Saturday, November 1, 2008

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?


  1. I would be very disappointed if this was the best my design team could come up with. The separated units are a terrible design. Who wants to walk from one space to the next in cold or wet weather? Also, you'd constantly be locking and unlocking the doors and thinking to yourself; did I lock both doors? Terrible. I'd love to see some really innovative and smart designs for modular housing. This isn't even close. How did this design make it off the drawing board?

  2. I disagree with the notion that going outside to get to another part of the house a bad thing. I think nature contact is important and is missing from many prefab houses. I love the patio and sunroof for the same reason. The average prefab house offers almost zero contact with the outdoors while this house has many more opportunities. The one thing that screams "single-wide" to me is the small windows.

  3. I disagree with the 1st comment. I love the seperated units. The first house is more of a living space, and the 2nd unit is more of an office or guest bedroom space. The walk is minimal so quit bitching. I wouldn't worry about locking doors unless I was leaving my property (and I dont have OCD, also it's not like a lock will stop anyone from entering your house anyway). I can't wait to tour one in real life. I would totally buy one.

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  5. When I first discovered the i house while browsing on the internet, I thought it was a great concept. I visited the model in my area and was a little disappointed. The welding on the metal railings looked like it was done by a rookie. There were alignment issues throughout the house and on some of the exterior trim. I agree that the roof needs to be redesigned. An arched roof would have been nicer. All in all this is a wonderful addition to the world of modernist modular homes at an affordable price. Keep tweaking so I can buy one for retirement.

  6. I'm very interested in the ihouse and have been speaking with local representatives to schedule a tour and get more information. One concern I have, since this will be my first home purchase, is its resell value. Since the ihouse will be available brand new from Clayton Homes in the future, won't the value of my home depreciate as it ages? Also, we must assume that they will continue to improve the design and thus my model will become outdated. And any remodeling/additions that I add over time will all be available for the same price (or cheaper) from the manufacturer, so it seems that my home equity will not build in this house the same as it would with a standard house.

  7. Hi Grace, yes, the value of a manufactured home will depreciate more than a stick-built house, and if you are looking for investment value as a primary aspect to home ownership, if you can afford stick-built, and more traditional looking too, that would be the way to maximize investment value. One day there will be a small manufactured home, that is so energy efficient and attractive to many people, that it will be a good investment. It isn't here yet.


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