Last Saturday I was invited to a seminar hosted by Blu Homes. I first read about Blu Homes on Treehugger when it was announced that the company had bought Michelle Kaufmann Designs. Michelle Kaufmann is a renowned architect who had her own design/build prefab green modular home site. With the stock market crash of 2008, which decimated the housing market in the US, Kaufmann’s firm was one of its many victims.
Blu Homes designs and builds modern, green, modular home manufacturers. There are a few significant differences between Blu Homes and other modular home manufacturers: The frames are made out of steel and an entire module can be folded into a more compact form for easier transport. This ‘folding ability’ has several advantages over the traditional modular home. For instance, fewer transport trucks are needed to ship modules (two can fit on one flat bed) which also significantly cuts down on the cost of shipping. In fact, one of their models can be shipped to a building site on just one truck. Using fewer trucks means lower costs and less pollution from transportation. Because the shipments are smaller, they can travel up narrow, windy roads and can be installed in more challenging spaces.
Because of the folding technique, homes are all finished within the factory, meaning they can be reassembled on-site in significantly less time. In fact, Blu Homes sends in their trained assemblers to put the home in place and finish it. Maura told us that usually a house can be delivered, assembled and finished on site in about 10 days.
Another advantage to the folding technique is that modules can be up to 21 feet wide and 18 feet high once unfolded. A traditional modular home tends to have modules that are no wider than 8 or 9 feet with ceiling heights of the same measurement. The steel framed structure also gives the homes durability to withstand severe weather events including high wind areas, flood zones and even earthquake zones.
The Blu Home philosophy is all about providing a green prefabricated home with excellent design features. They have a team of architects (including Michelle Kaufmann) who have designed the current and upcoming model homes in their inventory.
There are many “standard” green features to these houses, in other words, features that are included in the cost of building the home.
Smart Design: Homes are designed to feel big without being big, with open plans and high ceilings. They are also designed so that they can “grow with you.” In other words, if you only have the budget for a smaller unit, but anticipate the need for more space in the future (ie., a growing family, running your business from home, etc.), homes can be designed so that more pods (units) can be added later. Rooms are often designed with multiple uses in mind. Libraries can also be extra bedrooms, office spaces, play rooms, etc.
Orientation: Like any good green home design, Blu Homes will help you site the house so that passive solar gains are maximized and wind patterns are taken into account. In addition, included in their overall fees are basic deck designs and some landscaping design.
HVAC: Maura told us that they spent significant time perfecting the installation of radiant heat flooring so that it was a standard feature in all models. Standard are 93% efficient Viessman boilers in larger models and Embassey boilers in smaller models. HRVs or ERVs (heat/energy recovery ventilator) are also built in to every model. Note, central air conditioning is not included in homes because they are built for the most part without forced air (ducted) furnaces. However, Blu Homes will design a ducted home for you. In general though, the theory of a green home is that central air conditioning should not be necessary if the building envelope and positioning are done properly, particularly in a northern climate. Homes can come with mini-split (ductless) air conditioning units.
Building Envelope: The tighter the building envelope the smaller the heating and cooling system that’s needed, the less money you will spend heating your home. In this case, the building envelope consists of a combination of rigid foam insulation and eco fiberglass insulation in the walls. Walls are built with an R value of 24.5, Basement with R-19 or r-29 depending on if the basement or crawl space is conditioned. The roof is put together using SIPs for an R value of 38 or 45, depending on the model.
Windows: The windows are Anderson 400 series, which are high quality windows. They are double-glazed, with a low-e coating and filled with insulating argon gas to give a U-value of 0.31 (which is the equivalent of an R value of 3.22).
Material Use: In general, to have as low an impact as possible when building these homes, thought has gone into the selection of all materials. There is extensive recycled content used within the construction of the homes, and because they are built within a factory, there is 50-75% less material waste per home than homes constructed on-site.
Water Use: All toilets, showers and faucets are low flow, and there is the option of including a living roof (or green roof), and rain water catchment systems (additional charges for these systems).
Fresh air: A typical new home can off-gas up to 22 pounds of harmful volatile organic compounds into the air, and the off-gassing can continue for years. All Blu Homes are made with products with no off-gassing potential or mould-generating potential. Indoor paints and stains are zero-VOC, flooring choices consist of wood, tile, and other hard surfaces. Note: Because the foundation is the owner’s responsibility, you should discuss different mould prevention options with your site contractor.
Energy Efficiency: With energy use in mind, provided lighting is CFL and some LED where appropriate. All included appliances are Energy Star.
Home Models: There are currently 7 different models to choose from. Many of the models are available in a “mix and match” scenario where one kind of design fits with another. The current trend on larger pieces of land is to develop different “pods”, such as a main house with a separate guest house or art studio or retreat all on the same property.
What the client is reponsible for: First, you need to have a plot of land. If you’re not sure whether it’s suitable, Blu Homes will advise you on whether one of their models can be built on it. Secondly, you are responsible for hiring a site contractor to build the foundation, as well as to get all the necessary permits. Blu Homes will send the home plans to the contractor, but the contractor is responsible for the design and construction of the foundation, whether it’s a crawl space or full basement is left up to you. You are also responsible for landscaping and deck construction, but Blu Homes will help guide you. They will do a complete landscape design for you for an additional fee.