Mass Market for Green Homes Coming?

They built, overnight, a 725-square foot house on the lawn of San Francisco’s elegant city hall that demonstrates the potential for manufactured housing to tackle a variety of urgent concerns: affordable housing, global warming, peak oil, water shortages, healthy living and much more.

Part of the West Coast Green conference and expo last month, the demonstration home, called mkLotus, was designed by Michelle Kaufmann and built by Xtreme Homes.

Billed as the nation’s largest residential green building event, last year the conference was a surprise hit attracting 9,000 people. This year surpassed that number with organizers estimating 12,000 architects, builders, green and renewable energy suppliers, government officials and homeowners attended the three-day event.

Builders of mkLotus used an array of green and renewable technologies to meet proposed LEED residential platinum requirements. The house features a living roof (grass and flowers), solar panels that provide 130% of electricity needs, rain and greywater catchment systems that irrigate the roof and landscaping, and supply half of the house’s water needs.

In addition, Concreteworks of Oakland, California, provided counter surfaces of recycled glass, porcelain, tiles, flyash and rice hulls. Folding Nana windows were imported from Germany for maximum cross ventilation when open and high thermal performance when closed. Heating is provided by a hydronic underfloor system and a heat recovery ventilation system.

Tim Schmidt, president of XtremeHomes, said his firm, which has a spawling factory in Oroville, California, is working with developers to supply green production homes. If a mass market is created for these homes, green suppliers such as the ones who contributed to the mkLotus show home, envision the possibility of rapid growth alongside this market.

Factory-built housing offers other benefits besides economic, according to Sheri Koones, author of “Prefabulous.”

According to Koones, there is far less waste of material on the site; houses can be built better under supervised conditions; and SIPs (structural insulated panels) make the homes much tighter for heating and cooling; quicker and cheaper to build—and ultimately increase the efficiency of solar photovoltaic and solar water heating systems.

Modular housing, she points out, can produce mansions or cottages. It just depends on the number of modules. Her book surveys the pre-fab/modular housing industry, which she describes as the “best kept secret” in American housing.

If there is a significant and growing market for green housing, the tool for ensuring that its benefits are real and not “greenwash” seems to be at hand. A team of architects and engineers from the U.S. Green Building Council gave a packed workshop a preview of the new LEED standards for residential buildings.

After two and a half years of pilot projects (involving builders on the ground), the standards will be rolled out at the Green Build conference in Chicago Nov. 7-9. LEED for Homes is a voluntary rating system that promotes the design and construction of high performance “green” homes. It considers the efficiency of use of energy, water, and natural resources; minimization of waste; and health and comfort of occupants.

LEED buildings may lower energy and water bills; reduced greenhouse gas emissions, mold, mildew and other indoor toxins, cost less to build and operate, but their acceptance in the slow changing building industry depends on education and market demand. Both of which seem to be coming.

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