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Pre-Fabulous Bamboo Living
by Eloise Anderson
Pre-fab – not a new idea. Bamboo as a great “green” option- in Vietnam, they assemble the panels in their factory in Vietnam, and then they flat-pack the panels and ship them all over the world. Once the panels arrive at their destination, depending on the floor plan and square footage, the houses can be erected in 3 days (small house) to several weeks (a 2-story house).Consider that bamboo is cheap, renewable and surprisingly durable: steel plate inserts and corner braces are strategically attached to bolster the bamboo poles, bamboo has a tensile strength that rivals steel and all housing models from Bamboo Technologies are certified to withstand winds of at least 150 mph – hurricane winds.
Perhaps the two most surprising things about the Bamboo houses, though, are the cost and the beauty of the homes. Prefab can sometimes conjure up images of rectangular building blocks, stacked on top of each other, sometimes artfully, sometimes not. Take a look at the Bamboo Living website at www.bambooliving.com – you’ll see octagonal houses with ornate porch railings, curvy Asian-inspired rooflines and beautifully conceived interior details. And the price? You can buy a one-bedroom house with a loft –installation and everything--for less than $100,000. That’s affordable!
Bamboo home designs use many interchangeable parts and can readily be adapted, expanded, connected, disassembled or moved. We see this type of construction being ideal for the Virgin Islands; it’s environmentally sensitive, it’s cheap, it’s durable, and it’s funky enough to fit into the community either as standalone houses or as guesthouses/pods to larger villa estates.
Instant Housing, Just Add Labor
by Kelly O’Brien
With a last name like Greathouse, Alan and Candice seemed destined to be included in our discussion of alternative housing options. Serendipitously, their house is a prime example of an easy, inexpensive building alternative. An 800 square-foot bungalow, the Greathouse’s home came from Deltec Homes in Ashville, North Carolina, and was shipped, in pieces, to St. John. This may sound like it would be costly, but the base price for the kit was $35,000 – and it took only three days to go from container to competition! Say what!
“It went together like a giant Lego project,” say the Greathouses. Assembled from twelve 8’ by 10’ panels, the house came with windows pre-installed, while the doors were installed on site. The entire assembly process was overseen by a representative from the manufacturer.
Kit houses, while certainly time- and money-saving, do require some effort before and after assembly. The slab, wiring, plumbing, flooring, wall treatments, etc. are not included in the package, and so must be taken care of either by the homeowner or a separate contractor.
The Greathouses, though, decided that it was worth the effort. Concerns about the cost and availability of materials here in the Virgin Islands led them to consider a kit house in the first place, and Deltec’s homes have a reputation for being able to withstand hurricane conditions, which sold them on the idea.
They were also impressed with the amount of customization that was possible, even with a prefabricated house. “We liked the many variables offered, including three different ceiling heights, our choice of any window manufacturer, treated wood, hurricane packages, and the list goes on,” they say. The Greathouses stress the importance of research and planning before choosing a kit, but overall say they’ve had a really positive experience. “We’ve met so many wonderful people who were so helpful and generous with their time and expertise,” they say. “We wouldn’t trade the experience for anything.”
Deltec Homes: (800) 642-2508 www.deltechomes.com
Small + Simple = Savings
by Kelly O’Brien
Although eco-friendliness has long been a guiding principle for Estate Concordia, their new development, the Concordia Cottages, is taking it to the next level. St. John architect Glen Speer, who is designing the project, says their strategy is to build very energy efficient units.
“Concordia is a very difficult site,” he says. “It’s both very windy and very hot.” The terrain is also a concern – resort owner Stanley Selengut is determined to disturb as little of the natural environment as possible, which means no heavy equipment will be used during construction.
But Speer, who’s lived on St. John since the 60s, is no stranger to challenges. For the Concordia Cottage project, he’s designed extremely efficient pods that will not only have a very small carbon footprint, but also a small physical footprint as well. Building small, Speer says, is key. “The most important change that people are going to have to do on St. John is build smaller,” he says. “Ultimately, that’s how you save money.”
Speer also made the most of the footprints they have. Each cottage is actually two units stacked on top of one another – an approach that Speer suggests would serve homeowners well, when designing their houses. By building two units on a single footing, you can end up with a house and a rental at a significantly lower cost than building two separate structures. And renting, says Speer, “will pretty much always be a viable business on St. John.”
The other key component of Speer’s design is simplicity. The two places that people can save money on a project are in the initial building costs and in the long-term management and maintenance expenses. The latter is something that, until recently, many builders and designers have overlooked. One of the simplest ways to cut down on those long-term costs is to keep the electrical and plumbing systems simple, says Speer.
In addition to the small and simple design principles, the Concordia Cottage will incorporate a lot of eco-friendly building products. The framing is “reasonably conventional,” says Speer, but many of the other components are green products. The walls, for example, are 5.5-inch thick Structural Insulated Panels, while the floors are cork. Not only do these products both provide significant insulation, making the units more energy-efficient, but they also act as sound-proofing, which will allow the cottages to be built closer together, thus disturbing less of the surrounding environment.
Speer’s advice for anyone building a home on St. John boils down to these basic guidelines: Plan carefully, keep it small, have a clear vision of the project, and find the right people to work with.
Estate Concordia: (800) 392-9004 www.maho.org/estate.cfm
August 14, 2008