Saturday, November 1, 2008

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.

1 comment:

  1. The i-house models, floor plans, and pricing will be released at the Berkshire Hathaway shareholder's meeting on May 9th.


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