Michelle Kaufmann — who led the way in prefabricated “green” homes — will be in San Diego on Wednesday to discuss how keeping it simple is the answer to creating sustainable places to live.
Kaufmann designs modular homes that are built on factory lines, a process she says cuts the construction time in half. Her methods and ideas earned her the nickname “Henry Ford of green homes,” by the Sierra Club.
Her work has been on display at several U.S. institutions. Workers built a full-sized copy of her own modular home, the Glidehouse, at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and her three-floor Smart Home: Green+Wired exhibit is on display at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. She’s completed 54 homes across the country, from the Bay Area to Washington state. The Glidehouse model’s pricing starts at $360,000 but Kaufmann also does luxury homes.
The innovator, who will be in town noon at the California Center for Sustainable Energy in Kearney Mesa, talked via phone with the Union-Tribune for this week’s Friday on Friday housing profile. To register for the free function, click here.
(Please note: Kaufmann’s responses have been paraphrased.)
Q: You emphasize simplicity in the creation of sustainable homes and communities. Why?
A: The notion of simplicity resonates with all of us. The more we pack into our lives, the more we feel like we’ve spun out of control. When we acquire more stuff, we feel a physical weight that translates to an emotional weight. Simplicity is in our environment, not only where we live, but all around us. The question is not if people want to go green, it’s how because families want to be be healthier in the way they live. But it can’t cost anymore than they’re living now. And it needs to be easy.
Q: Well, that’s the hard part, right? Living green tends to cost more, so how can you be sustainable and still keep a decent budget?
A: Right. If green is affordable to only a few elite people, you’re not going to move the dial. It needs to be accessible. So we need to rethink about how we talk about cost. When people are thinking about buying a home, they think about the cost in terms of the monthly mortgage, the monthly bills. We need to think about energy and water savings in the same way. We can say, ‘In the first month, the family with these green features paid this much less over time.’ That’s a really powerful way that can start shifting toward better decisions. When we look at homes, the information of its green qualities needs to be more clear and transparent, maybe having someting like a nutrition label
Q: How can being green save you time?
A: Building a green home should not take more time than building one that is not green. So I looked at alternative construction methods. I used modular construction that could be built in a factory, uses control precision cutting that uses less waste, and reduces the timeframe (of construction) by half.
Q: Why is a home built in a factory better?
A: The alternative construction method is super fascinating. You build homes better, for less. Homes built in a factory also are stronger and healthier. We use innovation in all parts of our lives but we don’t see much of it in homebuilding. It’s the same way it’s always been done; it’s wasteful. But we can do things differently, which is why this is a very exciting time.
Q: What prompted you to want to build a better, cheaper, more attractive green home?
A: When my husband and I looked for a place to live, we couldn’t find anything we liked and that we could afford. So we decided to build something ourselves. This was back in 2003, before green was very popular. We wanted lower energy bills, lower water bills and a home that felt big and healthy. In our old place, I was waking up with migraines because we happened to have mold in the walls. So we designed and built the house, and our friends were wondering if we could mass produce this? And after doing some research, I found out yes, we can. (That’s how the Glidehouse model was born.)