Modern, Affordable, Green Are Buzzwords For Showhouse


The phrases "environmentally friendly" and "high tech" aren't often used in the same sentence. While the first implies getting back to basics, the latter signals the embracing of highly sophisticated elements. Add in the term "pre-fab," and you have a confusing and opposing array of phrases.

Yet all three can be used to describe the NowHouse demo home by Clever Homes, which was showcased in the parking lot of San Francisco's SBC Park from late October through mid-December. The home was presented by the Affordable Green Development Corp., a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting positive, efficient home-building knowledge and resources in the community. It showcased the latest advancements in environmentally friendly home building and included many technologically advanced features. And, it was all done in a pre-fabricated construction design.

"We provide a kind of one-stop shop for clients to access a fully integrated house, inclusive of the structural technologies'the doors and windows, the framing, the panels and all of these sorts of pre-fabricated type components, accompanied with an integrated interior design solution," comments Toby Long, AIA, principal architect and co-founder of Clever Homes. "We provide fewer, but better choices for customers, and we've organized a collection of specifications for everything in a house that is built upon a platform of affordability, as well as meeting our own requirements for energy consciousness and sustainability," Long remarks. "It's a general theme'modern, affordable, green."

The Design Tri-fecta

Long notes that three design themes were employed when creating the home'modernism, resource efficiency and sustainability, particularly in the home's kitchens and 2.5 baths.

"We subscribe to the emergence or refinement of contemporary living'simple, clean lines and natural materials used in a very modern way and organized very simply," he explains.

As for resource efficiency, all of the fixtures were chosen based on their ability to conserve water. "For example, we promote dual-flush toilets [and] low-flow fixtures, showers and faucets," he specifies. Those are seen in the two full baths and powder room.

The home itself is almost a 50% glazing to floor area ratio, according to Long. "So, in our 2,400-sq.-ft. house, we have about 1,200 sq. ft. of glass. As a result, there's a lot of natural light, which provides a reduced demand on the artificial lighting system," he observes.

Sustainability is also key to the design and concept of the NowHouse, and the firm is very environmentally conscious when it comes to the selection of materials for the solutions that it provides to homeowners. "All of the materials used to create the cabinetry and floors are renewable and recyclable," Long notes.

The home was also designed with the idea of simplicity in construction, he reports. "The plumbing and electrical components are easily distributed to the kitchen and bathrooms from the way in which the house was constructed," Long states.

"And, all of the cabinet components in the bathrooms and kitchen are designed to be 'modular' so that they permit any variety of combinations," he continues. "The distinctive message that we provide within this world of pre-fab modern is that we do not dilute the design process. Through the component-based approach, we can mix and match so we can reorganize to accommodate a variety of different design solutions."

The Central Station

"The kitchen is positioned to be at the center of the building, [demonstrating] the kind of kitchen-centric idea that we all like and promote in all of our projects," reports Long. It's also designed to provide for circulation around it, he adds. "The cook can be in the galley and still be removed from the general circulation of the building."

The galley area itself features lower cabinets on both sides, as well as upper cabinets on the rear wall. The cabinets, from Neil Kelly Cabinets, a firm that produces sustainable cabinetry, are a horizontal-grain bamboo veneer over wheatboard, which actually is made from wheat. "Because they are made from the husk and rind of the wheat harvest, and are fabricated in such a way that there are no VOCs, formaldehydes or ureas, there's no off-gassing of the cabinets," explains Long. "That's wonderfully unique from many laminate cabinet solutions."

The countertops, which are also environmentally sound, are a cellulose product from Richlite. "This is compressed paper'a renewable, recyclable resource that is impregnated with resins and pigments so it's a solid material." A green shade was used to top the pale cabinet hue.

The stainless steel kitchen appliances from KitchenAid were chosen based on the Energy Star rating within the modern design style, explains Long. The washer and dryer, located elsewhere, are from Whirlpool. "We worked very hard to find what we believe are some of the highest-end appliances that still preserve the Energy Star ratings," reports Long.

Low-flow faucets and low-voltage recessed lighting, as well as pendant fixtures, round out the kitchen function and design. A vertical grain bamboo floor is used throughout the downstairs rooms, including the kitchen.

Bath Function & Style

The bathrooms in the home, which include two full baths upstairs and a half-bath/powder room downstairs, are all in keeping with the environmentally friendly theme of the house.

Said low-flow fixtures are featured in each of the baths, including low-flow showerheads in addition to the faucets themselves. Each room also includes a dual-flush toilet to conserve water.

The cabinetry in each of the baths is similar in fabrication to that of the kitchen. The Neil Kelly cabinets are a horizontal-grain bamboo veneer over wheatboard, just as they are in the kitchen. They also feature the same compressed-paper countertops from Richlite'in black in the upstairs baths and purple in the powder room.

Long notes that the two upstairs bathrooms include access to natural light, and feature a small window in the showers. The lighting solution in both rooms is low-voltage, as it is in the powder room downstairs. A pre-finished cork tile floor completes the rooms for a "funky twist on how to do a bathroom," comments Long. While he is not sure that he would recommend this flooring for a long-term-use bathroom, he cites that as a way to illustrate the range of flooring materials that are available.