Successful Open House

Posted June 3, 2009 by David McAdam
Categories: Uncategorized

Thanks everyone who made it to the open house this weekend.  We had nearly 100 people show up starting at 10 AM and lasting through 4 PM.  We really appreciate all of your positive feedback and hope to see more of you at the site in the future.

A small but efficient bathroom

Posted May 28, 2009 by David McAdam
Categories: Uncategorized

In the years leading up to the current economic meltdown new home developers kept finding more and more ways to pile excess on top of excess as their products grew ever larger, and more bloated.

No room witnessed more of this proliferation than the bathroom.  Dual sinks set in acres of marble and granite became commonplace.  Shower enclosures with multiple spray nozzles.  Separate toilet rooms within bathrooms.  Wall-mounted televisions. The list went on and on.

When we started planning our first prototype house we knew that we wanted to see how far back we could dial all of this without making anyone feel deprived.  I think we have come pretty close with the bathroom we created.  At 47 square feet it is certainly small (the shower is a cozy two and a half by five feet and lav and toilet occupy the remaining 34.5 square feet).  Bath 1

But nothing about the room feels cramped and the finishes and lighting we have selected make the room both highly functional and very pleasant.  The lav, which is nearly five feet long by two and a half feet deep, offers three large drawers for plenty of storage.  A wall-mounted medicine cabinet further adds space.  A large mirror covers the entire wall above the lav.  A beautiful light fixture mounted on the mirror ensures that there is plenty of light at the mirror.

We selected a simple white fiberglass shower pan for its affordability and ease of maintenance.  Above that we sheathed the shower walls with tempered painted glass.  With only a couple of seams this ensures that no one will spend their time at the house scrubbing dirt in tile grout.

We hung a simple shower curtain from a hospital-type ceiling track.  This further kept the cost down and gave the room a much more open feel than it would have had with a solid shower door.

Finally, just for fun, we put a steel and glass commercial door at the end of the shower.  So, when the weather is nice (most of the time) you can skip the indoor shower and just step out to a private deck – complete with an outdoor shower.

Small Home, Plenty of Space

Posted May 21, 2009 by David McAdam
Categories: Contemporary, Home building, Modern, Small home, Vacation homes

The prototype home we just completed in Yucca Valley consists of 1,000 square feet of conditioned space (along with about another 250 square feet of covered outdoor space). Compared to the average American home — which is about 2,500 square feet — our house is very small. But everyone who has visited the home since we furnished it has commented that it feels very livable.

That was one of the key tests we set for ourselves a year ago when we started planning the project — could we build a small home that did not feel compromised in terms of its livability?

We didn’t start with a fixed square footage in mind — we started with a fixed notion of the number of bedrooms we wanted. We wanted to see what the optimum size might be for a two-bedroom, one-bath home. Inexorably our investigations kept leading us to a home of about 1,000 square feet. Bedroom

We started with the bedrooms. We felt that the bedrooms — which in our house are identical in size — had to be able to accommodate a king bed. We didn’t want anyone rejecting our house because their preferred sleeping arrangement would not fit. But we were also concious about not cramming too large a bed into too small a space. We felt that any bedroom should be able to accommodate two small night stands and provide comfortable walk-around space.

With these parameters in mind we landed on bedrooms that are about 12 by 14 feet. That does not include a generous built-in closet that includes about eight feet linear feet of bar for hanging clothes and generous dresser drawers.

We have furnished our house with two bed sizes to test the livability feel. In one bedroom we have a California king. In the other we have a queen. Everyone remarks that the bedroom with the king feels proportionately just about right while the room with the queen feels a little over sized.

In my next post I’ll discuss the size of our bathroom.

Six Weeks Construction Time?

Posted May 6, 2009 by David McAdam
Categories: Uncategorized

Now that the prototype house is finished, I’ve been able to sit back and think through what we learned.  There were no real hiccups in the process but it feels like our 8 week construction timetable included about 10 days of R&D work to perfect future models.  I’m sitting down with the whole team next week to review and I am thinking that we should to be able to finish future houses in 6 weeks.


Posted May 5, 2009 by David McAdam
Categories: Uncategorized

Sorry for the delay between postings, there were a lot of details to deal with during the final stretch but everything worked out perfectly.  It has been exactly 8 weeks since we started this journey and I’m happy to report that the house is finished – furniture is in, television is working, literally a turn-key house!  We are still picking up a few details here and there but the crew has now left the site and we are enjoying the peaceful surroundings.

In the “Home” Stretch

Posted April 12, 2009 by David McAdam
Categories: Fast construction, Home building, Homes, Modular, Prototype, Rapid construction, Solar, Uncategorized

My apologies for dropping the ball (dropping the blog) for a while. I really didn’t appreciate just how consumed I would become with matters directly related to trying to complete our prototype house in such a short time.

But I am pleased to report that we appear to be on track to complete this house by the end of April – which would be pretty remarkable given that we only started bolting steel to footings on March 10. Better yet, we believe that we will be able to build the second house even more quickly.

This past week we completed most of the drywall work. That allowed us to start installing our cabinets toward the end of the week. This is a particularly big deal for us because it is cabinetry that divides the two bedrooms from the public spaces in the kitchen, dining and living areas. The cabinets contain closets and drawers in the bedrooms and a pantry and shelving in the public areas.

As these boxes were installed we suddenly had newly defined spaces on both sides. To my great relief those spaces felt very good. The bedrooms feel very adequately sized – without any wasted space. And the public area feels generous – especially given the large amount of glass that draws your eye outside to the deck and to the spectacular landscape all around.

Our solar panels are now mounted – the solar hot water panels on the roof of the house and the solar photovoltaic panels on the roof of the carport. Both of these systems will be tied into the house systems this coming week.

Cabinets seen from the living room side.

Cabinets seen from the living room side.

Concrete floor poured – house becoming a home

Posted March 22, 2009 by David McAdam
Categories: Eco-friendly, Environmentally sound, Factory-fabricated, Fast construction, Green, Home building, Homes, Infestation resistant, Minimalism, Mold resistant, Off-grade construction, Prefabricated, Prototype, steel, Sustainable

Yesterday was a very big day for us on our Yucca Valley project — we poured the concrete for our floors.  I can’t wait to walk around in the space tomorrow because I’m certain it will feel much more like a real home.  For the past two weeks we’ve been walking around awkwardly on our sub-floor.  That’s because our sub-floor is what is known as B deck, which is a U-shaped steel deck material that is used most commonly in multi-story commercial buildings.

Wire mesh sits atop steel B decking as concrete is pumped.

Wire mesh sits atop steel B decking as concrete is pumped.

It provides the “container” into which concrete is pumped to create the floor.  In our case we first placed wire mesh atop the B decking so that the concrete would have additional strength.  Now those U-shaped channels are filled with two inches of concrete and walking should be much more satisfying.  Saw cuts will be made to provide stress relief and hopefully this will minimize the amount of cracking that we will see.  Eventually the concrete will be polished and a clear sealer will be added.

We opted for concrete as our finished floor surface for a number of reasons.  For one thing it seemed to us that the use of concrete was consistent with our goal of simplicity.  In three basic steps we would have a finished floor (pouring, polishing and sealing).  The pouring (along with the requisite troweling) took less than a day.  Our floor should be very low maintenance and — to our tastes — very beautiful.  From an ecological standpoint our floor will also get good marks.  Adding a finished material (such as ceramic tile) atop the concrete would have meant the manufacture of thousands of pounds of additional material at some ecological costs.  And it would have added substantial weight to our home and that would have required a somewhat heavier steel floor system, which would have added further cost.

We like the look of concrete and, where we feel the need for a softer or warner feel under foot we can throw down a throw rug.

What a Week!

Posted March 15, 2009 by David McAdam
Categories: Cold-formed, Fast construction, Galvanized steel, Home building, Homes, Light-gauge steel, Modular, Moment frame, Moment resistant rigid frame, Prefabricated, Prototype, Rapid construction, Site-assembled, steel

What an exhilarating week it was.  We started putting up our 1,000-square-foot all-steel house on Tuesday and by yesterday, Saturday, we had the entire frame up, the sub-floor down, the exterior walls and insulation in, and the roof on.  We even had one of our sliding glass doors installed.

In addition we had some of the plumbing and electrical installed.  That’s because this plumbing and electrical was in what we call our core module.  This module is the 8-foot-by-14-foot interior section of the house that consists of the bathroom, hallway, laundry closet, hot water tank closet and HVAC unit.  We built it in a factory and then crane-set it on the floor joists before the roof went on.  It arrived at the house site with some of the plumbing and electrical elements already in place.  In future projects this core will likely come to the site with all plumbing, electrical and mechancial elements already installed (including drywall).

Everyone on our team was astonished that the project proceeded as smoothly as it did through the week — particuarly given the uniqueness of what we are doing.  Even though we have a very experienced team no one on the team has ever built a cold-formed, light-gauge steel house designed around a moment-resistant frame and utilizing snap-in-place modular exterior wall panels consisting of rigid foam insulation with integrated steel studs.  I’m pretty sure NO ONE has.

The prototype house on Saturday morning.

The prototype house in Yucca Valley on Friday.

So, with just five construction days under our belts, it is safe to say that we are well on our way to notching a victory in the category of Fast Construction.  None of us is quite ready to predict when the house will be completed but all of us are now highly confident that this will happen very quickly.  Stay tuned.

Great thanks to our key team leaders who made this first week possible.  They are Nate Otto with Solterra Development (contractor), Martin Brunner with o2 Architecture, Barret Hilzer with FCP (steel frame and engineering), and Dennis Nugent with Accelerated Buildng Technologies (wall panels).  You guys rock.

Our Prototype All-Steel House is Going Up

Posted March 13, 2009 by David McAdam
Categories: Cold-formed, Factory-fabricated, Fast construction, Galvanized steel, Light-gauge steel, Prefabricated, Prototype, Rapid construction, Site-assembled, steel

On Tuesday morning we started putting up steel for our prototype all-steel house in Yucca Valley, California.  As we had hoped, the speed with which we were able to make progress was astonishing.  Using mostly cold-formed, light-gauge galvanized steel components that are factory fabricated but site-assembled has proved to be every bit as effective as we believed.

All-steel on second day of construction

All-steel on second day of construction

I have been so busy with the construction whirlwind that I have failed to keep up with my blog duties and I promise to do better.  Sitting here in the construction trailer on the site on Friday morning I can report that our modular wall panels are now almost all in  place and the standing-seam metal roof will soon be going on.  Click here to see a slideshow of progress to date.

Building the Core Module

Posted March 9, 2009 by David McAdam
Categories: Architecture, Factory-fabricated, Home building, Homes, Light-gauge steel, Site-assembled, Solar, steel, Uncategorized

As I said yesterday, we determined early on to factory fabricate but site assemble our houses.  After a lot of consideration we decided to violate this concept in the way we would build the core of the house.

In designing the prototype house to be the most space-efficient we landed on the concept of the “core” of the house.   Located in the center of the two-bedroom, one-bathroom home is an 8-foot-by-14-foot section – the “core” – that holds most of the complex plumbing, electrical and mechanical elements.

Our core module under construction this week.

Our core module under construction this week.

It occurred to the team that as opposed to having plumbers, electricians, carpenters, and others work one by one on this core (with the unbearable down time between each trade) there was merit in trying to fully frame and equip this core module in the factory and then shipping it to the job site to be bolted into place.

So we are building this part in the factory – without any compromise on aesthetics – and we are going to pick up a lot of time and accuracy by limiting to the greatest extent possible site work by subcontractors.

So far our vision seems to be working out very well.  The steel framing for the module was completed in FCP’s Wildomar, California factory last week.  During this week the heating, air conditioning and ventilation system was installed in the ceiling above the bathroom and hallway.  The hot water tank that will be part of our solar hot water system was installed in a closet off the hallway.  The rough plumbing for the bathroom and the laundry closet was installed.  And the electrical subpanel, along with the rough wiring for the module, was installed.

All of this work was completed today and the module will be loaded on a truck and shipped, along with the flat steel elements for our house, on Monday.