April 24, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Green homes going mainstream

What makes a home green? Strategically placed windows, for one thing, says Michelle Kaufmann.

Many energy-consumption problems can be addressed with simple tweaks to conventional house design, according to the founder of eco-friendly home design company Michelle Kaufmann Designs. Windows and sliding glass doors placed on opposite walls, for instance, allow the sun to more evenly wash a room with light and eliminate contrast, which reduces the need for electrical light during the day. Windows also allow for natural air circulation, which reduces demand for heating and air conditioning. Similarly, a glass wall can make a room seem bigger than it is, which cuts down on the need for McMansion-size family rooms and therefore the amount of raw materials required for building the home in the first place.

"Where you get the most bang for your buck are things like (window placement) that save energy but don't cost more," she said.

And let's not forget the countertops. That "stone" surface is actually a hardened and highly polished material made from recycled paper. Want wood floors? Bamboo grows faster than most plants and hence is more ecologically friendly than more commonly used oak or fir.

Green homes appear poised to move from the novelty wing of the housing market to a mainstream product. MKD, which up till now has mostly built one-off homes, is slated to put up around 45 homes in a townhouse development in San Leandro, Calif., and a 40-home project in Las Vegas. Another 42-home subdivision is planned for Denver.

"We need to do a couple of hundred homes" this year, Kaufmann said.

Unlike most homes, which get built atop a foundation, MKD homes are built in a factory, trucked to the building site, then bolted to a foundation. The homes, she says, cost about the same as regular, comparable new homes. The fixtures can cost more, but building the home in a factory neutralizes any premium, even when the trucking costs are factored in.

Photos: From the factory to the neighborhood

Mainstream developers such as Centex Homes, Lennar Corporation and The Grupe Company have also begun to emphasize green features in their homes, particularly as concerns about electricity grow and housing sales stagnate. These companies have said that homes with integrated solar panels have emerged as status symbols and can sell for more, and at a faster clip, than homes without solar technology.

Another company, into clean homes and appliances. In Dubai, an eco-friendly tower condo complex will be built out of modular units developed in a port factory.

Like Toyota and electric carmaker Tesla Motors, Kaufmann and other green builders aren't overtly trying to exploit some sort of overweening sense of guilt among consumers. Instead, they are focusing on comfort, design and aesthetics.

The Sunset Breezehouse, one of the three primary homes built by MKD, takes design cues from Italian villas: the rooms are centered on courtyards.

The mkSolaire, a two-story townhouse design, features lofts and a roof garden. The company's first home design, the Glidehouse, is fashioned after a home owned by an artist in the Pacific Northwest. (MKD also does custom homes.)

In housing developments, the company tries to balance price and aesthetics. Although the homes come from factories and conform to a trio of basic designs, the homes will vary between subdivisions. The homes are also unusual in the U.S. housing market in that they were designed with the active input of architects. Right now, only about 5 percent of U.S. homes are actually built with significant oversight from architects, and these homes tend to be custom-built, expensive residences.

"With a single-family home, it's not easy for consumers to find solutions. People care about the environment, but where are the solutions?" she said. "If we can prepackage green solutions that don't cost more and don't take more time, people will do it."

In the Las Vegas subdivision, for instance, the homes will feature an "outdoor" room made of two outdoor walls and a trellis for a roof. Rain will be captured in a catchment system placed near the front door. The water will irrigate the grounds and the evaporation will help cool the house.

The environmental savings, she adds, are also fairly tremendous. Homes designed with environmental concerns in mind can reduce water consumption by 40 percent and energy use by 30 percent. Building a home in a factory, rather than onsite, can reduce waste by 50 percent to 75 percent.

See more CNET content tagged:
factory, foundation, Microsoft Windows

8 comments

Join the conversation!
Add your comment
green homes
Nice integration of PV panels. I understand there is better
quality control when building a home in a factory and there's no
worry about moisture exposure during construction. But really,
it's the 21st century. Why are we still building our homes out of
wood? Why are we still cutting down our forests in this time of
CO2 absorbing need? Poured concrete walls using foam forms,
on site. Reasonably quick and about 10% more cost than
'traditional organic' construction. The benefits: No mold or
water damage, no termites, fire safe, ultra-insulated, better
resistance to some natural disasters.
Posted by Rick Cavaretti (216 comments )
Reply Link Flag
CO2 in the wood
When they use exotic rain-forest woods then it's a problem but the wood used for the majority of home building these days comes from managed forests where new trees are planted to replace the trees that are harvested.

Not only that but by taking their wood and using in a building the CO2 that went into making that wood is trapped and will remain trapped in the wood until the wood is removed from the house and/or allowed to decay.

Total forestation in the US has been climbing steadily since 1985 and that only includes areas designated as forests. Those figures have totally overlooked the ever increasing forestation of the great plains which has been going on since shortly after the dust bowl days.
Posted by aabcdefghij987654321 (1721 comments )
Link Flag
Duh...
I thought you dirt people were into "renewable resources". You know, like, stuff that grows back? Case in point: trees. Again, duh.
Posted by Neo Con (428 comments )
Link Flag
agree
"Green" doesn't just mean end product but also the process and
material used.
Seems to me that "Green" is the new word used when the only
thing the want is your "Greens".
Posted by twotall610 (53 comments )
Link Flag
rick, I agree with your comments
Just start using SIP's for above ground... more efficient than ICF's and cheaper to install, and easier to modify home in later years when you want to expand exisitng.
Posted by prc0317 (2 comments )
Link Flag
ICFs are great (strong, fast, highly insulative, durable), and some use 99% recycled foam, but concrete isn't exactly a renewable or green building material at this juncture. Standard concrete takes a lot of energy to produce, releases a lot of CO2 (though it does actually absorb CO2 throughout its life; exactly how much isn't known right now), and uses lots of nonrenewable stuff. I agree with aabcdetc...., that wood used in building keeps the trapped CO2 trapped, where as if it died and decayed in the forest, it would release its carbon.
Posted by kineticarl (93 comments )
Link Flag
Enjoyed the article but ....
I've found that most people want to help out with global warming, the CO2 problem, and etc.. but they don't want to spend unnecessarily money in order to help out the environment... especially when it comes down to spending extra money with the already high cost of building homes.
I've been designing and building energy efficient homes, and additions to existing houses that actually reduce the usage of electricity and heating fuels. It's pretty simple! ...and it doesn't cost anything more than building with conventional building materials.
I build with "Insulated Concrete Forms" for foundations and "Insulated Structural Panels" for walls and roof. Although I've only built a few homes this way (which are awesome!), most of my construction business has been doing additions to existing homes with people that want to reduce there usage of electricity and power consumption. I design additions by first looking at their existing home and try to eliminate there biggest heat loss, and then I look at how to maximize making there existing home more efficient to live in with the amount of sun (free energy) is available.
It's pretty simple
Most of my designs end up expanding customers homes, keep their home warmer (or cooler, in summer) and reducing electricity and /or fuel cost... Plus when the owner sells their homes in a few years (when the cost of fuels and electricity really starts to escalate) they'll get more in return.

Conclusion: find a good builder that's willing to work with your needs and the environment.
Posted by prc0317 (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
GREEN HOMES
IF ONE GOES BACK 200 YEARS AND LOOKS AT ANY NEW ENGLAND FARM HOUSE YOU WILL SEE WINDOWS WITH A SOUTHERN EXPOSURE FOR THE LONGEST WALLS OF THE HOUSE. THE THE REAR A BARRIER TO THE NORTH SUCH AS THE WOODSHED (WITH WELL PUMP), OUT HOUSE TOOL/HARNESS SHOP THEN THE BARN, ALL CONNECTED TO MAKE A SUNNY WINTER YARD. THEY DID NOT FRONT THE ROAD SUCH AS BUILDERS DO TODAY WITHOUT REGARD TO WINDOW LOCATION. THEY TOOK ADVANTAGE OF SUN AND SNOW BARRIERS. ADMITTEDLY THE HOUSES LACKED INSULATION BUT THEY NEVER HAD MOLD PROBLEMS, ROT, OR THE PROBLMS WE HAVE TODAY EVEN THOUGH THEIR CELLARS WERE DIRT FLOORED AND STONE WALLED.
BY THE WAY HAS ANYONE EVER NOTICED THAT IF YOU LEAVE DRYWALL IN THE GARAGE IN ANY EASTERN (AVERAGE HUMIDITY-NOT DESERT) AREA. THAT THE BACK SIDE WILL GATHER MOLD. COULD IT BE THAT THE RECYCLED PAPER THEY USE HAS THE MOLD SPORE BUILT IN! NO WONDER SCHOOLS ARE FINDING MOLD BEHIND PARTICIANS AND GOING INTO A HASTY RAGE.
J2J2JJ.
Posted by jarl johnson (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot

Discussions

Shared

RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.