Student architects design eco-friendly homes

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Coming up, Student architects design eco-friendly homes

But first…these stories.

Blu Homes, manufacturer of

environmentally efficient modular homes,

officially opens East Longmeadow factory


by Jim Kinney of the Republican

EAST LONGMEADOW – When a Waltham-based manufacturer of environmentally efficient modular homes and room additions started to outgrow its small factory just off Interstate 495 in Littleton, it found exactly what it was looking for in a vacant former Pratt & Whitney airplane factory in East Longmeadow.

“It is a fantastic space for us,” said Blu Homes president William M. Haney, a high-tech entrepreneur who founded Blu Homes with venture capitalist Maura G. McCarthy in 2007.

Next week the first three modular Blu Homes buildings will come off the East Longmeadow assembly line, hoisted by a giant overhead crane onto a waiting carrier. Monday, Haney and McCarthy hosted a ceremonial ribbon cutting for U.S. Rep. Richard E. Neal, D-Springfield, within the cavernous 80,000 square-foot factory at 330 Chestnut Street near Lenox American Saw. Besides hosting Pratt & Whitney, it was once home to a packaging machinery company and to a Hasbro warehouse.

Blu Homes has been in the space for about two months, Haney said.

“But the building was less important than the workers we found here, with the skill sets we needed,” Haney said.

Neal said Western Massachusetts has an opportunity if it can go after Boston-area startups looking for space and the people to expand.

“Western Massachusetts has traditionally had a lower cost of doing business,” Neal said.

McCarthy said the company has 35 employees, up from about four a year ago. Of those 35 employees, 15 are in production at the East Longmeadow facility. They earn from $15 to $55 an hour depending on their skill set.

Skills include carpentry, plumbing, heating and electrical and steel fabrication, said Trevor L. Huffard, vice president of operations.

“We could have 150 here in a year if we continue to expand,” Huffard said.

Blu Homes are “green” because less waste is generated in their construction. They are also well-insulated and have efficient heating plants along with windows that can be placed for optimal passive solar heating. Huffard said their steel frames allow Blu Homes to fold out once they are on site so their interiors are more open and airy.

Haney said his idea was to marry modular homes with interactive Internet technology. Blu Homes allows people to design their homes or room additions online. The homes are based on work done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Rhode Island School of Design.”

“Push a button and we build it for you and ship it anywhere in the country,” he said.

One-level room additions start at $64,000 while the largest of two-floor homes the company sells starts at $260,000.

Huffard said the cost to consumers averages about $160 a square foot.

Haney said they’ve built 13 homes and rooms so far and have 20 sold. Among the projects they built were sets for “Lopez Tonight,” comedian George Lopez’s TBS late-night show.

New home-building concept

From the Press Democrat (Santa Rosa, CA)

The kitchen looks nearly complete, with cherry cabinets, granite countertops and stainless steel appliances.

But the bedrooms have no walls, just rafters and two-by-four studs that show the outline of a future home in east Santa Rosa.

The kitchen was built in a factory in Sacramento, as were the two bathrooms and the master bedroom. The rooms form a single unit that was trucked to Montgomery Drive and placed on a foundation, becoming the “core” around which the rest of the three-bedroom, Craftsman-style house is taking shape.

“Everything’s perfectly plum and straight,” Charlie Traboulsi, the home builder, said of the factory work. “It’s extremely efficient.”

This new approach to home construction is the brainchild of four local businessman who have launched a new company, HybridCore Homes.

The partners include Young America Homes founder Robert O’Neel, residential developer Clint Wilson, architect Kevin M. Farrell and house designer Shaun Faber. Together they have hired former Exchange Bank chief executive Barrie Graham to be the Santa Rosa company’s president and CEO.

HybridCore Homes seeks to marry modular-built and on-site construction. Under their approach, the company officials insist, builders can put up houses cheaper, faster and with better quality.

“That’s a major shift in home building,” said Graham, who had a core unit is on display last week at the Pacific Coast Builders Conference in San Francisco.

Modular homes have been available in the U.S. for at least seven decades. But most of the modular home factories are in the East, and such homes still comprise only about 5 percent of the nation’s single-family houses, according to the National Association of Home Builders.

Much of U.S. home construction has changed little in the past century. Most builders now bring in factory-built roof trusses and cabinets. And some large home builders have switched to using panel wall systems. But a new home usually means that some components are built on site.

HybridCore seeks to persuade builders to let a factory construct the most-expensive rooms of the house, the kitchen and bathrooms. Those core rooms come complete with all desired fixtures and appliances; only the floors need to be added.

Using one of more than 80 complete architectural plans prepared by Farrell and Faber, a builder places the core unit on a foundation. The rest of the house is “stick built” by the onsite construction crew.

The cores, which can weigh 15 tons, come in different sizes and cost roughly $50,000 to $100,000, said Graham.

Wilson said these homes can be built for 20 to 30 percent less than a comparable house built on site, and they can be completed in half the time.

The result, he said, is a builder could put for sale a starter house from $330,000 to $450,000. At such prices, he said, a builder can “compete with the foreclosed homes” in their area and those offered in short sales where the price is less than the amount of the mortgage.

The company has attracted the interest of a manufactured and modular home manufacturer, a subsidiary of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.

“We saw an opportunity to revolutionize how builders would build homes,” said Dan De Varennes, sales manager of Karsten Homes. His company’s Sacramento factory is building the core units.

Vic DePhillips, chairman of the national home builders association’s Building Systems Councils, said he had never heard of such an approach, but he was impressed with what he saw on the HybridCore Homes website.

“What these guys are doing is a really great idea,” said DePhillips, who also is president and CEO of the Signature Building Systems, a modular home manufacturer near Scranton, Penn.

Traboulsi, with his brother Fred as his project manager, is looking for more building sites on which to use the HybridCore Homes system. For builders today, he said, “everybody knows we have to reinvent ourselves.”

Coming up, Student architects design eco-friendly homes, but first a word from our sponsor.

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Student architects design eco-friendly


By Sienna Jackson/ Roundup

The sun was beginning to set Saturday night as lively guests mingled at the Canoga Youth Arts Center, eager to tour a rather unusual art gallery.

One exhibit, a sleek modernist home weighing roughly 4,000 pounds and built entirely from old shipping containers, hung suspended from the ceiling by thin wires.

However, this house was only a model, not built out of modular steel, but from plywood and cardboard.

The miniature home was only one of the exhibits showcased at TRASHionable, an eco-friendly design showcase sponsored by the architecture department at Pierce College in association with the Associated Students Organization (ASO).

All the pieces exhibited were created by Pierce architecture students, with a green theme in mind.

The students had only two weeks to organize the event and showcase projects made entirely out of recycled garbage.

“People are thinking about sustainability,” said Beth Abels, associate professor of the architecture department. “[The focus is on] solving today’s problems with what we already have.”

Out of the 10 pieces exhibited at the show, four focused on green housing.

The two-ton home mentioned earlier was designed by student Eli Brown, a project titled, ‘the Courtyard House.’ The home was designed and planned by Brown in 2009 and features four large shipping containers as the body of the house.

Using shipping containers to build eco-smart, cheap housing is a growing trend in an industry becoming more sensitive to conservation and efficiency, a trend that Brown embraces.

“[Architects] should think more about the materials they use for construction,” said Brown. “Instead of cutting down a tree, use a shipping container to build a house.”

TRASHionable is Brown’s first exhibit.

Another designer, Tiffany Raynor, presented two works for the show; a privacy screen made out of recycled plastic bottles and her own take on a shipping container house.

Her home, titled ‘Tetris,’ is inspired by the game of the same name, which also happens to be Raynor’s favorite. ‘Tetris’ utilizes four containers of varying shapes, reminiscent of the geometric game.

“This house can be taken apart in pieces, put on a truck, moved, then put back together in a totally different way,” said Raynor. “Just like the game.”

“On behalf of Production and IT Manager Bob Stovall, Editor Tony Kovach and the entire writing and support team, this is Erin Patla, G’day!”

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