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: