DESIGN | BUILD | LIVE
IS THERE A BETTER WAY?
Two decades into a 30 year residential architecture career (Studio 29), my wife and partner Carol and I began to wonder if there was a better way to think about how we design, build and live in our homes. Is there a way to reduce resource consumption and pollution? Is there a way to simplify a complicated and expensive process?
So we spent the ensuing decade unofficially examining the way we live and work in an effort to better understand the effects of our decisions and ultimately devise a better way forward.
We spent time living on a 35' sail boat and in a 26' RV and gained perspective on space. How small is too small and what things can we do without. Living without free access to resources changed our perspective on water, power and septic. We developed a sense for how far we can scale back without compromising our ability to function in modern society.
We read books and articles and watched documentaries on minimalism, living small, resource depletion and management, population, pollution, consumerism, water, solar, wind, money, etc.
Research and self analysis has been frightening and humiliating, but also exciting. Because in the process, we discovered a way forward. And it starts with the way we choose to live.
LIVE - SMALL
Key seems to rest with the increasingly unbalanced want vs. need equation. If we’re willing to place more emphasis on need and reduce the size and complexity of our homes, some interesting questions arise.
- Mortgage/Rent – More/Less than a typical home?
- Utilities – More/Less to heat and cool less volume?
- Repairs and maintenance - More/Less than a typical home?
- Work - More/Less to finance, operate, maintain and repair?
- If I can work less and have more time, what will I spend it on? Volunteer, hobby, exercise, vacation, etc.?
- Initial construction - Increase/Decrease resource consumption (land, building materials, labor, deliveries, packaging, pollution, etc.)?
- Operation - Increase/Decrease consumption (power, water, gas, etc.)?
- Repairs and maintenance - More/Less paint when it's time to re-paint? Siding, roofing, etc.?
- Carbon footprint - Increase/Decrease life cycle impact?
Quality of life (QOL)
- What effect will all of these issues have on our individual and collective QOL?
Answers to these questions may yield solutions to many of the biggest personal and societal challenges we face. If more people consume fewer resources and have more time to devote to developing solutions to the challenges we face . . .
BUILD - PREFAB
Many of the components in our homes are manufactured at scale, so why don’t we manufacture the home itself? The appliance industry, for example, has been doing this for decades to drive innovation, increase speed and quality and decrease cost. Ten years working simultaneously with the three construction techniques below revealed the following:
- Time – Slow. Time and money are both dependent on and effected by local site, weather and availability to labor and materials.
- Money - Expensive.
- Vehicle trips (to/from site) – Most. Materials are delivered as-needed. Contractor labor travels from home-to-shop-to-site and back daily, usually in private vehicles.
- Site access limitations - Few.
- Weather - Difficult to protect construction which can result in delays, dangerous working conditions, cost over-runs, mold, rot, etc.
- Time - Fast.
- Money – Same as site built (assuming similar build and finish quality).
- Vehicle trips (to/from site) – Fewer. Majority of labor and materials are sourced near build facility. Post module install trips approximate site-built.
- Site access limitations – Most. Cost and logistics surrounding transportation and delivery often exclude modular. Especially true for small buildings.
- Weather - Modules are built in-doors which results in a safer work environment and dry finished product not subjected to weather delays.
- Time - Faster than site-built and slower than modular.
- Money – Same as site-built (until manufacturers and installation crews begin repeating design).
- Vehicle trips – Fewer than site built. As with modular, panel construction and kit assembly occur off-site and entire building kit is delivered in one trip.
- Site access limitations – Similar to site built. Panel size and weight can be designed to optimize specific situation. Small for difficult to access sites. Large for easy access.
- Weather – Properly timed and executed building shell assembly avoids weather related delays and damage.
In the end, panelization has the fewest logistical and transportation obstacles and the most promise for expansion and manufacturing evolution.
DESIGN - PRODUCT vs SERVICE
Design thinking needs to respond to the changes in the way we live and build. Small efficient homes designed for specific manufacturing and assembly processes will increase construction speed and quality and decrease waste and cost. A designer integrated into the manufacturing process will develop unforeseen product, manufacturing and assembly improvements. A process largely lacking in the building industry.
In an effort to leverage benefits of existing home manufacturing and transportation infrastructure, we've integrated some basic manufacturing fundamentals into our products.
- Nationally available building materials and methods.
- Common floor, wall and roof panels.
- Semi-independent building modules that can stand alone or be used in concert.
- Building packages configured for transport via intermodal transport system which provides access almost anywhere in the world.
Chris and Carol Rost