Pre-Fab Houses Go Green: Sheri Koones Interview

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This article has been updated.

In her forthcoming book, Prefabulous + Sustainable, author Sheri Koones sets out to show how beautiful and green a prefabricated home can be.

The book is divided into three categories –- “green, greener, greenest” –- and the homes featured vary in style, design, type of construction and size. Koones walks the reader through each of the homes, explaining the materials, strategies and systems used to create a sustainable living environment. CleanTechies had a few questions about the methodology and the pre-fab industry.

CleanTechies: Tell me how you chose the houses you profiled.

Koones: I was looking for houses that were as sustainable as possible, but also attractive, in various locations of the country using different methods of pre-fab construction, and in city, residential and suburban settings.

CleanTechies: How did you find them and ascertain which ones you wanted to look at?

Koones: I found them through the different associations that I deal with, the Building Systems Council, the National Association of Home Builders, the Structural Insulated Panel Association. And a lot of the builders I know and manufacturers that I’ve known over the years that I’ve dealt with.

CleanTechies: So personal taste with legwork?

Koones: I looked at over 200 houses that could have been used. I wanted houses to be not only sustainable, but have charm. And charm is kind of an indistinguishable characteristic. When I called manufacturers and said I’m looking for something charming, sometimes I could tell there were blank looks on the other end. But I wanted to include houses that also looked very nice and were appealing, because if people think of houses as being green and unattractive, that’s a very bad combination.

CleanTechies: Did you discover anything that surprised you?

Koones: I ws surprised at how some people were able to make their houses really sustainable without going to great lengths and great expense. Very few of the houses in my book had solar panels and geothermal systems or PV panels. People just used very creative methods of where they located the windows, using concrete flooring and creative ways to find recycled materials.

CleanTechies: Are these homeowners particularly eco-conscious? Or did they just realize this would be a good way to save some money at the same time as making their house sustainable?

Koones: I wanted to really show how these houses could be sustainable and attractive, and most of the homeowners were very budget-conscious. One of the homeowners that I spoke to in this book said she kind of had a green filter. When she was deciding on a product, she had to decide whether it was going to really serve the purpose of being green and was going to be cost-saving in the long run.

CleanTechies: What is the difference between a pre-fab house and one that’s site built?

Koones: A pre-fab house is either partially or totally built in a factory. And most of the houses in this book are mostly built in a factory. The difference is that the materials in a factory are able to be re-used. The people that work in these factories can work most of the year without downtime because they work close to the factory and they’re not expending a lot of fuel getting to and from their place of work. When materials are shipped to a factory, they’re shipped in bulk, so there’s a lot of savings in the transportation, the cost and the useage.

But the biggest thing is that in a factory, the materials are being recycled, so if they cut off a small piece of wood in a factory, it can be very often be used in another part of the house or in another house. Some of the modular factories return the dry wall to the manufacturers so that it can be recycled. One factory takes whatever wood is not able to be used and they put it out in bins for the neighbors to use in heating their homes.

CleanTechies: What was the most unique feature you saw?

Koones: There was a very interesting house in Massachusetts that was built on an infill lot that had debris. The town is a faltering town, Lawrence, Massachusetts, that used to be a big industrial town. This one little lot was a dump for garbage and the town made an offer that whoever would build on this lot, they would let them have it at a best-offer basis. The people who built this particular house offered $11,000. They built a very sweet house and took the shipping crates and made an entrance gazebo out of that, and they used local flooring from an old factory. They made it very in-synch with the neighborhood.

But it was very charming. Most of what they did was passive solar orientation. The house was LEED certified platinum. There was nothing really expensive that went in – it’s just a very efficient and charming house, and was a very inspiring story.

images: SheriKoones.com

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3 Comments

  1. Great Article! I love the fact that she references “charming” as a major influence on sustainability. She is absolutely right! A beautiful place is inherently more sustainable because people feel connected and responsible for the place/building/neighborhood’s well-being.

    I’d be interested to know how many of these homes might be constructed on site by relatively unskilled labor (Habitat for Humanity model). It seems like if we can figure out how to install these prefab systems in a simple way, we will have arrived at the ultimate durable, beautiful, green and cost-effective solution for affordable housing.

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