Dec 11, 2019

Green Cabin Kits Modern Prefab House Project Update And Off Grid News

Prefab House Project Updates And Construction News

Greetings from Green Cabin Kits!
Our sweet clients P&M sent in their prefab house construction update a few weeks ago from the west coast! Between teens and travel, I only now am posting this prefab project update, so another is soon to follow!

If you recall, they heavily modified our Dogtrot Mod from, from this... this:

They are also clients who decided to take the lead on their project, something I advise the average residential client from doing. But this client is an engineer.

I have appreciated our client's frank insights.

His engineering background, world scope, and adventuresome, creative spirit have all been key to their construction and prefab house kit modification experience.

"Hi Copeland.  Sorry I've been ignoring you.  Our situation got messy for a while but now we're back on track if somewhat behind our original hoped-for schedule.

We had two problems to overcome.  First was the dearth of interest from local builders here on the Oregon coastal strip, between the coastal range and the Pacific.  The people that call themselves contractors or builders are really just interested in doing as little as they can to make a modest income.  They are happier doing remodels than build a new structure and have absolutely no interest in learning anything new. That has resulted in all the work having been done by businesses I found inland (...).

Second, and perhaps our biggest problem was our desire to have a one level home and garage, in anticipation that one day one of us might be in a wheel chair and need easy access from garage to house without assistance.  This became a huge problem when we tried to get grading estimates to create a suitable flat plot on our lakefront sloping lot.  No one was prepared to commit they could do it and quote a price or they simply said it was too big a job for them to take on.

I wanted to get a contractor to grade the best they could so we could see what we had to work with as we couldn't finalize the house and garage design until we knew the amount of flat land we could create.  M. didn't want to spend the money to grade until we knew we could afford to build what we wanted but we couldn't get final building quotations until we had a final design.  One might say we had a serious Catch 22 situation.

We eventually resolved the problem by deciding to just go ahead and build the house, with a basement to reduce the amount of dirt to be brought in, planning to add a possibly smaller garage, with a ramp between it and the house.  We contracted with a young contractor from the valley who showed up with a small Kubota backhoe and he set to work.  One week later we had our house flat pad done and the excavation for the basement done too.  He also flat graded the area where we want to build our garage which came out around 6' above the house pad.

One week later we had the builder who will be doing our SIP construction on site installing the formers for the foundation and pouring concrete.  A few more days later they were back setting up the formers for the stem walls and the ICF structure for the basement walls.  This past week they came and finished the concrete pouring for the stem walls and ICF.  The next step will be installing the joists and floors so the SIP can be set on top of them.

At some point as the SIP builder's designer was talking with me I asked why he'd decided to have the floor joists installed using metal hangers inside the concrete stem walls.  He said he always did that.  I said that would make it very difficult to route electrical wiring up from the crawl space as I'd have to carve my way through concrete to get to the base of the SIPs and access the molded channels.  I suggested he reduce the height of the stem walls by a foot and lengthen the 12" floor joists so they could sit on top of the stem walls, then it would be easy to drill up through the floor between the joists to run wires up into the SIP walls above.  Savings eliminating the steel brackets and reduced concrete required came out a wash with the extra cost for the slightly longer joists.

Ironically it now looks as though the level of the house floors will be only a foot or two below the garage pad.  It should be easy to have a shallow ramp between the garage side door and mud room/laundry entrance.  We might even be able to make it level by grading the garage pad a little lower and using the extra dirt for raising some areas around the lot to better manage water runoff and access to the basement and lakefront.

You'll see the WolfTrot still has the basic layout of your Dogtrot Mod prefab design but it has evolved a lot with all the revisions I had to make.  ... We ended up with (...) more conventional doors at each end.  However, I did have the designer incorporate the necessary headers (lintels in English) so that if I get the chance I'll be able to open up both ends and install wide opening doors without having to rebuild the walls above.  Prego!  It's in there!  Do you remember that advert for pasta sauce?  It's in there!

I will be taking lots of pictures of the construction process and will send some when I can.  At this moment we have all the materials and labor scheduled to build the shell, roof, walls, siding, doors and windows with all the critical weather sealing so we anticipate a sealed shell to work inside possibly around the end of October or early November.

Now I'm focused on scheduling the septic tank and drain field installations as soon as all the heavy equipment has left the lot, along with electrical power and plumbing.  I hadn't planned to be my own prime contractor but was prepared to if I had to.  ...  I've learned just how many decisions cascade into more decisions and on and on.  It's like kicking one stone that hits a few more and they even more and soon you have an avalanche.  Make a poor decision of delay making one and it can present more and more issues later.  Planning ahead helps but if you don't know what you don't know ...

You can't teach experience but I feel I'm learning a heck of a lot as we've been doing this.  Getting the high level decisions made, such as roof and siding colors or floor treatments are hard (...).  But deciding where you need every electrical outlet, the amperage of each circuit, the location and interaction of the necessary switches and finding an electrician that won't rip out the SIP insulation because he's never worked with it before...   It's challenging.  I'm almost at the point where I just may decide to do all the remaining work myself.  Take my time and be sure it's done well, correctly and safely.

In Oregon, home owners can do their own building as long as it passes building code inspection.  I've discussed this with our local city building inspector and he's very supportive.  The only work I can't do is the septic system and I'll be happy for a contractor to do that and I do have a reasonable quote from a company in the valley.  I had hoped we'd in the house for Xmas but now I'll be glad if we can be in by Easter.

I never expected to be living in our 36' coach for this long.  But we're doing fine and the coach was well built and is holding up fine.  A lesser RV would not have lasted as well we're sure.  All the solid oak cabinetry is very solid so the repeated openings and closings of cupboards, drawers and sliding room doors had not resulted in any structural problems.   It has made us realize that although we are living in just 300 square feet of space, all our "stuff" is nearby in another 750 square feet of storage space, so we really have 1000 square feet of distributed living accommodation.

Although our previous house was around 2000 square feet we probably actually lived in just half of it.  Our new home will be around 2000 square feet too and we'll mostly live in just half of that too.  The rest is just room to "spread out" or entertain when you want to.  I'll admit the few trips we've made, usually to potential vendors or a car club outing have been great to get a change on scenery.  And it's nice to be able to enjoy a long shower in a bigger space than the one in our coach when we've stayed overnight in hotels, but then it's still nice to come back to our  home and relax.

Everyone who has seen what we're doing likes what they see.  

Most think we're crazy but at the same time you can detect some envy.  In a few weeks we'll be able to at least sit in a couple of folding beach chairs, with perhaps a scotch and soda in hand, inside our weatherproof, lakefront shell and look out at our new world.  

But not for long.  There will still be much to do.
Watch this space for future developments...

(Copeland's note: I have enjoyed so much getting to know P&M through their prefab house project, and clearly, you can see why!!!!)

And At My Own Off Grid Prefab House...
Fall Flies Into Winter At Our Off Grid Prefab House.

I have been avoiding writing, not for any reason other than it's just not that fun anymore... writer's block envelopes my keys...

BUT. Then a kind reader emailed me and asked when I would post! You made my day, and made me want to start clack clack clacking again on the keyboard, because I *do* have things to say.

Ten Years In Our Own Prefab House
I love it. I still love it. I love the small square footage, the energy efficiency, the layout, and am so... centered and happy and comforted when I'm home.

I love living off-grid.
SURE there are things I would improve / change / work on in the prefab house finishing, don't we all have something to tweak? I mean, there are still small areas of the SIP we still haven't finished covering! That is the downside when one decides to "do the interior finishing on their own."

Let's tweak the dog. WHAT A MESS!
(But we love him...)

We have not two, but THREE teenagers this school year!

Our "second son" hails from the third-largest city in China, but has adapted to Life In Population 40 (and the nearby Southern City) well.

He is not complaining.
 We are making a farm kid out of him!
If you would like to read about my own life, off grid in a (now ten years old!) prefab house (from our sister site, Green Modern Kits) you may do so on my blog, here.

Sep 19, 2019

Modern Prefab Cabin House New CornerHouse Project NEWS!

Looking for a home in Prescott?
Justin can help

For our latest modern prefab house project update, let's check in with our client Justin who is building the modern prefab CornerHouse from Green Cabin Kits in the southwest.

Justin is a Realtor, investor and serial entrepreneur originally from Phoenix, but he has lived in Prescott since 2001. He is a native of Arizona and a graduate of Arizona State University, where he studied Business.

In his free time, Justin enjoys trying the latest restaurants, thrift shopping, and enjoying the beautiful northern Arizona weather while exploring the many lakes and trails with his pup, Ted.
"Hi Ted!"
When it came time to build his future retirement home, Prescott was an obvious choice for Justin because of its small town feel, friendly people and abundant recreation and natural beauty. For those unfamiliar, Prescott is a historic old west town dating back pioneer days. It’s home to the worlds oldest rodeo and world-renowned for its idyllic town square. Visitors can often be found wandering Prescott’s winding roads of Victorian homes or exploring the many historic saloons and former brothels of ‘Whiskey Row’ - the town's main entertainment district.
This project will be a learning experience for Justin, and he hopes to leverage it, along with his current knowledge of Real Estate, so that he can become an area expert in the green design-build space. 

The site itself is located in a recreation area called the “Granite Dells”, an area of exposed precambrian bedrock which is over 1.4 billion years old. Over time, the rock has eroded to form spectacular vistas of boulders that seem to be delicately balanced into most interesting formations, which are very popular with hikers and rock climbers alike. The area is also home to 2 lakes - Willow Lake and Watson Lake, which are both popular destinations for visitors taking in the scenery.

The first residents of the Dells were Prehistoric natives who settled in the area over 9,000 years ago, and built an early network of dams and irrigation systems to support their agrarian lifestyle. In the 1800’s, the area passed into private hands and was part of the Payne family ranch and became the site of one of Prescott’s earliest resorts - compete with swimming lake, picnic areas and lawn bowling.

If you’re a fan of Westerns, you may recognize the landscape from some of your favorite films, featuring actors such as John Wayne and Buster Keaton.

The uniqueness of the geography does not come without its challenges, as homes in this area often require significant engineering to account for the granite outcroppings and silty, decomposed granite soils. As of late, the area has also become known for its unique architecture, with several Modern homes dotting its otherworldly landscape, as well as geodesic domes, cave castles and earth ships.

When undertaking this project, Justin put great deal of care into finding a design that would complement the unique beauty of the area and when he first discovered the CornerHouse plan 2013, he knew immediately it would be a perfect fit. 

The site itself sits prominently elevated above the granite basin of the Dells, nestled in a small ravine and visible to the streets below. To access the site, you must ascend a narrow gravel drive to a secluded cul-de-sac where the residence will sit atop 13 concrete piers, providing panoramic views in almost all directions.
To build the home, Justin is working closely with the Yavapai County development services department to obtain the extensive reports and engineering required. Due the the diverse geology of the area and often problematic soils, he was required to submit a full soil analysis, topographic report, as well as the typical site plan and fully engineered building plans. He selected Red Butte Engineering for the soils report, Granite Basin Engineering for the site plan and topographical analysis as well as Wright Engineers for the structural side - the partner firm to the SIPs manufacturer, Premier SIPs.

In order to prepare the site, it will be necessary to excavate and grade a steep slope of silty-type granite and eventually build a retaining wall to control erosion of the roadway above. This will be done in several phases, starting with the foundation and working closely with the local municipality to ensure all local standards are met.

This residence will differ from the standard CornerHouse prefab modern house in a number of ways... more details on this modern prefab house project, coming soon!

Jul 29, 2019

Modern Prefab Cabin Project News: Wolftrot Update from Green Cabin Kits!

Our own off grid passive solar prefab house from
Green Cabin Kits's sister site, Green Modern Kits.

Yes, we are extremely overdue on prefab house construction project updates from Green Cabin Kits!

There are a lot, so let's take it over a few prefab house construction posts instead of all at once.

As I have mentioned, I used to post all the time, but have lost my joy of writing.
Not because of work, but because...
we're in the teen years.

Teen 1 and Teen 2 are great,
doing well, flourishing...
but they're teens.

(However, I did get a few pictures of them smiling! Here you go:)

Ok fine he's super cute...
She's cute too...

But they're... teens.
So... I don't feel like writing!

Thankfully, our wonderful clients are interesting, kind, and happy to provide us the words for the next few Green Cabin Kits prefab house posts!

Let's start with the prefab modern home in the Pacific Northwest, then next up will be the Arizona CornerHouse, then the Dogtrot Mod underway in Austin, and then an update on the Lake Tahoe projects, and on.

Without further ado, I present updates on our *modified* Dogtrot Mod in the pacific northwest, Wolftrot, from my favorite English-engineer-moved-to-the-USA-once-lived-in-a-castle-now-wants-a-prefab couple!

For reference, you can see the original prefab modern cabin house Dogtrot Mod, here.

This update is in two parts, one from April, one from June.

The clients were encountering delays because of site-specific issues like grading challenges, and local material challenges. Let's start with the local material challenge: CONCRETE.

On a sloping lot, with a desire for slab -and- a half basement, our clients have run into some concrete vendor and application issues, one of them being that a British company has purchased all the local concrete plants and, upon taking ownership, significantly increased concrete costs.

So they were looking at alternatives.

We are always interested in green building solutions to construction dilemmas.
In our own prefab home, we used fly-ash to offset our concrete's carbon footprint.

Our own prefab house is on slab.

Some green building alternatives to concrete foundations include
 From SmartCities Dive:
"Screw piles also take a lot less time to install and this makes for a shorter project time. In turn, they also require far fewer people to install than a traditional foundation. Fewer people means less energy required and a lower carbon foot print.
The process is also safer than the one used to install a concrete foundation, which means there is less risk for the work force. Of course, the reduced costs of all of the aforementioned is also something that needs to be mentioned.

Concrete foundations do have their place, however screw piles can be used for a vast amount of the foundation work in modern building. They offer a far more eco-friendly alternative to the traditional methods and are also lower in cost and thus have become increasingly popular in the last decade or so."

They are also looking at creative solutions for their grading challenges to make them financially feasible.

The cool green building solution items of note is that, my client states,

"First, I believe I've found a grader that will provide a better lot contour that will reduce the need for importation of additional materials.  Second, I'm getting a quotation from Goliath Piles for screw pilings to be installed for the building foundations.  This can eliminate all or a significant portion of the concrete required in the construction.  At least one builder we're talking with sees this as having huge potential here in the local market where most homes get built on sand that has historically required concrete raft foundations."

These grading challenges also present added costs with lugging construction materials to the job site, including the SIP.

Now as you know I am totally okay with a client not using SIP *if* they are choosing an energy-efficient, reputable, green building, LEED-embraced solution.

BUT you have to understand comparing apples to apples, and oranges to oranges, if you want your organic fruit salad financial numbers to match!

Boy do I appreciate SIP's energy efficiency
in extreme temperatures!

So if you're considering not using SIP, make sure you not just factor in the material cost "to frame" or "to insulate" but to frame *and* insulate, projected cost savings through efficiency, and even then, how do you guarantee that an alternate insulation method was done correctly and at what R value?

That is why we sell our prefab house kit package as not just the design documents, but design documents hand in hand with SIP, so that you *know* your home will be evenly, consistently, and guaranteed at a good R value, with proven structural integrity.

In June, I received more updates from the Wolftrot project!
"We have now had our well drilled and capped at 260 feet deep.  We are seeing just 3.5 gallons a minute from around 60 feet down but got no more the deeper we went.  The well driller said we could go to 300 feet before risking any increase in salinity despite us only being around 60 feet above seal level and around four miles as the crow flies from the Pacific Ocean.  I decided to stop at 260 as that means we'll have 200 feet of water (26 - 60) down the well which equals around 300 gallons plus whatever we keep in our above ground pressure tank.  I'm thinking we'll go for at least 40 gallons in the tank (i.e. an 80 gallon tank) and perhaps more just to reduce the pump cycles and extend the pump life.  It will be a dollar trade off, depending n the cost of a replacement pump vs the incremental cost of a bigger tank.

Our planned home drawings are about final.
We've had them reviewed by the structural engineers and used their feedback to size the roof beams accordingly.  Now our draftsman is detailing the interior so we can get final price quotations for the interior work.  We're hoping to have the gross numbers in hand in a week or two for the foundations, footings, floor, walls and roof structures, with windows and metal roof and siding included.  We can't quite finalize the deal as we're still trying to get a blasted grader to come and prepare the lot ready for the foundations.  I may have to buy a 4x4 tractor, loader, backhoe and grading attachments and just do it myself!

I'm attaching the latest renderings of the house.
Ignore the colors.
Well, not all of them.

The roof is correct as shown in charcoal grey, the siding will be light grey, the rear trim (frames, sashes, fascias, etc we want mid-grey) and the decking will be stained a dark natural wood color.

At the front M. has insisted we only have the one double door to the sunroom (But I've specified we will have the lintel in place to open the wall up at a later date if I can get away with it.  I'm planning to use Dutch doors (double for the basement and sunroom, single for the entry door) so we can have just the upper panels open with removable glass or bug screen panels depending on the seasons.

I've had the RV barn eliminated from the garage structure to shrink the building outline and give us some options for later modifications.  But I've also had the garage drawn so we can build it quickly using SIPs if the price works out okay.  Getting the structure weatherproof quickly will be a serious consideration given the heavy rain historically starts in October.

We visited the metal roof and siding manufacturer last week and saw the various grades and designs.  It was well worth the trip.  We both feel better about the quality of the materials and the finishes.  I've been wanting to add a flash of color on the siding around the front of the guest room structure to 'break up' the amount of grey.  M. balked at using red barn as a shade on vertical steel siding.  I then tried a light yellow which she though better but balked at the vertical siding panels.  At the manufacturer, we saw how they had cleverly covered their large structure with roofing and siding panels in very creative ways and M. liked it!  Now I just have to get her to sit down with me and agree how we're going to create the visual break I want.  We'll get there.

The problem is I want to color the dutch door panels (not the braces) with the same color we use for the contrast on the guest house.  BTW, the trim will all be white in the front of the house.  My idea is that the rear of the structure will be modern NW style contemporary while the front is more rural/craftsman style.  We've even figured out how to create a front porch over the front deck and entryway that M. wanted.

You can expect to see a couple of traditional style rocking chairs on that porch.
I anticipate they will never get used.

That's all for now.  I'll send the pictures soon, after I've added the well drilling shots."

THANK YOU WOLFTROT clients for the updates!
(And don't ever underestimate the power of a good rocking chair! I suspect our sweet clients will find MANY quiet happy moments in them, even as busy as they are!)

I hope you all have a great summer, I promise to post much more over the summer following up on the other prefab house construction project updates.
Meanwhile, here are a few pictures of our summer back-and-for th from the off grid prefab house, to the bay.
: )
And thus, until I post the next prefab construction update (for which I now have MULTIPLE posts so I'd better get writing!), I leave you with... pictures of... teens.
Ok fine THEY are super cute...
They are ALL adorable!
We will get through the cranky teen years!

But we are having fun.
(As my English clients say: Taa Taaaaaaaaaa... For Now. : ) )
Ok maybe we'll survive this teen stuff.
Always something to work on...

Now she's working on her Papi.

Lawnmowers working hard... wait.
"Aaaaaaaa! That's my garden!!!"
 We'll be back with more prefab house project updates, soon!
 In the meantime, TTFN.