Tuesday, December 28, 2010

How bamboo flooring is made

THIS FLOORING VIDEO from the DIY (Do-it-Yourself) network's DECONSTURCTION program, shows how bamboo flooring is made. It is a full program comparing different types of flooring, including carpet.

They demonstrate how bamboo flooring is stronger than oak flooring.

to another DIY video, this one all about WINDOWS. After seeing this informative video about windows, click on WATCH ALL 25 DECONSTRUCTION episodes to see what other topics might be of interest. Using this link search service at the top you can also do a search for other cable shows about fixing up or looking for a house, like Sweat Equity, My First Place, House Hunters, or Property Virgins.

Here's another DECONSTRUCTION episode I liked, about granite counter tops. In one test, they show an advantage to solid surface counter tops (the upgrade on the ihouse), since if you drop a glass, it is less likely to shatter than on granite. They cite a statistic I didn't know... in new homes, 48% of counter tops are now granite.

Here's a link to one of my favorite episodes from PROPERTY VIRGINS, a show which takes first time home buyers through the selection and buying process. This particular show is in Toronto (so Canadian dollars) and I like the last house. It shows how comfortable spaces in a smaller home can be, especially in a colder climate. Each episode is similar. First the couple or buyer is taken to their dream neighborhood where the Realtor brings them down to earth about what they can really afford.

Having the how-to-fix shows on the internet is especially handy since even though they are on cable, the HGTV channel, the internet makes it easier to locate and watch something specific to a project you're considering. Plus, I don't have cable!

The home-search shows are educational and entertaining because they show the decisions all people have to make -- ones like location vs. size -- no matter what price level they are looking at. Even people with over a million dollars to spend sometimes have to choose between the one with the best view, and the house with better interior.

HOUSE HUNTERS is staged. They find a couple who has already bought a house, but hasn't moved in, and take them on a mock tour of two others. Still, it is enjoyable to watch as the viewer doesn't know which house they bought. I like the host of PROPERTY VIRGINS, if only for telling people they probably shouldn't take a sledgehammer to a brand new tile counter top, because they want granite, if money is at all a factor.

One show I saw had a kitchen with new white appliances, and the buyer said she'd change them to stainless steel, "to increase the value of the house." That doesn't make sense. The only way stainless steel appliances are going to do that is if she lives there for ten years, and then buys new stainless steel appliances when it comes time to sell the house.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Clayton ihouse 2.0 coming soon

Fill 'er up!

These are the plans (see note in red below) for the new larger ihouse 2.0. I like that they've added more overhang to the roof, but don't think they should have stuck with a butterfly roof design. It's bad enough getting leaves and blown dirt out of gutters but to have a large roof configured in a shape that collects them...

2017 note: The i-house was in production for only a few years, and any plans for a doublewide i-house 2.0 are long dead.) Don't despair! With Warren Buffet's money, Clayton will come out with exciting things, just as they did with this 2015 AMIE 3D-printed carbon fiber prototype house in cooperation with Oak Ridge National Laboratory and others. 

Here's Preston Koerner's take on the plans for the new ihouse, from JETSON GREEN.

I'll have more to add to this post when I look at them more carefully. It certainly doesn't look like it is going to be cheap, but the people clamoring for a larger house should be happy.

Here's the offical ihouse 2.0 plan form, where you can write about all you like and don't like about the house plans. (Frankly, this is what they should have done for the first incarnation! It's a very good idea.)

Thursday, July 8, 2010

First Clayton ihouse in Santa Fe, sort of

Click on photo for large size, and use BACK button to return to blog.

The ihouse and New Mexico skies go well together don't they? And it is only a few blocks from me! I know it well, because I put it there myself, with Gimp. (Free software like Photoshop.)

I might do another post on how this is done, if anyone is interested. Since the ihouse is quite different looking, most people might want to try doing this before buying the house, using a photo of their property.

I used my photo of the model in Albuquerque and then Gimped it in a photo I took of nearby land, in 347 easy steps. Well, to do it roughly would be easy and take only 10 or 15 minutes, but the refinements I did on this one took much longer.

Curious as to what the ihouse would look like in all galvalume?

Here are the two photos I combined:

You can see I even took out the reflection in the core unit's sliding door of a neighboring house, and also took the stickers off the transom windows.

This photo is eight miles outside of Santa Fe city limits, on the plain. Most of Santa Fe is not this void of vegetation, but it is where I live. However, I have views of four mountain ranges from my property, and my house was the least expensive property I could find that was habitable, when I bought it five years ago.

For those of you who want to try it HERE are my instructions of how to do it in Gimp.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Previewing wall paint colors on the Clayton ehome

Previewing wall paint color on a Clayton ehome, using software. from Green Otter on Vimeo.

For full screen, click on the 4-arrow symbol to the left of the word "Vimeo" in the lower right. When it is done playing, press Esc key to return to blog.

Did you ever have a great idea to paint a room or a wall a certain color, and wish you could preview a number of colors before you begin?

Once I felt inspired to paint my bedroom a deep forest green. When I finished, it looked like a nightmare. So I painted it over, with beige.

Using a photo of the ehome, I devised a method to preview a number of colors on the walls. This is the “B” kitchen in the largest ehome. It helps to have a photo of a room that is white or light color. Medium or darker colors wouldn’t work as well as a base photo.

Using Photoshop-like free software called Gimp, plopping down the ehome on a photo of some open land a few blocks from here was easy. Doing the colors for the metamorphosing room was another matter. That took all morning.

This ehome kitchen, didn’t look good in white, but as I discovered, it was just a matter of changing the base color of the island, and then it looks okay. You can see that near the end of the video. However, probably the safest color for this kitchen, is beige. Believe me, in my own house, I’m not always safe…I use metallic colors, day-glow orange, (both of the latter only as trim), French wall, painted doorway arches.

If I had a new house though, I’d probably be safe.

White looks great in some rooms, and I thought it looked good in the ihouse, not so much in the ehome, but in general, I like a warm color on the walls, even if it is very light.

There’s some basic rules about choosing wall colors, that I’ve often ignored, and regretted doing that.

One is that you MUST hold the paint swatch up to the place you are painting, to see the color in that place, before you buy the paint. Beige in the store lighting, or outdoors, can look green, yellow, pink or gray when it gets on the wall.

The other rule is that the color looks much stronger once the wall is painted in it. Select a very light green, even if it looks white, until you hold it next to some white, when you get it on the wall, it will look green.

Which colors would I choose?

Click to make larger.

I'm leaning toward this chocolate mousse for the bar base, and burnt Cambrian umber glazed in a....just joking, I'd probably go with brown and deep orange.

Incidentally, the music playing in the background of the video is Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, for harp and other instruments.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

The Clayton “Evolution,” a separate flex room, without the ihouse cost

Click on photo to enlarge.

Since there probably won't be a whole lot of Clayton ihouse news while sales are so slow (20 units nation-wide), mostly due to the real estate downturn, I’m going to blog about other homes, which share one or more characteristics of the ihouse, but which are lower cost. Clayton is big and owns a bunch of different brands, but please write to me if you see a non-Clayton home at a dealer or on the web, that you think it great, in terms of energy efficiency alone or nice looking and reasonably energy efficient.

A reader drew my attention to this house, which I’d never seen before. It is the Clayton 2009/2010 “Evolution” (37EVL16802AH10), 1280 sq. ft., 16’ x 80’, and they offer a two bedroom model where the second bedroom and bath are separated from the main part of the house by a deck/breezeway.

As long as this is available with 2 x 6” wall construction, 8’ to 9’ flat ceiling or higher-than-usual vaulted ceiling, and upgradeable to R22+/19+/30+ insulation, it looks like it might fit the bill for someone who wants that separate flex room (for guests, older child, other relative) but wants to spend less than $75,000, (my guess, it could be well under that) which is not possible with the ihouse.

Although it doesn’t have the style of the ihouse, along with the ehome, it’s at the top of the few single-wide homes that have attractive exteriors. Unlike the ehome, the Evolution (link to a place where there are a few more little photos) does not have its own webpage, and you’ll have to contact a Clayton dealer to see if it is available in your area. In ways -- transom windows -- the “Evolution” looks like it is a predecessor to their ehome.

If I find better photos of the interior of one, and more info about the specs, I'll edit this post. If you run across something about it, or more photos, please write.

Another reader found a plan similar to the Evolution at at the Karsten dealer in Albuquerque. It is the Karsten HD-12. It has a breezeway, 2nd bedroom separate as a flex room, but does not show it with a bathroom, but that is probably an option. So, if you're near a Karsten dealer, and interested in this 2-bedroom separate flex room plan, ask to see the HD-12 in their plan book.

Here's a tip on how to use the Clayton Homes search, for example in this page for the "Evolution" at a dealer in Paris, TN

During the slide show,click on any photo for a close-up. Then click the "x" in the left corner to exit and let the slide show start up again.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Inner beauty, the Karsten SF-50 single-wide

Karsten Homes SF50, the best single wide manufactured home? from Green Otter on Vimeo.

Click on the 4-arrow symbol to the left of the word Vimeo in the lower right corner. Press Esc after the video is done.

CLICK HERE FOR link to high resolution photos of SF-50 on my Flickr account. When you get to Flickr, click on SLIDESHOW to see full screen photos. Some of these are very dark. I forgot to use the flash assist! When taking photos of a bright window, if a camera is on automatic, the surrounding will be dark or even black. Even outdoors, if you are taking photos of people, and their faces are in shadow, you can override the automatic setting and use the flash fill, or whatever it is called.
Since before there was a Google to google, I used to search on the web and ask?

“What is the best single-wide?”

Manufactured home dealers were late coming to the web, but when they did, there was little promotion of single-wide homes. They are also called “single-section” or more commonly, “trailers.” If there were mention of them, it was talk from owners of the problems with older ones, their cheap construction. Most people thought they were becoming extinct, because double wide homes were sometimes available at nearly the same price.

Dealer’s/manufacturer's profit margins were higher on the better double wide homes. When information on manufactured homes finally hit the web, manufacturers featured some photos of their their most attractive or popular double wide homes. They were the homes in which most people were interested, at least people who used the web at the time.

Manufacturers are trying to get away from the trailer stigma. By touting the biggest ones with granite counter tops and a shape and size more like the average size stick-built house, the assumption is created the same company builds the best lower end homes as well.

Even today, some manufacturers have only a floor plan of their single-wide homes on their website, not even a drawing, let alone a photo. There’s a reason for that. Most of them are ugly. And anyone interested will just come in and git one?

As the average new home size doubled over 30 years, people also wanted bigger manufactured homes. Why would anyone want to spend $53,000 for a single-wide home when for the same price, you could get a bigger double-wide in a different brand or line of homes? Obviously, one good reason would be that a good single-wide could be higher quality and more energy efficient than a double wide of the same price.

There are still parks in California where you can rent a single-wide lot for over $1000/month and people are still buying them all around the country, but the “higher end” single wide started disappearing many years ago, after the double-wide came on the scene. There are parks across the country where a single-wide spot is cheaper than a double-wide, but why shouldn't the single-wide dweller seek good construction and energy efficiency?

So, which are the best ones?

The Karsten SF50 (or SF51) has to be one of them. Clayton’s new ehome, which I reviewed in my last post, is also a top contender, as long as the structural upgrades are added, like 2 x 6" walls, and more insulation. The best thing about a quality single-wide home is the price per square foot.

The Karsten home has several things going for it. Outside, it is plain, but look at the eaves -- made of Hardie-board and on all sides, which in itself is rare. There’s no superfluous trim that is going to fall off thirty years down the road. No place for water to get under and in. From a construction standpoint, just looks very well made, clean and functional. Even after a few decades, high winds are not going to blow that siding off because there's no edge for the wind to catch.

Even though the outside, in terms of visual rhythm of the window placement, has little going for it, after looking at several homes, and trying to wrap my mind around some of the gables, trims etc., it felt good to look at something that was smooth, and functionally crafted.

The Clayton ehome also has eaves but not quite as wide as the Karsten. Many single-wide homes do not come with eaves on the sides, because they are too easily damaged in transit, at least that is what I was told by one dealer. Well, eaves not only look good, they protect the entire wall of the home. On a home with eaves and a gable or shed roof, rain falls on the roof, and then clears the side of the house, instead of drooling down, as it would on a house with no eaves on the sides.

The Karsten is a 2 x 6” sidewall home, with R21 in the floor, R19 in the walls (or you can upgrade to R21 in the wall) and R50 in the ceiling. It has nine foot flat ceilings throughout, panel interior doors, and drywall throughout, all standard.

The model I toured is as the outlet near the Karsten Factory in Albuquerque. Karsten is owned by Clayton but continues to produce its own line of well-made homes.

If you can get past the plain looking box exterior (see snazzier facade that is available in some markets, photo below), and enter the SF50, it is a different world inside. From the kitchen to the baseboard, and door frames, and doors, everything is simple but just right, joints meet perfectly, good room proportions, simple lines on cabinets, trim, and counter tops, which won't leave the interior of the home dated looking in 15 years.

The floor plan is similar to the ehome and most three bedroom, 2 bath single wide homes of around this size. The SF50 is 1185 sq. ft.

The master bedroom is planned thoughtfully, with room for a seating area, a door to a medium size walk-in closet, which also had an entrance on its other side to the master bath. The master suite feels private, with good isolation from the kitchen and living room. Not shown in my video, a laundry area near the back door, with room for full size appliances.

The second and third bedrooms both have closets.

The house was completely decorated but doesn’t come decorated or furnished. At Karsten, they hire a good decorator for the model homes, and the homes have great wall colors, and the single-wide looked stately, no small feat for a single-wide. I wouldn’t mind seeing homes totally unfurnished, but a lot of people would.

If you ever look at a home that is unfurnished or doesn’t have beds in the bedroom, like the ehome I toured, bring a tape measure and know the size of your bed. Put some string down to mark it off, so you can visualize if there’s enough room for you.

On the outside, aesthetically, the window and door placements don’t do anything for the outside of the SF50, but inside, the windows are in just the right places. When I took the video and photos, the blinds were closed with drapes at the sides. It was a hot day and the AC felt perfect.

The blinds and curtains make it dark inside, and it wouldn’t be nearly as light-filled as the ehome, but it would also be easier to make dark, for daytime TV viewing for example. It might be better for a park lot, or private property where you couldn’t get a good southern orientation, or you just wanted more of a feeling of privacy than having a big wall of windows, like on the ehome or i-house. (However, on any of these homes, you can opt out of windows, or add them, as the plan will allow.)

Speaking of sunlight, if lights are turned on, turn them off in a model home to see what it looks like, unless of course at home you are planning on keeping all the lights on during the day.

I’ve looked at some new homes that looked okay at first, but when I looked closer, many things started to look cheap, cheap, cheap. And there are new homes where just a few things stick out as too cheap right away. There are many older single wide homes, that don't have one thing going for them…ugly paneling, hideous wallpaper, cheap looking fixtures, low popcorn ceilings, thin walls, cheap looking materials, ugly floors...and the Karsten doesn’t have one of those things.

I'm not crazy about the dining room chandelier and ceiling fans, but Karsten could probably swap those for others you like.

Outside, the Karsten SF50 it is so clean and simple, there is beauty in the simplicity and energy efficiency of this home.

Karsten SF-50 is not available nationwide like the ehome, but it is worth checking out for people who have a Karsten dealer in their area.

For the price, $52,500, many people who would have to stretch their budget for an ihouse without many options could afford a full solar system for the Karsten.

Apparently, the Karsten SF50 also comes in this more Karsten-ish look with two front gables, and I wouldn't blame someone for wanting this more attractive version:

There's probably a lot of great single-wides out there that I haven't seen (by Skyline, Marlette, etc.) If any of you have seen a good quality well-built energy efficient new manufactured home, single or double-wide, in the $40,000 to $80,000 range that really impressed you, please tell me about it, and what made it stand out as special for you.

Lastly, I understand that some people who buy single-wide homes are on a strict budget and can afford only a home in the $25,000 to $40,000 range. My suggestion there is to look for a better quality used home, with good insulation, drywall, at least 8 foot flat ceilings or higher if sloped. Make final acceptance of your offer contingent on a home inspection by someone experienced with manufactured homes. A quality used single-wide, five to ten years old, holds its value better than a bottom-of-the-line new single-wide home with low ceilings, minimal insulation, and cheap everything.

The problem with finding a high quality used or new single-wide, is that in most areas, for every one that has 2 x 6" sidewall construction and good insulation, there are probably a hundred that don't. That's what makes the Karsten a rare find.

For people fortunate enough to live within fifty miles of one of the better factories, like the Karsten factory in Albuquerque, there's the advantage of knowledgeable sales staff, who know the product, and know things which are not listed on the spec sheets.

The factory dealer is different from a regular dealer, in that there's no standing inventory to push, except in a rare occasion when they are selling one of the older models in the model lot. Instead, they build the home you want (to a degree), and can even accommodate some options which may not be listed as options.

Are you as trailer-nutz as I am? If so, you might enjoy reading my other blog: Greenotter's Manufactured Home Reviews.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The ehome, a breath of fresh trailer -- MY REVIEW

ehome by Clayton from Green Otter on Vimeo.

(In the above video, for FULL SCREEN, click on the four arrow symbol to the left of the word "Vimeo" in the lower right corner. Press Esc key when finished with video to return to blog.)

NEW ADDITION: My Flickr photostream of ehome high resolution photos.

Here's Clayton's ehome Flickr set. You can see the light wood option, although note that the seamed wall version comes molding dropped from the ceiling edge. Some of these photos look "virtual."

The EHOME (link to official ehome website) is an affordable alternative to the ihouse, especially for a family who needs two to three bedrooms, two baths, with a fresh modern style, passive solar, for well under $75,000, which is only the starting point for a one bedroom, one bath ihouse.

There are three outstanding things about the ehome, especially for a house in this price range.

1. The fa├žade has got to be the best looking single wide ever made. It just looks great, no period of adjustment required to get used to it.

2. The basic passive solar design is excellent; few windows on the North, with most windows on the South.

3. The combination of transom windows and a ceiling that slopes down from the outside wall brings lots of light into the rooms.

In an ordinary house or double-wide, the ceiling is either flat or slopes up from the exterior walls of the house toward the center. In the ehome, the ceiling is highest on the windowed side and the light shines on a gently downward sloping ceiling. It is about 9 feet on the high side and 8 feet on the low side.

There’s more light on the ceiling than there would be on a flat ceiling making it a very light-filled house to be in. The spaces feel in good proportion and none of the bedrooms are tiny. The house comes with nice style window shades.

I toured the largest of the three models, the e1140, and they also make an e990 and two bedroom e900. (The number is the square footage.)

It had an upgraded master bath, a kitchen with sink in an island, a monster entertainment cabinet (optional) with stone surround where the TV would go, and be extra safe if it ever caught fire. Of course, the TV is the “electronic hearth” of this age, so maybe the stone surround is appropriate for such a thing.

This house was full of the optional built-in cabinetry in the bedrooms. It also had drywall, outside overhang over the front door, gas range, and 2 x 4” exterior walls (eeek). Pricing it on the ehome site, it ends up being about $85,000+ yet the dealer is selling it for $62,000, and that is negotiable.

The things the home didn’t have which you would want in your home are:

1. OSB wrap (OSB board under the siding, between the siding and wall studs.) This is a must-have option for people who don't live in areas which have high code standards and require it anyway, like California.

2. Upgrade wall construction from 2 x 4 to 2 x 6. (Cost is UNDER $900).

3. Upgrade insulation to R22,19,30 (or more?). This may come with the above or may be extra. Cost is around $400.

4. Wind and roof upgrades. Get the roof upgrade (rafters are closer together) if you have heavy snow loads, or just want a sturdier roof.

5. Get the drywall option. The model I saw had drywall. (It didn’t have drywall in the closets, which is of course, unnecessary there.)

The optional built-ins, like the entertainment center, might be a choice for people who are painstaking about matching woods and cabinetry. You can see from the price list on their website, they can add up. I wouldn’t get any of that stuff. However, I’m not obsessive about kitchen cabinets matching the entertainment cabinet in the living room, or such things. In this house there was enough matching going on just with the kitchen cabinets (real wood, everything else is laminated wood), moldings and interior window trim and wide-plank laminate floor. Too many matching matching built-ins would be overkill.

The particular home had the dark laminate (fake wood) flooring but they offer a lighter color scheme with lighter floors and cabinetry and I’d definitely get that!

Laminates in general, whether floor or trim, the medium and light colors look more real than the dark ones. Between the dark floor, the dark kitchen cabinets, the dark optional living room cabinets in the entertainment center, the dark laminate window and door frames, and the dark laminated crown molding...well, as I mentioned, I'd want to see this home with the lighter color package, of trim and floor especially.

For me, dark crown molding is too craftsman/tudor/colonial for a nice modern style like this home. However, it might look nice with some color on the walls. White walls do not look good in the ehome with the dark trim, except I liked everything about the master bath I saw, including the white walls.

The center panel of the kitchen cabinet door is translucent. That was a surprise. The cabinets are wood but the window trim, and crown molding is all laminated wood, which matches the cabinets.

From the outside, the house is so good looking, it made the two doublewides on each side look ugly. It would look even better with a block perimeter. However, like the i-house the back side is kind stark or characterless. (See my wobbly video. I show you the side the company won't highlight in their photos.)

The roof line is unique, in that it is an offset gable, one side longer. Coincidentally(?), many months before the ehome came out I suggested that as something to break out of the single-wide mold, in a post on this blog, although part of my reasoning was to create more roof area for solar panels. This doesn’t do anything for the solar panel situation, unless the roof can be reversed, which it can’t. Still, good passive solar design.

For people who may not have experience with laminate floors, they are rugged, and wear very well. If this floor hadn’t been so dark, the laminate itself might have been pretty nice. Like many of the recent laminates, it has a 3D grain pattern. That makes it less slippery for pets, children and old people.

A disadvantage of wood, is that people usually want to protect it in high traffic areas, with area rugs. You don’t have to do that with laminates.

Recently I watched some episodes of FLIP THAT HOUSE, and one contractor was putting laminate floors in renovations of $600,000 California homes. Usually buyers at that price level prefer “hard woods” and the green buyers want bamboo.

Clayton might be able to put bamboo or something else on the floor if you want it. An upgrade to stainless steel appliances is not mentioned on the website, but if you want them, just mention it.

I like the carpeting they used in the bedrooms. Nice neutral light color.

Unlike the ihouse, the ehome has no delivery charge and they are making them in many Clayton factories. The one I saw was made in Texas, by Southern Energy.

The ehome at this dealer had the “B kitchen” with the island with sink, with extended counters for eating, but no solid surface counter tops. The placement of the B kitchen with the eat-in counters looked nice, except this is the one kitchen configuration that cuts down on the dining area, making it long and narrow. Fine if you get a long, narrow table. Otherwise you might consider another configuration or, getting a regular counter instead of an extended one.

One of my friends who raised a family of 3 kids had eat-in counters (breakfast bar), they ate most of their meals that way. She loved it for serving, cleaning up, couldn’t live without it.

All the rooms had plenty of recessed can lighting with a CF bulb inside a diffuser that hid its CF-ness. Many lower end stick-built homes often ignore good overhead lighting, in the bedrooms especially.

The hallway to the bedrooms is wider than in the ihouse. Nice width, but looks narrow on my video for some reason.

The walk-in closet in the master bedroom was small and all the closets have seamed paneling instead of drywall. I have no problem with that in a closet.

It has a laundry area, near the back door.

There were nice faucets, tub/shower fixtures, door levers, cabinet hardware etc., but not quite as nice as the ones in the ihouse. Low E windows. Website says ehomes have vinyl siding yet this one had a combination of hard board, at the top half, and Hardie-board at the bottom.

The Karsten SF-50 makes a good comparison single-wide home, and in a few ways the Karsten, with a 9 foot flat ceiling throughout, had some nicer elements, like a big walk in closet, and a nicer looking master bedroom. At $52,500, the Karsten is about the same size as the largest ehome, and the interior finish may have been a little bit higher quality. I don’t mean the finishes, but the quality of the craftsmanship. The Karsten comes standard with 2 x 6 walls and R20, 19, 50. Of course the downside of the Karsten I’ve mentioned before, plain/ugly outside, not as good a passive design. I will be posting video of that within a few days. It makes a good comparison to the ehome, as the Karsten is one of the best of the more traditional single wide homes.

I liked the master bath in this particular ehome. I liked it because it wasn’t cramped, but it didn’t have a dance floor in the middle either. It had two sinks, but some people might think it didn’t have enough counter space.

The Karsten might be a better choice for people who live in a park or on a small lot, where they can’t take advantage of the solar orientation or the view possibilities of the ehome, or want a more private feel. The Karsten also might be better for someone who wants solar panels. Karsten homes aren’t available nationally though.

The sales manager of the Zia Homes lot where I looked at the ehome claimed that although it is offered as an option, the ehome hasn’t been ordered [anywhere] with a metal roof. He didn’t give me a reason why.

In the ehome, furniture is not included, but this home had some nice leather furniture and if you like furniture in a house, that is always negotiable, even if it is just one chair or the sofa you want.

The dealer had rocks in their lot and I got on my back and looked under the house. Looked well made. Bring a flashlight and don’t be afraid to look under a house if it is accessible.

The ehome is flexible downward on price. Did y’all know that? A dealer or salesman is given a price they can’t go below, but it is up to the purchaser to bargain for a lower price, and get closest to the dealer’s lowest price that they can get.

It helps to not get too emotionally attached to any salesperson or home though, and also to always have another home as a serious consideration, or at least be able to act like you have another home as a serious consideration, and not another Clayton home either or one that dealer carries.

It’s not like you have to lie-like-crazy to get a good deal. However, it helps to act with a little reserve, and not show that you are too crazy about a house.

Of course, I told this dealer up front that I was not a buyer, but just a blogger, and exactly what I was doing. My one experience in buying a manufactured home (which I pulled out of because my stocks crashed), was okay and all the salespeople at that place were easy going and laid back, which is the kind I like.

If you encounter a salesperson who seems irritating or promises one thing -- “we can get you the bamboo floor on this” -- but then finds out they can’t, and keeps stringing you along with things like that in order to get you to commit, just go to another Clayton dealer. It is not necessary that you find a person who knows EVERYTHING about a home, just that they are able to get answers within a day or two.

Don’t be shy about going to the sales manager if your salesperson doesn’t seem to know much about a home. The sales person learns from that too.

Since the ehome website is complicated, play with the configuration tool, make sure you are seeing all the options, and try to learn as much as you can about the home from that website. In that way, the salesperson can pick up on the fact, you know about this home, and they don’t have to “sell” it to you, but instead, just help give you what you want in the home.

It is okay for a salesperson to tell you that their model on the lot is a SPECIAL DEAL, but if you make it clear you want a 2 x 6” home, and the salesman persists in trying to interest you in a deal on the 2 x 4” lot model, just try to make it clearer you aren’t interested in it.

On the other hand, finding out how low they can go on the lot model, gives you some bargaining power for the home you want to order.

Take notes, and write all your questions down before you go into the dealer, on the 2nd time you go into the dealer. Look at a home two or three different times if you want, like different times of day. Many dealers are listing their lot inventory and some even show photos of each home.

If you have seen one ehome you like, but are near to other dealers with ehomes, call them up and go look at them if they have a different color scheme, size, master bath, or kitchen configuration. If you are near a factory, and have never seen how manufactured homes are made, call to schedule a visit for a tour of how they are made.

Unlike the ihouse which has modular zoning, and could be put in areas which do not allow single-wide homes, the ehome requires an area which allows single-wide homes.

Overall, given its low price, and discounts being offered because of the slow market, the ehome is a badly-needed modernization of the single-wide, something more manufacturers should be striving for in their low to mid range models, and to bring passive solar design into very affordable homes. It’s a nice improvement over the more standard single wide.

HERE are some more photos, of an ehome at a dealer's in Evans, CO, taken by one of my blog readers. I think it shows why just in terms of aesthetics, it is necessary to upgrade to drywall. The seams in the ceiling and walls are ugly and very trailer-like, along with the strange dropped molding, although the texture of the paneling itself looks nice.

Here is her 7-minute video tour of the model in Evans.

Clayton ehome with seamed paneling in Evans, CO from Green Otter on Vimeo.

Lastly, here is Clayton's promotion video that has a few nice shots of the home with the lighter cabinetry and floor:

Friday, May 21, 2010

Clayton ehome construction varies according to location.

A reader challenged me on my assumption that Clayton "ehome" -- their new inexpensive single wide with some green features not to be confused with the ihouse -- comes with 2 x 4" sidewall construction. I assumed this because the ehome website lists the standard insulation as R11, 11, 21. That is, R11 in the floor and sidewalls and R21 in the roof. That is invariably the insulation offered with a 2 x 4" sidewall home, and the cheapest single wide homes made. By no stretch is that level of insulation "green" or energy saving. In my initial post about the ehome I recommended that anyone considering the ehome ask about the possibility of upgrading both the side wall construction to 2 x 6" and better insulation.

I called Clayton this morning to straighten it out. I was told that in areas where the code required it, like Northern California and Oregon, the ehome is made with 2 x 6" sidewalls. Beth also said that in areas where the house is built to 2 x 4" sidewalls, like New Mexico, you can ask a dealer to upgrade to 2 x 6" sidewalls AND upgrade to insulation above the minimal R11, 11, 21.

If anyone reads something on my blog that conflicts with information they got from a dealer, please write in, I will try to straighten it out.

Monday, March 22, 2010

A one bedroom ihouse with $100,000 of upgrades!

Here's an article at Knoxvillebiz.com about a couple ordering the $75,000 one bedroom core ihouse, and adding $100,000 of upgrades to it, including things like "automatic sliding doors."

From the architectural form of the exterior, I prefer the one bedroom to the two bedroom, and it is nice to see someone with an unlimited budget buying one.

If anything, this shows Clayton's willingness to customize, for a price. You can see more photos of it on Clayton's FACEBOOK page HERE, as well as some nice snowy winter photos of an i-house with LARGE flex room in Virginia.

The article has some other interesting tidbits too.

Apparently, Clayton's hotcakes are still soldered to the griddle, holding at only 20 ihouses sold.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Champion homes ‘Go House’ makes a go at green affordable

An article in the New York Times today, The Rise of ‘Green’ Modular Homes, mentions the Clayton ihouse as leading the charge with affordable modular green, with some other contenders making their first showing at the Las Vegas International Builders’ Show last month.

The Go House, a new green modular (configurable from 1375 sq. ft to 2000+ sq. ft.) by Genesis (a modular division of Champion Homes), is mentioned in the article, so I might as well introduce that too.

The Go House is a green modular which can be configured in the traditional ranch, or cape cod style. The house is cute enough, but it would be fun if they allowed more flexibility in style and size downward.

Even so, with modular design, the ultimate control of the consumer to configure a house the way they want it isn’t far off. Of course, it is here now in more expensive custom homes.

They invite playing around with their online configuration tool, and it is nice to be able to put on a garage(s), but it doesn’t calculate the garage price automatically. By clicking on the “?” in a field when you get to the cost estimation step, it explains how to calculate the extra fees, everything from foundation to contractor’s fees.

"Freight" on this is going to hurt, unless you live within 200 miles from the factory. Finding out where their factories are is another chore not made easy by the website! Okay, I found it. Go HERE to determine how close you are to a Genesis factory.

After a little ado (instead of much ado) I located the PDF of the house specs and basic features HERE.

The more I think about it, I realize why I looked at this before and didn't include it in my posts. It just isn't offering much of anything that is new and seems like too much green washing going on.

Could be a possibility if you live close to a factory though.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Five new affordable green modular homes from Excel

September 2011 update...These homes are no longer offered by Excel.

Last week, the new year brought us the Osprey (from Nationwide Custom Homes/Palm Harbor Homes) and other modular eco-cottages, and now another challenger to the Clayton i-house; an energy star rated (30% more efficient than average), green modular line of five new small home designs. They come from a big player in modular housing, Excel Homes of Pennsylvania.

These homes are available in the following states only: ME, VT, NH, MA, CT, RI, NY, PA, NJ, DE, MD, VA, WV, NC, SC, and OH.

Read their blog, with the most recent post about their new affordable series, STARTING LINE UP aka Ultra-Value Series.

The five homes in the series start at around $60,000 for the 556 sq.ft. "Trailblazer," to under $100,000 for three models that are all 945 sq. ft. One model, the “Craftsman Bungalow,” is 771 sq. ft and will presumably fall somewhere between $60,000 and $100,000.

Excel is adapting to the market and it's a timely addition to their larger home series.

In the introduction to their new ULTRA-VALUE series, they explain how they've kept the prices on these homes rock bottom by offering no customization options.

Unlike the i-house, where Clayton might be able to move a wall, add a bathroom, or put a window where wall is currently, or vice-verse, all five homes in this ULTRA-VALUE series come as is. As far as I can tell, no flooring options, color selection, or upgrades of any kind.

Again, go here to see the floor plans.

I’ll comment on each one individually, from what there is to go on. Also, over the next few days, I will edit this post and be making changes(photo-shopped) I would make, if I were designing these homes. Sometimes I look at a home and see immediately something isn't quite right...well, I'll try to make it right doing very simple things. So, here are all five homes starting with the smallest:

The 1 bedroom, 1 bath 556 sq. ft. "Trailblazer"

"Trailblazer" comes 95% completed from the factory, and can be shifted from the flat bed truck to the foundation, without need of a crane. This keeps the price low. All these homes can be set up in one day and set up is included with the price.

My improvement to the home, (second photo) is the addition of an overhang above the front door. I just clipped a bit of the roof to do this quickly. Always good to have this in the rain and it balances the appearance of the facade. All but two of the changes/additions I recommend are something a homeowner could do easily after buying one of these homes.

The center dormer with all the windows, makes for a dramatic interior on this little "Trailblazer" home. What's up with Excel showing one measly “virtual” interior rendering per house. Too costly to press a button on the architectural software and pop out several views of the interior AND exterior of each house? Perhaps they haven’t finalized the kitchen and bathrooms.

They’ve got a blog here on the new designs, and are looking for reader feedback, so I love them for that. Anyone with an opinion can go at them.

This is what more companies should do before they introduce a home. It is one of the things the web allows, of which too many companies are not taking advantage.

I’ll eviscerate their designs here instead of on their blog though, since, to be fair, these are just my initial reactions, and their homes aren’t even available in New Mexico.

Starting off with several things I don’t like about their website. First of all, where are the specs? They want a person to write in to get a more detailed floor plan in PDF, giving address and phone etc.

Again, this is part of my harangue about how housing manufacturers are not using their websites to full potential for presenting information. They put things out like they are paying per page, as in a brochure, to advertise. I don’t know, many of the companies probably contract their website design out and have to pay per page.

Or when specs or vendors change, they don't want to be responsible for having to change it on their website too. More each year, companies, when they contract to outside web designers, will need at least one person in their firm, who can make changes as needed to the website, including adding photos. Or, they can hire people who work at home, to make these changes for much less than it would cost to always have a web design or ad agency controlling the content of their website.

When considering a home, or trying to compare, I like to see specs up front before talking to anyone. Salesperson contact, and human contact is as important as ever. It is just that full information properly presented on a company's website, can help that contact to happen.

House models are not like cars, where everyone can see them driving around. The web is a housing company's opportunity to show the world their houses, and everything about them. See my former post on Marketing homes in the age of the web, HERE.
Look what Nationwide/Palm Harbor did with the Osprey…they showed over a hundred photos of it in various stages of construction. I like that! I like seeing the size and spacing etc. on the floor joists they are using.

It is frustrating to have to contact the company to find out what the R-values are in the insulation of a home, or how the wall sandwich is made, or who supplies their siding.

On the good side, I don't mind their idea of doing everything they can to keep the price low, even down to the lack of customization.

The “Trailblazer” with all those windows on the south side, would be great for passive solar gain in the winter. And it has half the roof at a good angle for solar panels, to be added at a later time.

No windows on the north, which is good for passive solar.

The 771 sq. ft. 2 bedroom, 1 bath “Craftsman Bungalow.”

This home is a real cutie. It's simple, and they got the proportions and visual rhythm of the porch and windows down right. It doesn't look dorky. It is the steeper roof pitch that makes it look more genuine than manufactured homes which sometimes imitate this style.

In my version, I've added a window I borrowed from a photo of Sears Craftsman bungalow, making it look a little more Craftsman-like, and painted maroon just for some contrast.

The interior plan looks nice too. For a couple starting out, they could add a bath and bedroom as their family or needs expand.

The only drawback, which for me is a personal preference, is that it wouldn’t be optimal for passive solar gain in the winter. So, the “Trailblazer” or "Prairie View" would be my pick, for passive and active solar design.

The designs of all these houses are pretty simple on the outside, but their strength is in the interior design, nice proportions and quality for the price.

The 945 sq.ft. two story, 2 bedroom, 1 bath “Craftsman Cottage.”

This might be good for a narrow lot, but the exterior design is too plain and somewhat unbalanced looking. But, I've seen worse. In this photo, you can't see a nice Craftsman-style window that is on other side of the house. It looks good on the inside.

In my version, I moved the white band up about one foot so the house doesn't look top-heavy. It looks equally good with no white band.

What I can see of the interior looks nice though, except there's the inconvenience of going upstairs to use the bathroom. For me, the priority is the interior, energy efficiency, price, and quality of construction, over exterior appearance. It would be nice to have it all though.

The 945 sq. ft. 1 bedroom, 1 den, 1 bath “Prairie View”

This split shed roof design with clerestory windows makes my pulse quicken. It is great for passive and active solar. The double shed roof, or split gable (I think it is called) is one of my favorite designs. There's a house of this style down the street from me, but it is not as proportioned as nicely as this one from Excel.

Looking at this, something is off though. The three windows in the front make the front portion of the house look like a garden shed which was enclosed, instead of part of the house. The proportions are nice and good roof slope etc. I'd like to see real photos of all these homes instead of the virtual ones.

In my version I replaced the trio of square windows in the front with a quartet, and voila, music. I'm very pleased with this change. It is subtle, but makes the home look better. The front half no longer looks like a shed. I also figured out what the real problem was. It was the square shape of the windows in the front, more than the number used. The square front windows echoed the square windows of the small clerestory windows, and it was just too many square windows! Now, the clerestory windows look better too.

About the sunken living room in the interior... First of all, there’s the going up and down steps just to go between the living room and other rooms. Secondly, in colder climates, cold air tends to sit in the lowest spot. On the other hand, in a warmer climate, like South Carolina, this temperature difference can be welcome in warmer months. And, a level change can be dramatic in a home. Their website says this was inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright's prairie designs.

I want to see more views of the interior of this home, like how the clerestory windows look from the kitchen. One great thing about clerestory windows is that on the south, they flood the home with light, but inside the home it is indirect light. They are high enough that you never look right at the sun coming in, and no need to shade them. In the summer, with sun overhead, they don't heat the house nearly as much as skylights. And in the winter, they let in more solar warmth when the sun is lower in the sky.

Finally, the 945 sq. ft. 2 bedroom, 1 bath L-shape “Villager.”

This is a nice variation on the traditional ranch, in that it creates some enclosure with the L and nice separation of one of the bedrooms, without the wasted space of long hallway found in many ranchers.

When I first saw this photo of the exterior, I thought it didn't look very good because of the window placement. See how the windows on the right, are right up against the edge of the house. I don't like that. However, that window placement, along with the windows on the adjacent side, can look very cool INSIDE, a wrap-around effect. So, sometimes it is worth a sacrifice of something that doesn't look all that great outside, for what it brings to the interior of a home.

The window in the bedroom (front, on the left) bothered me. It looks like a 1960 ranch house picture window, and didn't go with the style of the other windows in the front of the house. So, first I tried either putting a single or double window there, same kind as in the front. That looks fine. However, in a bedroom, a lot of people don't want a window that when open in the summer, is big enough for someone to crawl in.

So, I left the window as it was, but added a mullion (dividing stick) and I think it looks better. It could be a do-it-yourself project.

Since 1984, Excel has had a reputation of building reasonably-priced modular homes -- over 27,000 of them -- with the overriding principal that their homes -- the more expensive ones anyway -- are pretty much indistinguishable from site built. They don't stray from traditional styles, but being modular, they can be built faster and with better control and quality.

Along with looking like site-built, owners can have peace-of-mind their home itself will be a good investment.

In the past, the starting size of their homes (over 1000 sq. ft.), the level of customization, and the number of larger more expensive homes they build precluded me from paying much attention to them, even though their homes frequently win modular awards for design in their price range.

Even though I want to review mostly green modular homes that are nationally competitive with the i-house, I thought I'd stick these in, because I like all of them, and the Clayton i-house can't be delivered in parts of NY State and some other places because of bridge height. Also, some of these designs might be better for areas with big snow load.

How different these homes are from the attention-getting California green modular builders, who kept [only] wishing for mass production on a scale that would bring their homes down from an outrageous $250+/sq. ft. Excel sells many homes, instead of a handful, and is still in business for a reason. While many other builders closed shop, they followed the market without attempting to create cutting-edge modern designs that people can't afford, and they have a good reputation.

I'm not against architects exploring any ideas they want, no matter how far fetched, but I'd like to see more small, affordable green homes go into production, and its great to see Excel, Clayton and Palm Harbor catching on. Smaller is greener. It saves energy.

I'd like to throw in a link to MODULAR HOME BUILDER, a blog by Gary (modcoach) of everything and anything having to do with what is going on in the modular home industry. Sometimes it can be difficult to navigate through manufacturer's websites to find what is new, and keep track of the inside business news, and Gary does all this and more. Unlike some of the green blogs, his experience in this industry allows him to see through a lot of the green hype.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Clayton i house has a FACEBOOK page

The Clayton i-house FACEBOOK page has many links to blogger's mention of the i-house, including satisfied owners or visitors.

Frankly, a few of the posts are kind of thin, e.g, "I love the i-house and want to get one." A few are quite good though, better than some of the articles.

For any blog posts by disgruntled owners, you'll have to tune into my page, because only I will link to them, ha ha.

Also, note to Nigerian mail scammers posing as beautiful Siberian women who just want plane fare to get the the U.S., the Clayton i-house is not dating anyone.

While I'm here, might as well throw in two opinions of the i-house by friends of mine, who have gone to visit it. One guy who hates manufactured homes, really liked the i-house but said he would be concerned with "investment value." Then again, he's very wealthy and looks at everything in terms of investment value.

Another friend of mine, who saw the model in Mesa, AZ, and she has a beautiful house, said she really liked everything about it, except the trim molding between the ceiling and wall. She thought it should be rounded, at least at the lower edge, rather than perfectly square. Like over half of the people interested in the i-house, according to my poll, this was the first time she ever went to a dealer of manufactured homes.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A challenger to the i-house, Palm Harbor Homes eco-cottages

Model at top is "The Osprey" which will be at the Int. Builder's show in Las Vegas, Jan 19-22.

Click on any photo to enlarge.

It was only a matter of time, before another major manufacturer introduced green manufactured homes, and now Nationwide Custom Homes, a subsidiary of Palm Harbor Homes -- a major builder of manufactured homes -- is introducing their new line of “eco-cottages.”

I'm going to be editing this post, adding interior photos as they become available and including more accurate information as more is known about these eco-cottages. Rather than a challenger to the i-house, now that the specs are in, they are shaping up to be more of a tinier alternative.

Go HERE to see their website. It shows three or four models with variations of roof style and configuration. For example, two can be put together. The Osprey is modern but others are more traditional cottage style. All of them are as cute as they get.

Update: I just read a blog from a person who attended the show, and the 523 sq. ft. Osprey will have a price of $60,000. The show model was tricked out with Gaggenau (Click HERE to see PDF of what that entails) kitchen appliances, and other options that do not come with that price.

Download floorplans, photos, and specs from this page.

Although my blog is dedicated to the i-house, I want to introduce the major reasonably-priced green homes as they come along, since the i-house is not available everywhere and also some people may be looking for something smaller or different.

One of the several models, the one bedroom 523 sq. ft. “Osprey” will be shown to the public for the first time at the International Builder’s show in Las Vegas, NV on January 19-22, 2010.

HERE's a short slide show of some bad photos of the Osprey and other modular homes at the show.

Here's a link to some much nicer photos of the Osprey from the Charles & Hudson Green Building blog. The bathroom! What a jewel.

HERE is a large photo set of the Osprey and other homes Nationwide had at the builders' show in Vegas. (Click on full screen icon to see larger photos.)

Dig those ceiling fans in the living room. They remind me of atomic bombs or the propellers used on the Hindenburg. Oh the humanity!

How to you feel about the bottom of the V running the length of the house as reflected in the ceiling line? I'm not sure, although it is cool, the way the kitchen changes to just a shed slant. That's a nice design element.

All these photos but no good shots of the bedroom or the bathroom. I like the bamboo covered wall behind the TV. This little house has some nice things going for it! It might make the one bedroom i-house seem spacious in comparison though. The wall space in the Osprey is better suited to the philatelist than the collector of fine art.

HERE is an extensive photo set from Nationwide Custom Homes, showing the Osprey being made. Note the SIS (Structural Insulated Sheathing) foam paneling they are using to tighten the building envelope.

The show model features a standing-seam metal roof with integrated thin film solar ($7500 upgrade from roof without solar), and other green features similar to the i-house…bamboo floors…point-of-use hot water, Andersen windows, but also with some cork, no-duct heating, and LED lighting.

One aspect of the Osprey -- and the other models as well -- that goes beyond a regular park model RV cottage and is comparable to the i-house is the insulation. It has R20 walls, R19 floors, and R38 roof. (Some sites list the show model as having higher insulation.) Another nice feature; the decks are included and integrated into the structure. (The extra decking for the show is not part of it, just the front and back decks.)

Nearly all park models -- but not all -- come with only R11 insulation in the walls. There are a few small builders, that use SIPS. With SIPS, you can get more insulation per inch. For example, this prefab from Solargon of Colorado.

The styling on these eco-cottages is very cottage-like, with wide eaves, porches, wrap-around decks and other things that don’t usually come on most manufactured homes.

They are meant for vacation homes, retirement residences, or backyard "granny" or guest cottages. It is disappointing they haven't used either SIPS (Structurally Insulated Panels) for walls or 2 x 6" studs in the exterior walls instead of 2 x 4". However, at least they developed a hybrid (foam/batt) to get more insulation than most homes built this way.

Eco-cottages are built on piers or a foundation [probably] and not be moved around, although if you have a lot that is in an RV park, they can build one to conform to the codes for that.

The company is based in Virginia, with facilities in Georgia and Alabama, but distribution will probably be nationwide. Pricing is not yet available but their website says all the homes will be between $25,000 and $90,000.

The International Builders' Show, where the Osprey is now making its debut, is featuring four smaller, greener modular homes than usual but the theme that is stealing the press of the show, is the downturn of the economy. This year, for the first time in the decades the show has been going, they do not have a multi-million dollar dream home to showcase all the latest innovations and products. The builder for this year's 3.5 million dollar home lost financing, so it wasn't finished in time and they sold what there was of it for $500,000.

Instead, they are replacing it with Marianne Cusato's VIRTUAL $95/sq. ft. home, but they didn't build it. Even though she isn't interested in building modern designs (which is unfortunate, because I would like to see what she would design), Cusato is one of my favorite architects. Here's a question and answer I found interesting. And HERE is a list of articles where Cusato is mentioned.