Prefab Green Homes are Affordable Small Space Living
Clayton Homes, based in Maryville, Tenn., is one of America’s largest manufacturers of mobile homes and prefabricated housing. So when President Kevin Clayton wanted to go green, he gave his architects a free hand, instructing them to incorporate as many green products as possible and to produce a home that was super energy-efficient — the only constraint was that it had to be something that could be built in existing facilities.
The result was the Clayton I-House, an innovative prefab home that can be powered for a dollar a day, thanks to Low-E windows, solar augmentation, high-efficiency appliances and superior insulation. The solar panels on the roof don’t supply all the home’s needs, but they do cut electricity consumption in half. There’s also a tank- less water heater and a cistern that collects rainwater from the roof for use in gardening, car washing or other outdoor uses. Floors are made of fast-growing bamboo, and paint and insulation are low/zero emission.
The basic I-House is 992 square feet, though the design’s blend of indoor and outdoor space makes it seem bigger. Though final prices haven’t been set, Clayton hopes to deliver it for about $100,000. But the “core” unit can be expanded by adding additional rooms in different configurations to suit the buyer’s needs and the character of the lot — placing rooms above one another to accommodate, for example, a hillside. Clayton Vice President Chris Nicely says the goal is to allow as much customization — both in configuration and interiors — as possible. It can be set on a traditional foundation, for example, or it can sit on piers driven into the ground.
The Clayton folks see the typical customer for the I-House as being younger and more affluent than traditional mobile-home buyers. The interior and exterior are attractive, looking like something from a high-end home show, not the kind of disposable mobile home you’d see coming from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The house more closely resembles a product that you might buy from Ikea. In fact, it is a house you might buy from Ikea: Kevin Clayton is a fan of the Scandinavian furniture company, and Clayton Homes is exploring a partnership with Ikea that would feature display models at Ikea stores and even allow people to design and order their own I-Houses from the Ikea Web site.
So where does the I-House fit in to the troubled times of the current housing market? Well, obviously, it’s not for everyone; even with several expansion modules added, large families will probably find it a bit small. But with big, expensive houses looking less attractive as investments — since their values are actually plummeting in many markets — and with energy costs virtually certain to climb in coming years, the market for a small but stylish house that has lots of high-end amenities with a low energy bill is likely to be pretty big.