Modular EcoFabulous houses stylish
THE EcoFabulous home may not yet have a buyer, but it has many admirers, including the author of an upcoming book titled Prefabulous and Sustainable.
Sheri Koones says the book is meant to dispel myths about prefab homes and show how beautiful and green they can be.
The EcoFabulous home, designed and built in Vancouver, is one of 25 modular homes Koones features in her book — to be published this spring — and one of only two from Canada, out of more than 200 she considered. The other Canadian home is in Georgina, Ont.
The designer of the EcoFabulous home is Vancouver architect Kanau (Kon) Uyeyama. Since establishing the Architecton firm in 1972, he has won two Governor-General’s Awards for a townhouse-office complex and a City of Vancouver heritage award.
Uyeyama says he tries to design buildings that are functional, beautiful and user-friendly. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that he realized modular homes fit the bill — and that they can be energy-efficient.
After designing a couple of vacation homes on Mayne Island in the southern Gulf Islands chain of B.C., Uyeyama’s promotions consultant, Mary Todd, realized it would have been simpler to have constructed them in a factory, then shipped to the island. Todd thought the modular houses would be perfect because it’s difficult to get contractors and workers to go to remote sites, Uyeyama recalls.
Todd had other bright ideas, as well. Having participated in the green movement for 30 years, first as an organic gardener and recycler, she wanted Uyeyama’s modular homes to be as green as possible. So this is just one step further in my lifestyle philosophy, she says, adding that her background in science — she’s a professor emerita in the faculty of medicine at UBC — has practical applications to architecture.
My research topic was the composition of blood vessel walls, and doing literature searches on building wall, etc., is not that much different!
Since her light-bulb moment, Todd and Uyeyama have become convinced that not only is modular construction easier than building on-site in remote areas, it also results in better buildings — anywhere. First of all, it is much more difficult to make an airtight building with site-built (construction) since the wood expands and contracts as it is being built, even if it is kilneddried, explains Todd, adding that airtightness is the prime consideration in energy-efficiency.
Imagine, she says, the typical scenario with site-built homes, where different subtrades are working on a home independently of each other. You’re trying to have an airtight house with good ventilation and the next subtrade comes in and tears holes in your vapour barrier. That sort of thing never happens with a modular home because everything is integrated, all the trades have worked together for years.
The first modular home Uyeyama designed was for a steep lot in the Hemlock Valley, 100 kilometres east of Vancouver. It’s two-storeys, 1,800 square feet and made up of six modules. They were put on the foundation in one day and you could walk through a weathertight building by four o’clock in the afternoon, Todd says.
Adds Uyeyama: When you build modular, it’s virtually finished, then transported and put in place very quickly.
With their combined expertise, Uyeyama and Todd were able to come up a design that was chosen as the show home for the 2008 BC Home and Garden Show. And now, the EcoFabulous home will receive wider recognition in Sheri Koones’ book.
Even though it’s only 1,400 square feet, the EcoFabulous home demonstrates the range of ways you can incorporate green technology and recycled materials to create a beautiful, energy-efficient, non-toxic home.
The single-story home is made from two modules joined at right angles. Two sets of french doors open onto a large cedar deck, creating more living space and allowing natural light to flood the interior.
The energy-efficient part of the home is apparent with a peek into the service room, where a Viessmann condensing boiler system heats water. Popular in Europe, these systems recover energy that is normally lost to the atmosphere by condensing water vapour back to a liquid.
Standing next to the boiler is a titanium stainless-steel hot water tank that is so well-insulated the temperature drops only one degree Celsius in 24 hours. Between the boiler and the hot water tank are the connections for the solar panel, which also contributes to heating water.
Each room in the home has its own radiator, so the occupants can choose to heat the living area, for instance, while keeping the bedrooms cool. Each radiator has a non-electric thermostat; wax compresses and expands with the ambient temperature.
The kitchen is the best place to see how recycled materials can be turned into beautiful products. The warm, honey-coloured cabinets are made from 100-per-cent recycled paper that emits no toxic vapours. The bright blue backsplash is made from recycled glass. Two sliding bins provide out-ofsight temporary storage for newspapers, cans and other materials ready to join the recycling stream — and perhaps one day contribute to a home like this.
The most striking feature in the living room is the fireplace, made of polished olive green concrete tile and rated as 76-per-cent efficient. While no fireplace is truly efficient compared with other kinds of heating, Todd says 76 per cent is as good as it gets.
Given all its features, it’s surprising to learn that the EcoFabulous home is still up for sale, with a price tag of $329,000.
One potential client is a developer in Hawaii, who’s trying to provide homes for the working poor. Hawaii is just like B.C., says Todd, because the cost of land is out of anybody’s reach.
The two are proposing a group of eight-plexes, with four on each bottom level and four on the top. We did this because external walls are the most expensive to build, explains Todd, so with eight under one roof with just four walls, we’ve cut the price considerably.
Todd says they’re also talking to aboriginal bands in B.C., hoping a range of similar designs could work here too. Our intent is to mass produce residential housing using designs that are attractive to most potential buyers, much like the automobile industry,
— Canwest News Service
Designs from Vancouverites Mary Todd and Kanau (Kon) Uyeyama who have designed, and have had manufactured, a prefab
residence they call EcoFabulous.