After eight weeks of construction, a prototype for an all-steel residential building system is complete. The 1,000-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bathroom house hovers above and among a field of boulders near the desert town of Yucca Valley in Southern California, connected to the ground only by six steel columns. It was framed in three days and fully completed in eight weeks.
Designed by o2 Architecture of Palm Springs, Calif., for start-up building systems developer Blue Sky Homes, the house was built to test and prove the viability of the Blue Sky Homes Building System, which employs a bi-directional, moment-resisting frame made of cold-formed, light-gauge galvanized steel and steel thermal efficient panels (STEPs). The steel framing components are manufactured from at least 70 percent recycled material.
"What we were trying to do was not just build one beautiful custom home, but using steel, build a house in a systematic way. We wanted to create a toolkit of standard dimensions that could then readily be applied to various configurations of a house," says David McAdam, co-founder of Blue Sky Homes. "We wanted to build a prototype house using those ideal dimensions to demonstrate that it could be built quickly and that it could be beautiful."
McAdam was planning to build a home on his Yucca Valley desert lot, but wanted to sidestep the drawbacks of building with wood in hot and arid locations. He discovered a light-gauge steel mezzanine system made by industrial mezzanine manufacturer FCP Inc. of Wildomar, Calif., and worked with the company and o2 Architecture to adapt the system for residential applications.
The resulting Blue Sky Homes Building System is essentially a kit of parts precision-fabricated in a factory and a core module that's fully assembled in the factory. Framing components and insulated wall panels are flat-packed and trucked to the jobsite, where they are assembled and bolted together using standard tools. The core module contains a bathroom, as well as all plumbing, electrical, and mechanical systems.
"We've seen and admired what the prefab [home] industry has been doing, but most of the companies have been fixated on the notion of building the entire house or large components and modules in a factory," McAdam says of he and partner Robert Brada's motivations to develop their building system. "We felt that the best approach was factory fabrication of components and site assembly. It's the best of both worlds."