Green Prefab, West Virginia Style!

Our journeys through the green modular landscape often take us to the big cities of America. That’s not surprising, for that’s where you find the high densities of green architects / builders, green consumers and manufacturing plants that really make a prefab company sing. Recently, though, we came across a prefab company from rural West Virginia that will give any of its urban counterparts a real run for their money: Eco Structures, out of Maidsville, West Virginia.
Eco Structures
Eco Structures is the brainchild of John Garlow, who has been building timber frame homes and using structural insulated panels (SIPS) out of his own workshop since the late 1970s. Several years ago, when it became clear that the green prefab housing market was ripe for liftoff, he decided to put his many years of prefabrication expertise to use with a new “green” twist. He designed and built a prototype modular Eco Structure on his own property and a new company was born.

The Eco Structure homes are targeted for LEED Platinum certification by the USGBC (process under way), and they come in 450 square foot modules that can be assembled in various configurations according to a client’s needs. Some of the more innovative elements of the Eco Structure system:

  • Passive Solar and Ventilation Design. Almost all of the home’s heating, cooling and hot water is provided via smart use of passive solar design. The south side is primarily glass, and awnings and decks provide shade in the summer but allow sunlight in during the winter. Exterior air is drawn in through large pipes buried in the ground, which warms it in the winter and cools it in the summer.
  • High Efficiency Building Envelope. The home’s exterior walls and roof are all made out of SIPS that attain insulation levels of R-36 to R-46 and meet the latest in energy codes across the country. Windows are all quad-paned – energy-efficient dual-pane windows are combined to surround a layer of inert gas, offering maximum efficiency.
  • CisternsRainwater Harvesting and Water Efficiency. In John’s prototype, rainwater is filtered to drinking water standards and stored in a 2,400 gallon cistern. The system provides nearly 100% of the home’s fresh water demand. The prototype also employs graywater recycling and composting toilets (although these might not be to code in all jurisdictions).
  • Advanced Home Automation System. A home automation system made byHome Automation, Inc. controls all of the energy, security, smoke detection and home entertainment systems in the house, and can be configured and monitored over the Internet.
  • Solar Thermal and Radiant Heating System. Water is heated via two separate solar thermal systems (one on the roof, one embedded in a vertical wall) and then stored in an in-home tank. Hot water goes to both fixtures and an in-floor radiant heating system. In the prototype, the radiant system is also connected to a backup wood-fired boiler.
    (Click here for more information on other green building components and systems.)

Prefab ModuleClearly, some of these elements aren’t appropriate for all settings. Each base module can be configured with any of the various options above, depending on client needs and local permitting standards. The 450 square foot modules are easy to transport, so Eco Structures can serve most of the Eastern and Southern US. And, they are compatible with pier foundation systems, so you don’t necessarily need a crane to move them into place. The target price (confirmed in the prototype) for an Eco Structure home is approximately $150 – $175 per square foot.

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