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.