Prefabulous and Sustainable: New Book Shows Prefabs Getting Better, Greener and More Mainstream

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On cover: Tucker Bayou Show House, Looney Ricks Kiss Architects

As a long-time prefab proselytizer I approached Sheri Koone's new book with some trepidation. I used to believe, as she still does, that "Prefab is intrinsically green" but don't any more; where you build is fundamentally as important as what you build. I feared that the entire book would be filled with pretty houses in the country with columns and brackets and cupolas like the one on the cover. Or that it would make the argument that just being prefab was enough to make a house green. Fortunately, the book is better than that.

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In fact there are quite a few houses that occupy relatively small footprints, are on urban sites and that are built with seriously green materials, such as this house in Durham, North Carolina by the design/build firm Studio B Architecture/ BuildSense. It was panelized and finished on site, and the architect writes:

The house is built on an urban infill site, it has correctly oriented and shaded openings, it is insulated with open-cell foam for superior r-value and extremely low air infiltration, and it has 2x6 exterior wall framing for a larger insulation cavity. We installed a high SEER, high velocity heat pump, a rinnai tankless water heater, ultra efficient appliances, and high performance windows & doors.

And that is not even in the section of the book labelled "greenest."

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In the greenest home section, we find TreeHugger stalwarts like Steve Glenn's first Living Home, Michelle Kaufman's mkLotus, and others that are a lot more than just prefab, but really are green.

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Perhaps the use of the word "sustainable" in the title is a bit of a stretch. It still has quite a few of the very expensive and very nicely put together little numbers like the Rebecca Leland Farmhouse . Even a roof full of photovoltaics is not going to make this sustainable, unless they garage the SUV and actually start farming.

But like so many coffee table design books, these are aspirational. We learned from Matt recently that Americans are not particularly interested in going green and making changes in their lives, and most evidently do still aspire to owning the house in the country. At least some discussion of green building will be on the coffee table.

I could complain about the size or location of many of the houses or the real definition of sustainability, or I could just acknowledge that Sheri Koones has curated an interesting and eclectic selection of more energy efficient, healthier and often very beautiful prefab homes.

More at Sheri Koones site