Kit House 2.0

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Credit: Courtesy Barton + Partners Architects

With cash harder to come bythese days, many working Americans are finding themselves in a quandary—too rich to qualify for subsidized housing, but too poor to qualify for a mortgage. If entrepreneur Charlie Kamps and architect Tom Barton see their vision realized, there will be no forgotten middle class in the world of homeownership. Their joint venture, the American Sustainability Initiative (AmeriSus), specializes in energy-efficient, systems-built housing, with material costs averaging around $45 per square foot.

  • Tom Barton of Barton Partners architecture firm, with business partner Charles Kamps.  Their latest venture is AmeriSus sustainable housing.Norristown, PA. June 7, 2010.

    Credit: Katja Heinemann

    Sips Win: Kamps (right) and Barton (left) considered going modular, but decided that kits built with panelized components were more cost-eff ective. “With modular, you end up with a product that doesn’t have a lot of design fl exibility,” Kamps says, “and it has a lot of excess materials built into it, only to withstand the trip from factory to jobsite.”
Inspired by the Sears kit houses of the 1930s, AmeriSus catalog homes are designed with SIPs to fit into virtually any environment, including small or narrow city lots, suburban master plans, or rural fields. The panelized parts can be assembled as townhomes, duplexes, or single-family detached structures, and can be clad in a variety of elevation styles, including traditional, modern, and contemporary façades.

But unlike the kit houses of yesteryear, the components for these homes aren’t delivered to the jobsite all at once. Instead, AmeriSus is using a synchronized delivery approach (made possible through a distribution partnership with FedEx) that ensures that all products are delivered “just in time” for installation. This pacing ensures that materials aren’t sitting around, damage-prone, before they are needed.

Although the majority of installation is still performed on site by subcontractors, all products are volume-purchased by AmeriSus so there are no third-party cost mark-ups. And the panelized components can be scaled to meet the technical needs of builders of all sizes.

“For the small-volume builder who doesn’t want to invest in heavy fork lifts or cranes, each home can be delivered in smaller components that can be handled by four people without a lot of heavy equipment,” Barton explains. “This is beneficial for the small rural builder or a Habitat for Humanity house … whereas for a large merchant builder, we can deliver an entire wall of a house in one component.” Each home can be built in about eight weeks, he says.

AmeriSus officially opened for business on Earth Day 2010 and is on track to sell 4,000 homes over the next 12 months. “Our six priorities in this effort are affordability, home efficiency, simplicity, marketability, sustainability, and jobs,” says Kamps, who worked as a corporate manufacturing troubleshooter and brownfield redevelopment consultant before launching AmeriSus.

“Our calculations indicate that every house we build will, in effect, keep 25 people employed, either on the jobsite, or in the manufacturing of the products that will go into these homes,” he says.

Positioning itself as a partner to builders, AmeriSus is selling only to the trade and not direct-to-consumer. “We are competing with conventional wood-frame tract homes with an alternative that is more energy-efficient, land-efficient, and amenitized to the marketplace,” Barton says. “This could change the paradigm of how homes are built, and I hope it works.”