A New Way to Build: Green, Gorgeous and Prefabricated

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Courtesy of Alexander KolbeThis Connecticut house will combine extremely energy-efficient design with prefabrication and custom architecture.

Eco-friendly houses can look as chic and gorgeous as any site-built homes, while still being quite kind to the planet. With the reality of abundant waste going into landfills and the effects of global warming, it seems clear houses should be built with more consideration for the earth. A new house under construction in Connecticut that is designed and built by evoDOMUS, a firm influenced by German design, is a perfect example.

Germany and other European countries have worked to build more efficient and eco-friendly houses for many years because of their commitment to the Kyoto Protocol and because of the high cost of fuel in Europe.

Alexander Kolbe, who cofounded evoDOMUS with his wife Michelle Kolbe, worked for several years in Germany designing very energy-efficient homes for a variety of companies. He and Michelle, also an architect, met in Berlin and have been married and designing homes together since 2000.

Through their company, the two architects aim to design and build homes that are of the highest quality, modern and sustainable and have net-zero energy capabilities.
"Our ultra energy efficient, custom designed, contemporary homes take modular home building to new levels, using a flexible, panelized construction method," the firm says on its website.

Alexander Kolbe learned his craft from some of the best construction minds around the world. (One of the homes he designed for the British division of the German firm Baufritz, House Jackson, appeared in the book "Prefabulous World: Energy-Efficient and Sustainable Homes Around the Globe" by Sheri Koones, the author of this article.)

In 2011, the Kolbes decided to go out on their own to form evoDOMUS to start designing and building highly sustainable houses in the United States.

"Given the choice of spending a sizable sum of money for a home that consumes energy at an alarming rate, or spending slightly more initially to benefit from substantially lower utility costs, and thereby helping to conserving our planet's limited supply of fossil fuels,
we at evoDOMUS believe that the latter can prevail," the company website says. "The key is to make it an easily understandable and obtainable choice. Also, this 'healthy for the planet' choice need not look healthy, nor must it look like it is good for the planet! It can look bodacious, chic, generous and new, without being bad for anyone."

The First House

Two years after starting
evoDOMUS, the couple contracted to design and build their first house in New Canaan, Connecticut. The house not only will have beautiful modern design but also the best technology that is used around the world -- extremely efficient insulation, high quality triple-pane windows by Loewen, continuous ventilation and energy-efficient appliances and lighting.

One key to the energy efficiency is the highly efficient prefabricated panelized system manufactured and erected by the New Hampshire company Bensonwood.

EvoDOMUS project manager Rob Shearer said it is the panelization process that helps make the homes so airtight.

"When the exterior envelope is constructed in a controlled environment, with precision machinery to assure that everything is flush and square, it makes all of the tiny gaps and cracks inherent to any type of construction much smaller, and easier to seal," Shearer said. "In addition, the panel joints are gasketed, and the overall effect is an extremely tight enclosure. Controlling air infiltration is crucial to an efficient, healthy home. Not only for controlling temperature, but also humidity. It is a common misconception among builders that 'houses need to breathe.' Houses do not need to breathe. People need to breathe."

Tight houses require mechanical ventilation, and the New Canaan home will use the Zehnder system ERV ventilation system to
control the distribution of fresh air throughout the home. This system keeps the house very airtight with a 95% efficiency.

Building the Home

The foundation took a week to build and the envelope another week. When the few non-factory installed windows were installed and the roof completed at the end of October, the house was completely dried in. The project is scheduled to be ready for the homeowners to move in February. Click on the video below for a time-lapse view of the project's rapid progress.

Prefab Panelized Building
Alexander Kolbe/evoDOMUS

Other Systems

The heating and cooling in the house is generated by two separate ducted Mitsubishi mini split heat pumps, one per floor. The walls are approximately 14 inches thick and provide minimum R-35 insulation. (Learn more about R-value here.) The roof is R-60. The facade of the house on the first floor is Resysta siding, made of rice husks, natural oils and resin. The second floor is StoTherm stucco system with a continuous additional layer of insulation.

The bathroom fixtures are all water-saving, low-flow fixtures. The dual-flush toilets have in-wall Geberit carriers that hold the wall-hung toilets and the water tank, which is integrated into the wall and is not visible. All tiles in the house have a high content of recycled material. All lighting systems are LED or CFL to save energy.

Since contracting the initial house, evoDOMUS has added two more Connecticut projects, in Greenwich and Redding. The firm also has begun projects to be built in California, New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Florida and Medellin, Colombia.

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