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Green House vs. Greenhouse

To save the environment, imitate mobile homes and go pre-fab.

By LeeAundra TemescuNovember 29, 2007 6:00 AM


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It is easy being green. To prove it, West Coast Green, an exposition in San Francisco dedicated to environmentally friendly construction, debuted the first ever fully manufactured version of architect Michelle Kaufmann’s mkLotus prefabricated house. The dwelling is subtle, chic, and the epitome of modern-day sustainable living. But unlike other “homes of the future,” this one isn’t just a concept. You can order the mkLotus right now, and in a few months a tidy bundle of ecotechnologies, materials, and design will be assembled into a single modular unit for the one-bedroom-and-bath model—and delivered to your site.

The mkLotus features water recirculation, energy-efficient foam insulation, LED lighting, a grass-and-flower-growing “living roof” that keeps rainwater out of the gutter, and a basin that stores rainwater for landscape irrigation. The 1.5-kilowatt solar-panel system will produce enough electricity for you and your plug-in hybrid car, and the dwelling is built off-site, which reduces construction waste by up to 75 percent (remember that the next time you sneer at the local trailer park). There isn’t a wall, floor, door, countertop, or light fixture in the home that isn’t recycled, energy efficient, sustainably produced, or otherwise ecofriendly. Even the kitchen sink has a low-flow faucet.

Admittedly, none of this technology is cutting edge. “There’s a tendency among green architects to look for the latest and greatest,” Kaufmann says. “We need to instead look back before the Industrial Revolution, before we had mechanical means of controlling indoor climate.”

All this guilt-free living is cleverly made into a very livable—if very small—home. No huge sacrifices, save putting up with an appalling lack of closets, seem to be required. The design is sophisticated and makes the 700-square-foot one-bedroom feel relatively spacious. The kitchen is fully equipped, and there’s a real toilet in place of those vaguely unsettling “no-flush compost” commodes found in many green bathrooms.

Even if you’re willing to suffer the close quarters to save the planet, the cost may give you pause. Fully loaded, the single-bedroom mkLotus lists at $249,000—about $356 a square foot—and that doesn’t include installation, site preparation, or the land itself. Granted, there will be significant saving on your monthly utilities—for one, your electricity will be free—but that saving comes at over double the cost, per square foot, of 93 percent of new homes sold in the United States in 2006. Living green may now be easy, but it still isn’t cheap.

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