TreeHugger has been a big fan of Steve Glenn and his Living Homes since it started. But when I first heard that they were coming to Canada I was a bit dubious, after a few years of working in the business here. I had concerns about the level of interest in modern prefab and the suitability of the Living Homes designs for the Canadian climate.
Now, having seen what Gary Lands and Barry Campbell of Nexterra Green Homes are planning, I realize that I was completely wrong. They have addressed every one of the problems and concerns that have plagued many of us, and have created a wonderful project that is the model for the future of green modern prefab.
Site plan; most of the lot remains covered in trees.
The first key move that Nexterra has made is to offer a great site as well as a great design. Instead of just selling a prefab, they are building a community.
This was the key failure of so many of the dreamers about green modern prefab in the last decade; we thought we could separate the building from land and sell the house itself as a product. But finding land, getting approvals and doing all the work to put a house in place is hard and expensive work. Finding urban sites as nice as this one and fighting through the approval process in the middle of a city is even harder.
Barry Campbell says:
"We are essentially creating an eco oasis of sustainable luxury in the middle of the city: four homes on a large, lush ravine lot that offer modern design, natural and healthy materials, exceptional energy efficiency, and fabricated for minimal construction waste," says Campbell. "And we're doing it in a way that causes minimal disruption to the surrounding neighbourhood."
Gary Lands explains:
"The biggest difference is the insulation factor. Simply put, we worked with LivingHomes to 'Canadianize' the design. We have specified triple paned Argon gas insulated windows and sliding doors, up to R38 closed cell blow in insulation, and R50 roofing insulation. We maximized geothermal technology for both heating and cooling and included a large and functional basement," says Lands.
The steel frame is gone; too hard to insulate around. In addition to good insulation, the units have "responsible finishes are used throughout including locally manufactured, recycled or recyclable products such as recycled quartz countertops, low emitting carpets, and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood for flooring."
Ground floor plan. My only criticism: that front door that opens into the space without a vestibule or closet. It is a suburban design that assumes that everyone drives and comes in from the car.
The homes are designed by Ray Kappe, who did the first LivingHomes with Steve Glenn in California, and are being built by Conquest, a reputable and progressive modular home builder from Winnipeg, Manitoba. (I admired their Challenger model in TreeHugger here)
4. Green building
While the LivingHomes are being designed with a Cradle to Cradle philosophy and will be registered for LEED, the Nexterra Livinghome team have developed their own Z6 program which has some very sensible goals, worth repeating in full here:
A "Zero Energy" home produces all the energy it consumes. To make every LivingHome as self-sufficient as possible, we find ways to dramatically reduce the demand for energy (insulation, low energy lights, appliances, etc.) and integrate technologies that produce the majority (or all) of the power it needs.
Dwindling water supply is an increasing problem in many parts of the country. To conserve water, all LivingHomes use low-flow water fixtures and are grey-water ready, which means that bath, shower, washing machine and dishwasher waste waters can be used for irrigation.
LivingHomes eliminates waste from every stage of the home-building process. Modular design and fabrication processes reduce the waste from 40% for a standard site-built home, on average, to just 2-10%. Almost all materials used in LivingHomes are from recycled materials and/or can be recycled.
Indoor air pollution from mold, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), and Formaldehyde/Urea is a growing problem. Getting to zero indoor air emissions means eliminating the sources of harmful gases and compounds that are often off-gassed in indoor environments.
We take many steps to reduce each home's carbon footprint by using reclaimed and recycled materials, and by sourcing materials locally.
We integrate systems and training to insure our homeowners have information on how their lifestyle choices impact their resource use. With that information, we hope and assume they'll make better choices.
I particularly like that last one.
I must confess, I am in a bit of a state of shock. I have worked in prefab and written about it a lot, and even declared it dead and buried. But what Barry Campbell, Gary Lands and Steve Glenn have done here is put together a great site, great design, and and as green a package as a single family house can be. This is the model of how it should be done. More at Nexterra Green Homes