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Eco-friendly house-in-a-box

I guess good things don’t always come in small packages.

It’s all the rage these days and it comes in – and out – of a box, delivered neatly to your doorstep. Well, technically, it gets delivered to your plot of land since you wouldn’t have a door yet. I’m talking about prefabricated houses, specifically the subspecies designed to use energy and space wisely.

This video from Blu Homes, a Massachusetts-based company that builds green prefab homes and ships them nationwide, shows the unfolding process of one of their prefabs (sped up just a tad):

Blu Homes video

It’s fascinating to see the unfolding process in action, but the math is also impressive. According to the US Energy Information Administration, residential consumption is responsible for more than 20% of greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion — a major chunk of our overall footprint. Retrofits can be expensive as well as resource-intensive (replace your single-pane windows and you’ve improved your efficiency but you’ve also necessitated the manufacture and distribution of a duplicate set of windows for your house), but greening from the start can be considerably more cost-effective.

Blu Homes claims that its homes can save homeowners 50-70% in energy costs compared to an average, similarly-sized home. Some of these savings derive from the company’s choice of materials, but some of it also comes from the ability to orient the house on a building site so as to maximize passive heating and cooling benefits. This is sensible and clever and not at all common practice for mass-production housing tracts. I suspect even custom homes are rarely oriented specifically for their energy efficiency potential.

So what’s the catch?

Well, first and foremost you have to have open land upon which to place your prefab home. This alone puts them out of practical reach of many people. Indeed, a common marketing bent for prefab eco-homes is to use them as an addition to an existing home, a vacation home, or a guest cottage – all creating a larger personal footprint instead of a smaller one. Also, as Grist reports, pre-fab eco-homes aren’t necessarily inexpensive and they aren’t necessarily compact. For $109,000 though, this place looks pretty spectacular to me.

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