The Greenbuild KB Home ProjeKt takes an in-depth look at the way houses will be constructed in the future. Borrowing an idea from Virginia Tech’s groundbreaking FutureHaus research, the project will demonstrate the school’s unique panelized approach to residential construction.
The house will be outfitted with seven modular “cartridges” in spaces including the kitchen, bath, and a mechanical wall in the utility room. The roughly 30-inch-deep cartridges will be wired and plumbed in the factory, delivered to the site, plugged into the foundation, and then joined together by wall panels and covered with roof trusses.
It’s an idea that other manufacturing industries have employed for decades, says project architect Manny Gonzalez of KTGY Architecture + Planning.
“You take the elements of a home that contain the fixtures and appliances, and you build them in modules with the idea that eventually we can build homes in manufacturing plants, just like cars,” he says.
This component approach will make the home more affordable and more adaptable than a site-built dwelling, says Joseph Wheeler, co-director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Design Research. Creating parts in a climate-controlled factory setting helps leverage economies of scale and minimize waste, he says, while enhancing quality, precision, and efficiency.
“No longer do you have to have technicians that have to go out into the field and install everything from plumbing to electrical,” Wheeler adds.
The approach also will allow the home to evolve with the changing needs of its residents, says Dan Bridleman, KB Home’s senior vice president of sustainability. “New technologies and products can easily be integrated into the home by modifying or replacing cartridges, which also extends the potential life of the home,” he says.
The use of prefab elements did not limit the design of the home, says Gonzalez. “If you do it right, a home built with cartridges can actually look better than a traditionally built home because you get away a little bit from on-site construction defects—there’s a little more quality control,” he says.
An added bonus: The cartridges will allow the home to seamlessly upgrade to evolving technologies without becoming obsolete or inefficient, says Bridleman.
KB Home executives are “very interested” in the cartridge concept and how it could be integrated into the company’s construction process, says vice president Jacob Atalla, who believes it will be in mainstream use by 2050 or earlier.