Saturday, July 11, 2009

My i-house review: i-saw, i-conquered, i-photographed

Clayton i-house from Tim Clark on Vimeo.

After pressing on the start arrow, it takes about 6 seconds to load. For a full screen, click on the little four arrows symbol, to the left of the word "Vimeo."

This is a nearly 30 minute version for die-hard fans, or just people who want to see lots of the core 2 model, as fuzzy/shaky as the video is. My little camera takes very clear video, but this is condensed to one sixth of the full size. I may experiment on making it better. And I still haven't found my tripod.

Link to my photos on Flickr. (Click on "SlideShow" near the upper right for easy full page viewing of the whole set.) The photos are taken at the Karsten model home lot near their factory, in Albuquerque, NM on July 10, 2009.


For a long time, it seems like I’ve been thinking about this house, or something vaguely like it. That is, an affordable green manufactured home.

Driving to Albuquerque yesterday, on a hot Friday mid-morning, it appeared before me, in all its corrugated metal and hardieboardiness, looking like a monolith on a large dirt patch to the left of the regular Karsten model lot.

The front isn't visible at first. It faces I-25, so is visible to cars that pass by. It is the 2-bedroom core model, w/1 bedroom flex unit placed at an angle, my favorite placement.

All the railings, including those for the roof deck, lay at the back of the flex unit, but at least the decks were in. No solar panels yet, and only some furniture, and there was still some finish work to do, like heating vents.

However, AJ, the same friendly saleswoman I worked with when I almost bought a Karsten home years ago, assured me they’d have it all fixed up in the following weeks, including grass, solar, and working water catchment. Grass?

Grass is kind of rare in Albuquerque, because of the lack of water. It should be outlawed here, along with golf, but I can see how something is needed to attract people’s attention from the highway; something that says, “come in and see this special new house.” Xeriscaping would be more appropriate, but grass will help to keep the dust down in this dirt patch lot.

Karsten Homes (owned by Clayton), but with their own line of homes too, is next to I-25 in an industrial area, right near their factory, where they produce the i-house. Farther down the road, if you miss the turn from South Broadway onto San Jose as I did -- they used to have a huge sign, now it says Business Park -- there are oil tanks, junk yards and other industry. Industrial ugliness is relative. It is no where near as ugly as Northern NJ, and Albuquerque has beautiful mountains and forests to the East, and many nice neighborhoods in the foothills, down by the Rio Grande, in the middle of the city.

The house was dusty inside, probably from workmen in and out or the windows were left open when the wind and dust kicked up, but that didn’t matter. No workmen were in the house when I was there. My photos aren’t that great, and I ran out of space, but I may take more in a few weeks, when they get the house fully set up.

On Clayton’s site, their video and 360 degree tour are so pretty, it can be a little letdown to find the house right near a noisy highway, and have the temperature soaring above 100 degrees inside. They’ll probably get the air conditioning going after it is cleaned up in a week or two. It is hard to relax and be comfortable, or even think straight when you are inside an oven. If you are going in the next two weeks to see this model in Albuquerque, try to go before 11 in the morning, or call (505) 242 7555, to see if the A/C is working.

I liked the feel of the kitchen/dining/living area the most. The window placement is good. It gives a nice open feel and you can imagine what it would be like with a view.

The living room would look better without the wall-length black storage unit, but I don’t think that comes with the house anyway. So, I’m probably being like some of the people on HOUSE HUNTERS, who when they are looking at houses to buy, complain about the paint colors.

Here’s a link to free online episodes from HGTV. My favorites are: HOUSE HUNTERS, HOUSE HUNTERS INTERNATIONAL, and MY FIRST HOUSE. There's different HOUSE HUNTERS episodes on Hulu, if you get hooked on it.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the i-house. I liked the bamboo floor, the kitchen and bathroom sink fixtures (a lot!), the cabinetry, ceiling fans and lots of space in the walk-in closet laundry area. Of course the one bedroom core, which is probably the one I would buy, doesn't have a walk in closet or separate laundry.

The second bedroom is small and the bottom of the “V” roof hits its low point in the middle of that room's ceiling, which looks peculiar, but no problem. Just a bit of getting used to.

One thing that sticks out immediately, is the cheapness of the outside lights that flank the doors, complete with plastic covers. They aren’t the ones that are used in the model in Tennessee. I forgot to ask if they could be upgraded. I may be going back in a month or so when the grass is in, to take more photos and video. I’ll make a list of questions to ask, which I should have done this time. Again, even this light issue, is relatively minor.

There’s several handy exterior electrical outlets, and they have nice thick plastic covers. The drip edge, over windows, between the two materials, seems to be constructed well.

The rivets or rather bolts with washer in the corrugated metal -- the galvalume -- look substantial. However, the nail heads in the Hardieboard, I don’t know what is going on can see them in my close up photos. I read something about that, and I forgot what it was. I believe it was something about them being necessary for the glue on the other side of the Hardie board to set properly, and that there wouldn't be nail pops over time.

I think I’d prefer all Galvalume on the sides of the house, but I'm not sure that everyone would, so they probably made the right choice. Hardie board is a proven rugged, durable material.

In the main i-house, the rooms have nice proportions, although I think the hallway could be two inches wider. What I like about the house in general, there’s not a lot of wasted space. The room sizes are efficient, honest, comfortable and functional.

By honest, I mean modern without trying to be something they are not. Inside and out, the house isn’t trying to be Monticello, Versailles or the Parthenon. I once saw an older manufactured home that had thick fluted columns flanking the entrance to the kitchen. Reminded me of the Parthenon.

I'd prefer smooth walls and ceilings instead of the orange peel finish on the i-house. Most new homes have orange peel finish though, even some homes done by architects working in the modern style. Orange peel tends to hide minor imperfections better, be easier to repair minor scratches or dents.

The black tile work behind the counters, yet another option, is nice. I like the solid surface counters as well.

The ceiling is too low in the flex room. It is a small room, but still, I think it would look better with a ceiling that is six inches higher. This is probably a concession they made for the sake of the roof deck. Then again, I’m thinking in terms of it being the perfect tiny house for someone. (There are some people, stripping away everything in their lives, and even living in houses half the size of the flex unit.) I'd want a higher ceiling, if I were considering buying the flex room alone, for a tiny house or cottage.

For a guest, or an older child, I’ve come to think the detached flex room would be a dream, and as readers have voted in my poll, perhaps the single best feature of the i-house.

The flex unit needs to have an operable window in the back, for cross ventilation. At present, only fixed windows are at the back. I’m sure they can do that.

The interior doors throughout are low-grade, but adequate, hollow-core, wood painted gray, same as many door frames. There’s an advantage to light weight interior doors. If you bump into them, they move easily, and you don’t get hurt. They are also easier to open and close.

From the videos, I thought they might be metal. I think a lighter color door, instead of dark gray, would look better in the hall especially, where they are all lined up. Beige, or a lighter tone of gray perhaps. I forgot to ask if that is an option. That is a minor thing. If I were buying, I’d just repaint them myself if they couldn't.

Ultimately, I think there is only one way for the i-house to catch on huge. That is, if the people who live in them, or have them as vacation homes, love them, and find they function perfectly for living.

I’ll try to get my video up by the end of next week. I was able to take video of the entire house, inside and out. With the photos, I concentrated on the outside of the house, because the official site doesn't feature the unflattering angles.

I finished the afternoon by looking at the newer Karsten models, ones I hadn't seen before on the model lot the last time I was there a year ago. The model that stood out was an inexpensive single-wide, energy-star rated, that had R-50 insulation in the ceiling, and 2 x 6" construction. It was 1185 sq. ft., 3 bedroom, 2 bath and only $52,550 with a few upgrades. Very plain on the outside, but interior is worth checking out. A home like this might be an option for people who want to go full solar on their roof, have good space, a sturdy home, and keep their budget well below $100,000 total. Or, people who have a limited budget, but need a bigger size, and want a super efficient house.

One model had a grand piano in the living room. Never saw that before. I’ll do a separate post on my impressions of some of them, as it relates to my feelings about the i-house. I'm glad manufactured homes have gone modern, modular and green, with the i-house. The next ten years in this move to modern/green in this industry could be very exciting.


  1. Thanks for sharing the video really helpfull

  2. Are these LEED rated? If so, what is the level?

  3. On the company page for the ihouse, in response to a question from a reader asking if the ihouse meets Silver Leed certification, the architects gave the following response:

    "In regard to LEED certification this home with the correct placement and correct configuration absolutely has the possibility of meeting LEED certification. This is an issue that involves some complexity, for more detailed information please contact our ihouse specialists @ 866-516-1140"

  4. Thanks so much for gathering all this information. You answered my question about the flex room. I would like to buy it or something like to use as my home. Just me and my needs are small. The ceiling height is probably a deal breaker. May be build it from scratch? Thanks again.

  5. owning an I-House with the Flex house I feel helps me justify my opinions. I'm 6'4" tall, when I walk into the Flex unit I get no perception of a low ceiling, maybe it's just from living here 10 months, the familiarity. I’d truly miss having the Flex unit as my guest house. My mother-n-law is here now. She loves to be able to get away from the noise and go into here own little house, close the curtains and have her privacy. we’ve also used it as our entertainment area for parties. we setup the food there and the use that bathroom to keep people out of the main home. the proximity of the main deck with the “C” configuration gives the perception of a much larger space.

    I also have the rooftop deck option. After several get togethers with friends and family, it’s easy to say it's a magnet for guest. everyone ends up on the upper deck, I think it's from our fond memories of childhood, we liked climbing trees and having a treehouse. I often go up to enjoy the sunsets and stars as our location afforded us a great 360 degree open sky.

    There are things I would change if I’d had the opportunity but overall I feel this home has been a blessing. I may have never built as our ideas kept getting in the way of proceeding. this home has allowed us a comfortable and enjoyable home without the agony of actual construction.


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