News Home & Design B.Public Designs Panelized Passive House Prefabs Building systems that prioritize sustainability and a reduced carbon footprint. By Lloyd Alter Design Editor University of Toronto Lloyd Alter is Design Editor for Treehugger and teaches Sustainable Design at Ryerson University in Toronto. our editorial process Facebook Facebook Twitter Twitter Lloyd Alter Published May 6, 2021 03:22PM EDT Fact checked by Haley Mast Fact checker Harvard University Extension School Haley Mast is a writer, fact checker, and conservationist with a certification in sustainability. Our Fact-Checking Process Article fact-checked on May 06, 2021 Haley Mast B.Public Share Twitter Pinterest Email News Environment Business & Policy Science Animals Home & Design Current Events Treehugger Voices A hundred years ago, if you wanted a house, you could order it from Sears. They had good basic designs with everything people wanted in an affordable package. Colin Davies, author and professor of Architectural Theory at London Metropolitan University, wrote in "The Prefabricated Home": "Sears Roebuck never claimed to make any contribution to the progress of modern architecture. Its houses were indistinguishable from their ordinary site-built neighbors and its pattern books included all the popular, traditional styles." Edie Dillman, CEO of B.Public Prefab, is trying to do exactly that. Her company supplies thick super-insulated wall panels that can be assembled into houses and low-rise multifamily buildings, but she also offers stock plans that architects, builders, and the public can use as starting points. She explains to Treehugger why she does this: "I grew up in Chicago, surrounded by Sears homes. We just need good housing, We need houses that are well designed that people can live in. So why do we reinvent the wheel in design as well as how we assemble it? Not everyone needs or can afford an architect, which is why Treehugger has shown many examples of stock plans and prefab packages. As Dillman notes, people say "I can't spend $50,000 and eight months for a two-bedroom house." B.Public The plans are a great starting point for discussion and can be modified as required. Unlike Sears, B.Public doesn't include everything and the kitchen sink—just the enclosure, the panel system. The client then has a local contractor do the approvals, site work, and interior finishing; the plans get your attention and speed up the process. B.Public The panels themselves are seriously high performance, with insulation values for walls of R-35 through R-52. They are wood-frame with dense-pack cellulose insulation, smart vapor control, and exterior sheathing. "The panelized building blocks of Floor, Wall, and Top (roof) components work together to create an envelope ready to be finished with interior and exterior finishes and cladding." Add the right windows and ventilation equipment and they would easily pass the Passive House standards. They are all made from materials with low embodied carbon, addressing the crisis of climate change: "We believe that architects, developers, builders have a professional mandate and responsibility to the earth and our environment. Status quo building practices must be replaced immediately with practical solutions that reduce the carbon footprint. To address increasing environmental shifts and disasters, the housing we create must be resilient, scalable, rapidly developed and support an evolving landscape." B.Public They really do look like building blocks or as they describe them, "lego-like components" that "work together to create an envelope that is ready to be finished with interior and exterior cladding and surfaces, allowing for aesthetic and regionally appropriate treatments, finishes, and roof customization." This image shows them assembled into tiny cottages up to apartment buildings. How a house is built of panels. B.Public Architects like the panel system, but Dillman says "we're also attracting consumers with simple forms and likable shapes, designs that we understand as "homes," very recognizable for our human souls." Having these plans as a place to start also speeds up the design process. As Davies concluded in his book, "The Prefabricated Home": "Prefabrication does not necessarily imply either mass production or standardization. In fact, non of the three therms necessarily implies the other two. Standardization is not essential and mind-numbing monotony is not inevitable. On the other hand, standardization is not necessarily a bad thing; people like standard products that are tried and tested and available from stock. .... Offering customers a choice is one thing; asking them to design the whole building from scratch is quite another." Jonah Stanford, Edie Dillman, Charlotte Lagarde This is why what Dillman and her partners—Charlotte Lagarde and Jonah Stanford—have done is so clever: B.Public isn't selling a product that is really all that different than what a number of panel fabricators do. They don't even build the panels themselves but subcontract them. They have instead built a set of design tools and catalog of pieces that can be put together into a design quickly on a computer and then quickly on a site with everything fitting together nicely. They have developed a foundation and other details that builders and architects can use, described in Passivehouse Accelerator as "a soup-to-nut service that included education, along with our offering of specific pre-manufactured building components and designs. Because, as they say on the website: "To design rapidly and know that performance will not be sacrificed is liberating." B.Public is truly a 21st-century company: it is not a builder, it is not an architect, it is not even a panel manufacturer. It is all about an idea that removes a layer of complexity in dealing with panelized prefabrication, and about an ideal. As Dillman explains: "B.PUBLIC is a woman-owned Public Benefit Corporation based in Santa Fe, NM. Our public benefit purposes are Housing Sustainability & Environmental Responsibility: Providing communities with building systems that prioritize sustainability, reduced carbon footprint, and resilience for equitable development." And that is a very good idea indeed.