Launch Slideshow

Net-Zero Pre-Fab

Three new models from Michelle Kaufmann Studio combine form, function, and sustainability.

Net-Zero Pre-Fab

Three new models from Michelle Kaufmann Studio combine form, function, and sustainability.

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    Vista is characterized by clean lines and simple forms, but offers immense flexibility for configuration of modules. A sloped roof option is available; PV panels can be positioned on the roof and trellises.

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    Sliding or telescoping glass walls on opposite sides of the Vista's great room naturally extend the living space to the outdoors while promoting cross ventilation.

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    Vista is designed for easy expansion and configuration, with just the main home or the addition of attached or detached modules; detached modules provide for courtyards or separate in-law suites, rental units, or a studio.

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    While many previous styles were in tune to mild, West Coast climates, Kaufmann developed Ridge to serve the needs of colder, Midwestern locales. The design features less glass, yet still incorporates front and rear window-wall connections to the outdoors and strategic placement of fenestration, including clerestory windows and skylights, to promote natural light and cross ventilation.

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    Roofing wraps down the side of the Ridge house to form a protective shell while also shading front and rear outdoor spaces and furthering a visual connection to the ground and surrounding landscape.

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    The Ridge model’s double-height space features an open floor plan with a loft above.

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    Like the other designs, Contours interplays with the surrounding landscape, incorporating multiple access points to semi-covered outdoor spaces.

Architect Michelle Kaufmann, AIA, long respected for her fresh pre-fab designs that integrate functional, comfortable spaces with sustainable products and practices, has launched three new net-zero models under Michelle Kaufmann Studio.

The Zero Series homes—Vista0, Ridge0, and Contours0—are designed to produce as much energy as they use, along with being healthy, efficient, and comfortable through the integration of efficient design and healthy, durable, and resource-conscious products. At the same time, the units, which range in size from 422 square feet to 2,643 square feet and start at $66,500, fill a need in the industry for more affordable options for architect-designed green homes.

“They make it more accessible to have thoughtful, green homes,” Kaufmann explains, adding that widespread acceptance of green modular housing means they can’t take more time to build, cost more than regular green homes, or be difficult to buy.  

Available through Studio 101 Designs and factory partner Blazer Industries, the houses offer the efficiency and quality-control benefits of a factory-built structure, including a price point that is more affordable than a site-built green home, but still offer flexibility in configuration, size, and product selections. Once permitting is complete, the units can be built and installed in about four months.

Though some core structures and systems, such as HVAC and soy-based spray-foam insulation, come pre-specified, customers can select from a wide range of product options, each pre-vetted “for the optimal balance of beauty, longevity, sustainability, and cost.”

Without taking the site into account, the base-model homes will meet the Certification level of LEED for Homes, as well as entry-level requirements for several other programs. Product upgrades, such as solar panels and green roofs, will boost the certification levels. In addition, the Ridge model, when upgraded to triple-pane windows and a heat circulation system, will also meet Passive House guidelines.

The models are the first pre-configured options Kaufmann has released since the she was forced to close her prefab business and sell its designs in 2009 because of the economy. In the time since then, the San Francisco-based architect opened Michelle Kaufmann Studio, which operates with a staff of four and has been working on numerous single-family custom projects, both pre-fab and site-built, around the country.

But even though the closure of the company was difficult, her team’s accomplishments continue to reap rewards, both in cementing Kaufmann’s reputation as a go-to designer for green pre-fab and in helping to eliminate some of the hurdles—both real and perceived—that will help the concepts continue toward the mainstream. “That’s what was required to change the conversation. A lot of factories were saying ‘Oh, you can’t do that,’” Kaufmann recalls. But in reality, she says, it was just that the manufacturers didn’t have the distribution for it or the means of supply (or the willingness to start a new path). By vetting all of the products and processes, her team has not only completed the legwork in terms of product supply, but also shown the attainability of such structures. 

Indeed, growing interest in green building and the realization that pre-fab does not mean sub par is helping the modular movement reach a tipping point of sorts. “The work is being received more quickly and openly and enthusiastically,” Kaufmann says. “It does seem like people are more aware and educated, and that’s awesome.”

To view and learn about each design, click on the slide show above.

Katy Tomasulo is Deputy Editor for EcoHome.