A Modern Modular At Home in Minneapolis
A small house on a small lot is the right choice for a growing family.
Synopsis: When this project began, architect Eric Odor’s clients hired him to remodel their bungalow in Minneapolis, but the renovation plans were more than the house’s foundation could handle. By the time the project was done, Shane and Erinn Farrell were living in a new, energy-efficient, three-bedroom, 2-1/2-bath home. Early in the process, Odor and the Farrells decided to go with a house that would be panelized in a factory, then be transported to their site and assembled there. Panelization would save time and materials for this project. The team also made sustainability part of the plan, and the house was on track to be rated LEED gold. The house has a well-insulated envelope and highly efficient mechanical systems. Among the materials in the house’s insulation mix are blown fiberglass, sprayed-in foam, and blown-in cellulose. The house has Energy Star appliances, low-e windows, dual-flush toilets, and low-flow faucets.
This project began with a good lesson in knowing how to pick your battles. Our clients, Shane and Erinn Farrell, hired our firm to remodel the bungalow they’d been living in for a number of years. After some preliminary investigation, we determined that the foundation wouldn’t support the planned renovation and that upgrading the foundation would cost more than building a new house. We identified all that we could recycle, slated the rest of the house for the Dumpster, and moved on to design a new house.
From the start, the Farrells were clear that they wanted a small, sustainable, modern home with an open plan, but one with a restrained exterior that would fit respectfully amid the older, more traditional houses on the block. Although they started the design process as a childless couple, they had a newborn and plans for another child by the time they moved in. With this in mind, we designed a two-story house with three bedrooms and two bathrooms upstairs, and the cooking, dining, and living spaces downstairs.
Build the house, and truck it to the site
Fairly early on, we decided it would be a good idea to have the house panelized in a factory, transported to the site, and assembled in place. In many instances, panelized construction has better quality control than site-based construction. For this house, the small site would make it difficult to store materials, stage the construction, and maintain good relations with neighbors. The site would need a Dumpster and an area for recycling. Also, we anticipated that panelization might cut as much as two months from the construction schedule. However, after demolishing the old house and excavating and pouring the new foundation, the process took approximately seven weeks, saving only a month instead of the anticipated two.
Make sustainability part of the building process
As part of my firm’s overall sustainability strategy, we registered the house as a LEED for Homes project. (It’s now on track to be rated LEED Gold.) As we do more of these projects, we’ve been able to zero in on the two fundamental pieces of this puzzle: energy performance and material use.
The significant components of energy performance are a tight, well-insulated envelope that minimizes the energy load and high-efficiency mechanical systems designed and operated with that specific load in mind. Before the exterior is sided and the interior is drywalled, we specify a visual durability check of the envelope and a blower door test. The best and simplest tools for optimizing energy performance within that envelope are the residential load (Manual J) and duct design (Manual D) calculations performed by an HVAC contractor. These holistic approaches help to size the mechanical systems to match the climate, the solar orientation, and the other specific details of the house.
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