Sunday, October 14, 2007

Daydreaming a Better Way of Living

If I could, I would love to start over with our ouse and build in its place a green modular house. Pre-fabricated modular homes like livinghomes and Michelle Kaufmann Designs cut the construction time and costs by having pieces of the home pre-made offsite.

The first picture is a Michelle Kaufmann Design that comes solar ready and uses various passive systems to cool and heat the home. It is the The Sunset® Breezehouse. I also like the
Sidebreeze. Her website says costs excluding fees $250/sf and $275/sf for MKD pre-designed homes, and- $400/sf and up Custom Projects. Surfaces that come standard on these homes are extra on Livinghome houses, but have a great customizing tool that will allow you to pick and choose various options and calculate the total cost to you.

My custom home is Model: rk5.1 that has a base price of $585,200. This model has 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, 2090 sq. ft, 75 sq ft of decking, 40 ft width and 72 ft length. I selected $95,100 worth of options: Solar Hot Water Collector and radiant heating system, a Gray Water system, a Rain Water Harvesting, and a Photovoltaic Panel system that adds 80% capacity. There are other fees that one has to factor in like getting permits that end up totally approximately $905,157 or $433/sq ft.

It really is hard to tell which is a better deal. Surfing around there seems to be a consensus that modular homes are in their infancy and are too pricey for average homeowners. The problem is that given the housing bubble burst it really isn't wise to make improvements that exceed what your house is worth in the market if you ever hope to sell or if you have to move and sell. It only makes sense if you know for sure that you will be living in this house the rest of your life and are planning to hand down the house to your kids and grandkids. The feeling in the eco-blogosphere is that modular homes will have to get down to $100 per square foot to really be accessible.

Our property is 7,800 sq ft with a requirement of a 20ft space from the sidewalk, but it is long and narrow, so a 40ft width is the safest dimension for any house plan. The price of the living home includes about 20k worth of landscaping, since we will have to move around some plants and install a drip system to take advantage of grey water and rainwater collection.

I selected Michelle Kaufmann since her office in Oakland is relatively local, but the modules are constructed in Washington State. Living Homes is based in Southern California in Santa Monica. It would be cool if there was a local company in Marin, that would construct their modules in Richmond or close enough that you are not burning excess fossil fuels to get them there. It would be cool to support a local economy as much as possible.

The next photo is an example of livinghomes dwelling, but it isn't the model that I am interested since this particular one is the more home than we need and the most expensive. It's base price is 868k. It has five bedrooms on two stories, 3100 square feet, 1435 square feet of decking, and is 40 feet wide and 80 feet long. The extras cost 100, 300 and include all of the extras on the other model i picked, but also include an ecosmart denatured ethonol fireplace that is flueless and clean burning. The total is approximately 1,229, 887 or $397 per square foot including 20k landscaping.

The other option is to retrofit our existing 1285 square foot house with eco-features like photovoltaic power system including a water heater system, and remodel the house to include passive solar lighting and heating. We would also have to insulate the house using recycled materials that will not give off any unhealthy gases. There is a spray insulation that is soy-based that looks interesting. A mix of passive and active solar seems to be the trick, but it is hard to get a price on this because it really depends how many panels we can put on the house and on the ground. Also, we are not DIY'ers, so we would have to pay someone to do this. We live in a mostly moderate sunny climate, but we do have occasional frosts below freezing and have very intense heat waves up to 114 degrees.

We can install a cool roof that can keep our home cooler and reduce heat islands that contribute to smog.

I am sure not all solar panels are equal, and if we are going to invest in a system, you want to get something that gets an additional 80% capacity. It would be nice to power our needs as well as sell back power to the grid. My dream is to live in a zero energy home, or where the net cost of running the home is at minum -- zero.
Another thing I would have to do is invest on replacing all our appliances to energy star models like Sun Frost and all our bathroom fixtures to be high water efficient. Counters would have to be replaced with enviroglass and any additional flooring be done with cork tiles. All lighting would need to be converted to LED technology. Another thing we can do is fit the house with skylights and tubelights that can light up dark places in our house during the day without turning on the lights.

I also found these composting toilets that can turn human waste into compost usuable in landscaping. It would be cool to be able to do this. Of course, you would have to make sure that all pathogens in the fecal matter were killed and would be able to be used without having to worry about runoff damaging the enviroment.

There is a local company based in Oakland called, Waterspout. They do systems for grey water and rainwater collection, as well as sustainable landscaping using native drought tolerant plants, edible landscape, succulant zeriscapes, subtropical and aquatic landscapes, and creative recycling of materials for hardscapes. With combination of water collection systems and drip systems we can have landscaping that can withstand the harshest droughts and can be low maintainance. When it rains, it would be nice to have a rain garden feature that will help filter run off before it goes to the bay.

Low maintanance is important to us since we are not green thumbs and are currently overwhelmed with our 20 feet by 40 feet backyard and significant front yard. I want an outdoor space that could allow kids to play, grow edible foods like our grapevines, and have people over for bbq and be protected from the elements somewhat. It would be cool to have a guilt-free fountain built with recycled materials, using grey water, and powered by solar. Right now alot of our land is underutilized because it is so difficult to get access and water our fruit trees consistently.

Some of the things we can do to make better landscapes are to reduce turf areas, use shade trees, group plants by water needs, and mulch all planting beds. Green roofs and walls are the practice of growing drought tolerant plants on the roof and climbing plants along the walls which actually insulates the home. There is a company called Greenscreen that can allow you to train plants along fences and homes.

I would also like to integrate a composting system that will be easy to maintain and avoid attracting pests or vermin that will easily create fertilizer for our landscape. Another thing I would be interested in is a permiable paving systems that filter rain water through paving stones and collect rainwater or move it safely to municiple drainage systems to the bay.

My question is: where is the money going to come from to allow every homeowner convert their home to an eco-home? I really think the answer is requiring all new housing to have water collection systems and solar and wind generating systems. We really need to focus on getting financing to allow every existing home to be retrofitted with these systems. Water and power will be our greatest crisis points in this century and will start being dire issues quickly as scientists become surprised at the rapid signs of global warming appear.

One of the things government can do is not add property taxation for remodeling existing homes to be eco-efficient even if they add square footage to their homes. If homeowners can submit a design that achieves water conservation, storage, and reuse and incorporates passive and active renewable energies -- I think local and state governments should reduce the cost of fees and permits and the overall cost of making these things happen.

I also think that what is needed is local companies to be supported who design, build, and maintain these eco-features. All residential and commercial buildings should have all these features all over the world. We need to retool our global economy as well as national and regional economies to provide these services accessible to everyone.

Green Transport

(Photo By Rat Phlegm) I ran across this bike that has been turned into a Sports Utility Bike that can carry a child and 4 bags of groceries. It is from a company called Xtracycle and you can either by a new Sports Utility Bike for around 900 bucks, or add on a kit to create one from an existing bike for 400 bucks. The childseat costs 200 dollars. For 50 bucks you can add footsies so you can have older passengers safely. Then for about 1350.00 you can turn your S.U.B into a human-electric hybrid drive. You can get electric charger and extra batteries to keep the bike going longer. Unfortunately, the human-electric system is not currently able to be ordered right now.

I would love to get this system and be able to get groceries without getting into my car, but one concern is that I live near a freeway with lots of cars and safety from being hit by these clueless drivers on their cellphones is a real concern.

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