One of the great promises of prefabrication was that it would more like industrial design than architecture; because of the repetition, every iteration would get better and cheaper as designers and manufacturers moved down the learning curve. Having followed the Sustain Minihome since it was first introduced in 2005, I have watched it evolve and change, and it is finally really hitting its stride with its new CaliMini Series shown on Jetson Green recently.
When I first saw the MiniHome Solo in 2005, I fell in love. It was small, built of the greenest materials, full of technology and built to a recreational vehicle standard at 8'-6" wide that meant it could be sold anywhere in North America. I loved it so much that I bought it, planning to make a career of selling it.
Alas, it was also very expensive, and it costs as much to build 8'-6" wide as it does to build wider. Because of the way it was built it was too heavy to move with a regular vehicle and needed a transport trailer, making it impossible for me to tow it affordably. It really didn't know what it was; it had solar and wind power so that it could go off grid, but it had water tanks and waste tanks that needed a pumpout facility like a regular RV might use. It didn't meet any of the standard criteria for either parks or in the country or RV, and it took me five years to finally find a place to put it. It could sleep six and had a gorgeous mezzanine, but there was no separate bedroom, no real privacy.
The next version was built to a different set of rules, the Park Model standard, which allows for up to 12 feet wide, and 550 square feet in Canada where it was built. Compared to the Solo, the rooms are huge. Being wider, they can use more conventional construction and still get good insulation values. But half of it is kitchen/dining, the other half is living/sleeping, and it can really only accommodate a couple, a very real limitation.
The designers at Altius Architecture have learned the lessons from the two previous iterations, and now are offering the Calimini series, which is being built in California for the west coast market. It is designed to the HUD code, which lets it be sold in any State without additional approvals. But it is built so far beyond HUD standards as to be unrecognizable, mainly in what it doesn't have: vinyl inside or out, drywall, toxic materials, PVC windows. Instead it has good insulation, Marvin windows, Baltic birch ply interior, cork floors.
But what really excites me are the plans. In both the Solo 1 shown here and the S2, there is a separate master bedroom, plus a loft over the bathroom, accessible from the kitchen. The Solo 1 has an interesting design feature, a sort of courtyard porch between the living area and the rest of the unit.
The Solo 2 has a more conventional layout with the living and kitchen combined. Both offer the opportunity of having guests or kids while still maintaining a bit of separation and privacy.
There are a few other shoes that have to drop to know the full story here, like how much it will cost and how it is being sold. The unit is only one side of the equation; the "eco-park" is the other, the place where one can plug it in to water and sewer and electricity. I will update as more information becomes available.
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