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Mod­u­lar EcoFab­u­lous houses stylish

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - HOMES - By Suzanne Mor­phet

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.

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