The following is an excerpt from Prefabulous + Sustainable: Building and Customizing an Affordable, Energy-Efficient Home by Sheri Koones (Abrams, 2010). The excerpt is from the Introduction.
Featured Green Prefab: The LEAFHouse
Over the years, as the author of several books on home construction, I’ve explored many of the ways that people build. Nothing, though, impresses me more than the amazing evolution of prefabrication. Think of the Sears kit houses at the turn of the last century—quality homes that arrived on trucks in precut parts and were erected by a local builder. Prefab houses have been around for years. Yet most people think of prefab as a term for mobile homes and poor-quality construction. While this was true for a period of time after the Second World War, today’s prefabricated homes are state of the art. They are energy efficient and come in virtually any style of architecture and countless sizes. Prefabs can be high-end or fit a tight budget.
Prefab offers speedy construction and tight, energy-efficient quality. Raising a new prefab house brings much less traffic and disturbance to the neighborhood than conventional construction. Prefab can also mean lower costs and faster mortgages.
I’ve been wowed by the beauty prefab architects, manufacturers, and builders achieve. I’ve visited factories all around the country, and I’m repeatedly impressed with the accuracy and technology that goes into their production. But the single most impressive aspect of prefab construction is its ecological, or “green,” advantage. If you visit a factory, you will see firsthand the resource conservation that is at the core of prefab construction. Factories employ the latest energy-efficient technology and use nontoxic products to create healthy home environments. Energy and resource conservation have become more than issues of personal choice; they are the global concern of our day.
For years I’d heard about global warming without a clear understanding of its significance. It appeared to be such a huge problem that nothing one person could do would ever possibly matter. Now, however, it’s clear to me that only individuals can make a difference. Acting as a community of concerned individuals, we can turn things around. Whether it’s driving less, making do with what we have, repairing something rather than replacing it, or even changing out old incandescent bulbs for compact fluorescent ones—the impact of our decisions and actions grows.
Nothing in our lives costs more than our houses. So when we build, we need to ask the following: What kind of roofing, siding, flooring, paint, construction method, foundation, insulation, windows and doors, cabinets, systems, and fixtures should we use? It all adds up. Building green or sustainable houses can make a huge environmental difference.
Why We Need Green Houses
One of the goals participants of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol put forth was to reduce carbon output by cutting household emissions by 1,500 pounds per person per year. According to Carbonfund.org, every one of us in this country is responsible for an annual carbon dioxide output of 50,715 pounds. Replace your old washer with an Energy Star model and reduce your output by 500 pounds; lower the temperature of your hot water heater by 10 degrees and reduce your output by 600 pounds; replace old bulbs with energy-efficient ones and reduce your output by another 100 pounds or more.
For even more dramatic reductions in your personal carbon output, make sure your next house is as energy efficient as you can make it. This will reduce the energy needed to heat and cool your home, thereby reducing your utility bills and, ultimately, your carbon footprint.
Prefab is Intrinsically Green
One of the best individual responses to these pressing environmental issues is prefabricated construction. Every type of prefab starts in a controlled environment protected from the rain, snow, and vast changes in temperature that can cause materials to twist, swell, warp, and mildew. Building lumber that is crooked and twisted joins together poorly, leaving gaps that can lead to heat loss in winter and heat gain in summer. Moreover, wet framing studs become fertile ground for mildew, which seriously diminishes the quality of indoor air. Opting for prefab allows you to sidestep these issues. Doing so also substantially reduces waste. Construction of the average 2,000 square-foot house generates 4 tons of waste. You pay for everything that goes into your house, including what’s thrown away. On top of that, you pay for the dumpster that holds the waste, you pay for it to be hauled away, and you pay the “tipping” charges at the dump when the waste arrives. Saving time and material saves money. And every builder today wants to save money.