Affordable Green Homes

A few months ago we toured the “Idea House,” sponsored by Sunset Magazine, located in the lower Mission District of San Francisco. The building was fascinating – two units, three stories – with one larger home taking up all three floors, and an apartment consuming part of the 2nd floor on the west side of the structure. Everything about it was smart, from a wind generator to photovoltaics and solar water heating, to materials and energy efficiency – but the estimated cost was well over $500 per square foot.

Sunset Magazine’s “Idea House” in San Francisco.
An excellent example of cutting-edge green home design.

Along with everything else, the appeal of green design is supposed to be economic savings. If you conserve resources when producing a home, then conserve resources while operating the home, the money you save by conserving resources should more than pay the costs for the extra innovations necesssary to achieve those savings. Getting from bleeding edge to commodity is never an instantaneous process, however, and if Sunset’s Idea House is pushing the envelope of innovation, Michelle Kaufmann Design homes are at the forefront of matching green innovations with affordability.

If you want to get a good look at a Michelle Kaufmann home, watch this interview with Michelle Kaufmann posted on YouTube by Jill Fehrenbacher of Inhabitat (a very excellent online resource on green building design and green design in general) entitled “MK Lotus, Michelle Kaufmann’s new eco-prefab home.” As Kaufmann states, “We’ve been trying to find the best blending of being green but also being cost-effective.”

This effort appears to be successful, because Kaufmann’s predesigned, prefab homes are priced at approximately $250 per square foot, which is a competitive price compared with conventional homes. With townhomes and multifamily units, Kaufmann’s prices can drop well under $200 per square foot, also competitive with conventional construction. But these homes cost less to operate – and they are green.

As Kaufmann describes this, her homes are designed to “use zero net electricity, maximize water efficiency, minimize waste, and use maximum resource efficiency [in construction and operation].”

Kaufmann’s latest home design, the MK Lotus, has many good examples of how this is put into practice. Not only are photovoltaics on the roof, but the entire energy system of the home is integrated so, for example, there is a market-smart charging system where, depending on the price of electricity at any given moment, your plug-in EV is either charging itself from the grid, or discharging electricity into the grid to run the utility meter backwards at a higher rate than the vehicle’s onboard charge was originally acquired. You don’t just have a home with photovoltaics and an EV, you have your own micro-utility company.

The MK Lotus’s roof has an R45 insulation rating before you put the turf garden on top of that, which not only further improves the insulation value of the roof, but collects and filters rainwater. Along with runoff harvesting, the home has dual flush toilets, a grey water system that drains shower and sink water to the toilet tanks for 2nd use, and low flow shower heads – making it very water efficient.

With top value insulation everywhere, Energy Star appliances, a high velocity, highly efficient mini-duct ventilation system, and LED lighting, the MK Lotus home is very energy efficient. This is furthered by windows placed at corners and in floor to ceiling configurations to maximize natural light during the day. “Our goal is to never require electric lighting during the day” said Kaufmann. The home also has radiant heating and skylights that are positioned to allow hot air to easily rise out of the home on hot days.

“You can live in this home completely off the grid with just backup systems,” said Kaufmann – a statement which highlights a trend where not only will green homes save money and resources for the owners, but they will save society additional significant resources when more and more, new communities are built without requiring huge investments in new water and electrical utility infrastructure – all of this can be downsized. Green homes march on.

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