High Concept, Low Cost

The sudden explosion of interest in green building has left some of us bereft. How do I get one? We see energy efficient homes gracing the cover of Dwell. We see the Wired green home, on the block for $4 million. But what about the little guy? Where do we get our piece of the green pie?

The only way for that to happen is if what they call mass production builders—the developer giants like Toll Brothers (well, but they do luxury stuff) or Putle who crank out tens of thousands of homes each year—go green. Some are dabbling in it, of course, but the long learning curve means the price is hefty for now; since in theory your monthly water and utility bills will be lower, you can do a delayed gratification purchase should your bank account allow it.

In the meantime, the federal government and a consortium of developers, builders, contractors, and engineers called Path (Partnership for Advancing Housing Technology) are crafting Concept Homes: extremely green houses that are modest in price to build and to buy. Their first Concept Home, in Omaha, finished earlier this year and their second is just under way in Charleston, S.C.

The homes are built according to six principles:  Flexible Floor Plans (easier reconfiguring); Organized and Accessible Systems (easy to reach HVAC systems and such, for easy repairs); Improved Production Processes (this one, I still don’t exactly get); Alternative Basic Materials (that’s where the low-VOC paints and such come in); Standardization of Measurements and Component Interfaces (make all the little mechanical things the same so you don’t have to figure them out each time); and: Integrated Functions. You can download pdfs about each of these principles on their website as well as take an online virtual tour of the house. Check out the moveable partition on the first floor.

But will the Pultes and Toll Brothers of the world take the Concept Home as inspiration? No word yet. A few hundred folks toured the first Concept Home, which builder Fernando Pages described as “on the wrong side of the tracks in Omaha,” during its open house this summer, and several thousand have tooled around on the Web site. The home sold for a little over $200,000, though a series of grants brought the house down to the $95,000 range. Affordable indeed. One problem they have yet to solve: the jealousy the rest of us feel until we’ve got one of our own.

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