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.