is that more walls to the outside decrease energy efficiency. Along with that, more wall per enclosed square feet, takes more material to make.


Design the 2nd bedroom so that it comes in two models. One as it is now, a 2nd bedroom and bath. Offer another floor plan as a small one-room cabin with kitchenette, that could be purchased separately from what is now the main part of the house.

In that way, Clayton could sell the small unit as a vacation cabin, or as a guest house. With the tiny house movement heating up, and people vacationing and even living in homes that are 100 sq. feet and less, this, at about 200 sq. ft., would be fine.

With regard to design, the orange/red 2nd bedroom structure is especially attractive. I like the proportions, the stairs, the roof deck, and the size. Not only does it in no way look like a trailer, it looks better to me than pretty much all the prefab cottages, cubes and homes that were shown at the Museum of Modern Art this summer.

Used as a summer cabin, the roof deck would be handy for enjoying a view, eating outside, or pitching a tent to use as a extra sleeping room in warmer weather.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Some photos of the Clayton i-house

Since this old blog post of mine is referenced high in Google's search results, I'd like to remind readers I've made dozens of other posts about the i-house since 2008 which can be found in the BLOG ARCHIVE index on the right of this page.

Link to my July 2009 video of i-house model (2-bedrm core+flex)in Albuquerque.

Link to better resolution photos, I took, on Flickr.

Clayton has a separate site just for the i-house. You can find it by Googling:

Clayton i house

(Their official site should be in the top five or so.)

At first look, what is right and wrong about the i-house

What is right:

1. The Ikea furniture/cabinets look great. They look better in this i-house than in the Boklok prefab homes Ikea builds in Europe.
2. The wall thickness (as you can see in a photo of the window on the inside) and Andersen windows look very good, high quality.
3. Bamboo floors are beautiful, and sustainable.
4. Window placement in the living room looks good. Houses should have a sunny side, for solar gain on the south side, and one with very few windows for the north side. This house has that.
5. The size of the home is fine, 1000 to 1200 sq. ft, although would like to see a model in the 600 to 750 range.
6. The interior of the home looks good. (Haven’t seen the bathrooms or 2nd bedroom interior yet, however.)
7. Like the a washer/dryer (and it is efficient keeping it on the kitchen plumbing), but think that probably should come with a cover of some sort, and perhaps it does but is not being shown in the photo.
8. I like the materials of the roof, and the walls, inside and out. (Shingled roofs blow off in the wind.)
9. Point-of-use hot water, great. My brother's house is a two story with hot water heater tank located on the first floor. It takes ten seconds to get hot water, and here, that is not only a waste of water, it also is a waste of energy, as it is in all tank heaters.
10. I like that the architects went modernist, instead of trying to make it look like a regular manufactured home.
11. Hurray for Clayton going forward on this, because if they can produce something that works well etc., Clayton, being a huge company, owned by Warren Buffet, and as of yet not falling apart due to the loan crisis. Read about how they did that HERE, from FORTUNE magazine. Clayton has the clout -- like no small company has -- to get the public's attention, and advertise and distribute them. I expect we will hear more about this home in major media, when Clayton settles on a final design, and sets a price.

What is wrong:

1. The first time I saw photos of this house, I thought the main unit looked like a single-wide home where a smurf meteor may have impacted the middle. I like most modernism (e.g., Romero's prefab LV house, or Kaufmann's GLIDEHOUSE), but this, again, resembles a single-wide manufactured home. Unfortunately, any structure approaching the dimensions of a single-wide home, even if it has stone walls and a tile roof, is going to have the problem of looking like a single-wide.

However, the more I look at it, the more I like it. Most modernism takes a period of adjustment. Wally Byam designed the Airstream trailer to be aerodynamic for maximum ease of towing. Form follows function, a principal of modernism. There is a beauty in that, even if at first, it takes some getting used to. Everything about the i-home is probably about function, along with manufacturing/engineering/cost considerations.

If I had the money, and it turns out this house works well, is well built, is durable, smacks of quality upon close examination,and is as beautiful inside as I think it probably is, I would buy it. Yes, it may look a little like a single-wide, but IT ISN'T BUILT LIKE ANY SINGLE-WIDE, and that is all that really matters, to me at least.

2. The problem is enhanced by the gently sloped butterfly roof for water catchment, which looks peculiar from an aesthetic perspective. The provision for water catchment is ruling the design. Since there are other designs (shed roof, traditional gable roof, split shed clerestory design) that can be used for water catchment, I don't see the particular advantage in this design. The butterfly design has been used before this, recently, on a smaller house by PowerHouse.

Here's a video tour of a smaller house with an even more extreme butterfly roof for water catchment, the Powerpod, by PowerHouse. Clayton may have gotten the idea from this house. It should be noted this company makes the same house with two other roof designs, both which look a lot better.

According to the article about the i-house, the catchment is not yet configured for drinking water or in-home use. So, only for watering garden, lawn, trees. I've had a drink of filtered roof water, from an earthship in Taos, NM. It was terrible. Granted, a metal roof might be better for water catchment, but still, water used for drinking, has to be filtered from dust, leaves, bird doo, or anything that lands on the roof. Say something blocks the drain area temporarily, any standing water, even for a short time, attracts insects, bacteria or algae, and that gets in the water filter.

In this design by Clayton, the roof slope is so minimal, in a climate where there is any snow, the snow, ice and slush is going to get stuck around the solar panels and sit there.

To minimize the single-wide look, and maximize efficiency of solar panels (assuming they aren't adjustable), why not a "dual pitch" roof, with the solar panels on the long side, inclined at the optimal solar angle of 40 to 60 degrees?

Ideally, for solar passive solar gain in the winter, the side with the most windows should be south-facing, yet during the summer if that side has a good overhang of two feet or more, it offers protection from the sun in the summer. To meet highway transport requirements, I believe a section of a home can't exceed the 16 foot limit which is why so many manufactured homes have the conspicuous feature that makes them look different from a conventional house: hardly any eaves or overhang.

3. On the main unit, even if two materials for the side are used, make them the same color, like the architectural drawing. I think all metal would look better. The squares in the cement board, and the different materials make it look busy, detracting from the nice wedge shape of the two halves. Then again, this could be just indoor lighting. The closeup of the entrance looks fine.

Here is the photo which makes it look two-toned:

4. The overhang is over an entrance, which is good, but it would be better for sun protection in the summer, if there were more of an overhang on the south facing side too, the side with the most windows.
5. The separate 2nd bedroom appears to have a good simple modern design, but it also doesn’t fit with the design of the main unit. Again, maybe not trying to make them "match" is a good idea, since their designs are different.
6. The solar panels appear to lie flat, and that is not at all optimal for winter sun. (Ignore this, if the inclination is adjustable.)

Instead of being like a Prius, this home’s appearance is probably closer to the unorthodoxy of the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile. Well, not quite that, but still, it is VERY different. However, look at Falling Water by Wright, it doesn't look like other houses either. This i-house probably works better in terms of efficiency and function than much of the modernistic architecture by famous architects before the last few decades. A lot of Wright's roofs leaked. Fuller's geodesic domes come with their own set of problems, such as moisture retention in the ceiling, and the labor involved in doing drywall over odd shapes, to name two of the big ones.In other words, not everything that is so great to behold, functions perfectly.

At the Solar Decathlon before last,(2005), some of the zero-energy homes built by students, had roof leaks when it rained hard during the competition. Most of the 800 sq. ft. houses in the competition cost between $500,000 to one million to build, although Cornell projected a post-manufactured cost of about $130,000 in 2005.

Michael Berk of Mississippi State designed the award-winning GreenMobile. Unfortunately, a prototype is yet to be constructed, however EVERYTHING about this design shows great promise, including a potentially rock-bottom low price, for the smallest size. Possible advantage of i-house is that i-house was designed by in-house Clayton architects who understand the the details of manufactured housing.

Please comment with your opinion. What do you think of the way the i-house looks?

Is Clayton's new "i-house" the Prius of homes?

Photo of Clayton's new 2-part green "i-house." The orange structure to the right, with stairs leading to a roof terrace, is part of the i-house too, but a detached bedroom and bath, believe it or not.

I do not work for Clayton. Nor is my blog a guaranteed accurate source of information about Clayton’s i-house. These are just my personal opinions. However, I will try to keep track of all new articles and information about the Clayton i-house and link to the articles. I’m blogging it because I think this is potentially the beginning of a green revolution in manufactured homes, and an important step by Clayton.

Clayton, the largest manufacturer of manufactured homes in the U.S., has taken the bold and exciting step of being the first MAJOR manufacturer to introduce a green, energy efficient manufactured home.

Although I will reference my wider interest in matters green, and domestic architecture, especially that of manufactured homes, this blog is about this house, the Clayton i-house.

Read about the i-house and see photos of it HERE.
(From an article in the Knoxville newspaper in conjunction with the home’s debut at a local home show in late October, 2008)

While various makers of modernist green prefab and manufactured houses have made such homes, some costing in the hundreds of thousands, this is the first green manufactured home of some size that promises to be affordable. My guess is somewhere between one hundred and one hundred fifty thousand.

If you read the article, you will see that Clayton has not priced the home yet, and they suggest this house may be more of a prototype at this point. Although they have the potential to manufacture such a home by the thousands per year, obviously, they want to test market the home, and perhaps modify things significantly before it is mass produced. They want to produce the Prius of green homes, not the Edsel. Unless Clayton is doing this to fulfill a secret government mandate for a "green" something, I can't see how they'd be doing this for fun.

Origin of my personal interest and perspective:

I live in Santa Fe, NM, and am in my 50’s. When I was a kid, I developed a passion for trailers. Maybe it was that my little girlfriend Marcia and I used to play house in their family’s camping trailer, which I thought was very cool.

Growing up in a conventional ranch house, perhaps my sustained interest in trailers, large and small, continued because I never lived in manufactured housing. As a kid, my mother took me to a few manufactured housing shows, held in the parking lot of a mall. I remember liking the interior of one single-wide in particular, while finding the other models tacky or cheap looking.

As an adult, my interest in trailers continued, although not enough to live in one, although there was one I was considering seriously. It was well made, small (about 800 sq. ft.), had dormers, and a great interior. To me, it was by far the best looking home on the Karsten lot, and probably the only one I liked the way it looked inside and out.

Back to when I was younger, and returned from Europe, and was finishing college, my parents retired to a new double-wide on a lake in Florida and I stayed there several times on visits. Compared to the era in which my parent’s home was made (1978), most manufactured homes today have come a long way in quality and durability. Although my parent's double-wide had a nice layout, it had some pretty cheesy looking things about it, like plastic bathroom sinks. The nicest part, was probably the front porch, which was not part of the original trailer.

When I moved to the mountains of Colorado, I lived in an small home built in the 1930’s, and spent years doing major renovations on it. Putting in: insulation, drywall, new windows and floors, all by myself. It aged me. I read books and articles about the efforts of people such as Buckminster Fuller, with Dymaxion House, or others, the Lustron Home, that it would be nice if there were a way for a manufacturer to make a solid, durable, practical, and AFFORDABLE modern home for the masses, that could just be trucked in.

Yes, I'm aware of the controversy some cite about manufactured housing, with regard to green...that it is more sustainable for houses to be built of local sustainable materials. My favorite local architect, Paula Baker Laporte, and her husband/builder do beautiful custom homes with adobe bricks and earth plasters, and even mud floors. The problem is, building with local materials often takes a lot of labor and expense, compared to manufactured housing. They build beautiful, quality houses, at a premium price.

Lower cost manufactured housing is going to happen anyway, with new materials and robots to build them, why not support when it is trying to go green.

At one time I considered building my own house, as in doing most of the work myself, but reading books on house building, I was discouraged at the complexity and expense of it, and axed that idea. For one friend and her husband, building their own home was a nightmare, even though they had a contractor and didn’t do the building themselves. About that time, I started looking more closely at manufactured homes and appreciating the basic engineering that goes into them.

Green Awareness:

When my grandfather would visit on weekends, he'd sometimes catch me leaving the basement while forgetting to turn the lights off. I didn't think much about energy usage then, or where it came from. My awareness of things green began the 8th grade when our science class took a trip to the local coal burning power plant. Seeing the power plant made me realize our power was coming from coal(!), and that a lot of it was going up in the air as pollution. Of course, this was years before people were talking about CO2 or global warming. For me, I thought mostly about miners having to dig for it, and it being burned to drive the giant turbines to generate electricity, with a lot of smoke coming out of the smoke stack at the power plant.

When I started paying bills, I naturally got interested in paying as little as possible, and tried to use energy in a way to accomplish that.

About four years ago, I read an article, that Toll Bros., the largest builder of McMansions in the U.S., at one time offered an upgrade of extra insulation, and not only did practically no one get it, no one even asked about it. Meanwhile, granite counter tops are flying out of the quarry like hotcakes. And of course, in the typical 6000 sq. ft. barn of a house a buyer might also want marble floors in the foyer, dual staircase leading to the second floor, stained glass dome atop a two story foyer, exotic hard woods most people have never heard of. (The more endangered the better?)

Aside from McMansions, the average new house size has nearly doubled in the last 30 years, and I couldn’t get this idea out of my mind. No matter whether rich, middle class or poor, most of the rich and middle class buy large homes, or use energy without thinking of the pollution it causes or the resources it devours.

If it isn’t bad enough that you have wealthy retired couples heating and lighting multiple homes they don’t occupy, that may be up to 10,000 sq. feet, but even the average family is buying a house that is about twice the size they really need, and that of course, means using twice the energy.

What do people care if they pollute twice as much? And the wealthy, of course, want to live in a gated community with similar McMansions, just for safety, same reason as many people give for driving SUVs. They want to be in a vehicle, that if it gets T-boned by another SUV, won’t get crushed. And people want to live in bigger homes, because the better and safer neighborhoods have the bigger homes… Size restrictions in neighborhoods need to change.

While the poor, in general, use less energy, especially in underdeveloped countries, poor people who live in older single-wide trailers or drafty older homes, are spending a lot on energy too. In New Mexico, most poor people cannot afford to live in an energy efficient adobe home, or well built stick-built (frame construction) home, or a modular, which are often better built and more efficient than conventional construction. When a forest fire wiped out the houses on a residential street in the forest right above Los Alamos, NM, the per capita highest-wages-town in the U.S., I noticed many scientists and engineers rebuilt with modular homes. It is much quicker, and they understand how well engineered they are.

There’s little I can do to change the thinking of the rich, or the average home buyer, but a lot I can do to change my own habits. I moved to a home that is less than half the size of my previous home, and energy bills are about one third of what they used to be, even though my other home was considered small, 1400 sq. feet.

The Green Shift

With an overwhelming majority of the world’s scientists agreeing that global warming is real, in combination with high gas prices, and now, a downshift in the economy, a real shift is taking place.

Just a few years ago, many people didn’t even know what green meant, let alone have any interest in if their new home had any green features. Now, home owners are interested.

I’ve been reading about manufactured homes including prefab/modular, kit houses, and green houses and conventional houses of all sorts, log, domes, yurts, for decades. I didn’t think a manufacturer would jump on green as quickly as Clayton has. GM and Ford didn’t care about fuel efficiency, and were fine with waiting to see where Toyota and Honda went with hybrids, because they were doing just fine selling trucks and SUVs. So, maybe Clayton has gotten the smart idea, that while they are doing well now, they want to be like Toyota, on top of the important green trend instead of behind it. No matter what you thought of "trailers" in the past, this step toward green is significant.

I would like to see a revolution in the manufactured housing industry, where they make green manufactured homes that exceed the efficiency, quality and popularity of stick built homes, and use less embodied energy. People would then start thinking of the money/energy they could save, if instead of buying that 2000 square foot house, they instead spend the same for the green features in a 1200 sq. ft. green manufactured house, for the same price and a lot of future savings in both energy and taxes (lower square feet means less tax usually).

Lastly, when I write about "affordable," I don't mean under $400,000 or "less expensive than stick built but better quality." All manufactured homes are less expensive than a comparable-quality stick-built counterpart, although a few of the high-end modular homes may come in about even. By affordable, I mean a smaller home, built to last, under 1200 square feet, that is less than $100,000 for sizes 800 square feet and less, and around $100,000 for up to 1200 square feet.

My next post will be about the what I see, from photos and reading, that is right and wrong about the i-house.