You can design a modular house for sustainability using CAD and energy modeling software, but the true test of its greenness comes when it’s actually installed on a site and begins to interact with its environment and inhabitants. BUILDER’s 2009 show home, which debuted as a hybrid prototype (part modular, part panelized) on the show floor at the International Builder's Show in the Las Vegas Convention Center, is finally living up to its long-awaited promise. Designed by Kieran Timberlake Architects and developed by modular builder and developer LivingHomes, the house completed its conference tour of duty late last year and was installed as a permanent residence in Newport Beach, Calif., where it has since earned a LEED-Platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council.
Platinum is the highest level of achievement in the well-known green ratings system, which evaluates building performance in terms of energy efficiency, indoor environmental air quality, materials selection, sustainable site development, and water savings.
Eco-friendly features in the 2,160-square-foot home include a central vacuum and mini-duct air distribution and ventilation system, bio-composite wood siding, recycled glass tiles, blown-in insulation, high-performance windows with recycled frames, low-flow plumbing fixtures, and dual-flush toilets. Windows are oriented for passive ventilation, and strategically placed overhangs protect the façades from unwanted heat gain.
Photovoltaic panels were added once the house was installed in its final location. The installation itself was achieved in a matter of days, thanks to the structure's clever, prefabricated engineering.
Hybrid by design, the home is made up of four steel-and-wood-framed modules (“mods”) stacked in a two-over-two configuration, plus an additional panelized wall, floor, and ceiling system that collectively form an extra bedroom, carport, and "power backbone." Ducting, electrical, propane, and plumbing systems are consolidated in a series of flat smart panels that tilt up to form a spine along the rear wall. LivingHomes founder and CEO Steve Glenn sees the LEED designation as validation of a new approach to home building that, “… uses far less energy, water, and material resources than most homes and that has far better indoor air quality.”
It's an idea that seems to be catching on. Ten houses of the same design have since been completed and another three are in production. All are expected to achieve LEED Platinum.
Jenny Sullivan is a senior editor covering architecture and design for BUILDER.