Launch Slideshow

Akita is a low-energy home in Getxo, Spain, that leverages its Mediterranean climate with a design that optimizes its energy performance with a wealth of proven and available materials and technologies. Using passive ventilation and an abundance of natural light, the modular house creates comfortable and efficient living spaces within a small footprint that encourages higher-density development. Size: 62.98 cubic meters (approximately 680 square feet); Architect: Javier Aja Cantalejo, Bilbao, Spain.

Across the Pond

Across the Pond

  • Akita is a low-energy home in Getxo, Spain, that leverages its Mediterranean climate with a design that optimizes its energy performance with a wealth of proven and available materials and technologies. Using passive ventilation and an abundance of natural light, the modular house creates comfortable and efficient living spaces within a small footprint that encourages higher-density development. Size: 62.98 cubic meters (approximately 680 square feet); Architect: Javier Aja Cantalejo, Bilbao, Spain.

    http://www.ecobuildingpulse.com/Images/tmp15B1%2Etmp_tcm131-1031808.jpg

    true

    Akita is a low-energy home in Getxo, Spain, that leverages its Mediterranean climate with a design that optimizes its energy performance with a wealth of proven and available materials and technologies. Using passive ventilation and an abundance of natural light, the modular house creates comfortable and efficient living spaces within a small footprint that encourages higher-density development. Size: 62.98 cubic meters (approximately 680 square feet); Architect: Javier Aja Cantalejo, Bilbao, Spain.

    600

    Adam Mørk

    Akita is a low-energy home in Getxo, Spain, that leverages its Mediterranean climate with a design that optimizes its energy performance with a wealth of proven and available materials and technologies. Using passive ventilation and an abundance of natural light, the modular house creates comfortable and efficient living spaces within a small footprint that encourages higher-density development. Size: 62.98 cubic meters (approximately 680 square feet); Architect: Javier Aja Cantalejo, Bilbao, Spain.

  • Located in Solduno, Switzerland, Casa Locarno sits at the base of a mountain with a view to Lake Maggiore. Its signature element is the Skyframe, a roof cantilever that will eventually be covered in vegetation to provide even more shade on the expansive windows; it and the slightly sloping green roof above it also afford taller ceiling heights for the public rooms inside while helping integrate the house into its environment. Size: 178 square meters (approximately 1,916 square feet); Architect: designyougo, Berlin, Germany.

    http://www.ecobuildingpulse.com/Images/tmp15B2%2Etmp_tcm131-1031811.jpg

    true

    Located in Solduno, Switzerland, Casa Locarno sits at the base of a mountain with a view to Lake Maggiore. Its signature element is the Skyframe, a roof cantilever that will eventually be covered in vegetation to provide even more shade on the expansive windows; it and the slightly sloping green roof above it also afford taller ceiling heights for the public rooms inside while helping integrate the house into its environment. Size: 178 square meters (approximately 1,916 square feet); Architect: designyougo, Berlin, Germany.

    600

    designyougo

    Swiss Precision
    Located in Solduno, Switzerland, Casa Locarno sits at the base of a mountain with a view to Lake Maggiore. Its signature element is the Skyframe, a roof cantilever that will eventually be covered in vegetation to provide even more shade on the expansive windows; it and the slightly sloping green roof above it also afford taller ceiling heights for the public rooms inside while helping integrate the house into its environment. Size: 178 square meters (approximately 1,916 square feet); Architect: designyougo, Berlin, Germany.

  • The design of the building is always our main driver, says architect Mathis Manchow. Sustainability is secondary. That said, Casa Locarno is a model of resource efficiency. In addition to a design that enables ample natural light and ventilation, the house uses local timber species (considered carbon-neutral in Europe); a highly insulated, prefabricated structural shell; and a multitasking, wood-burning fireplace for heat storage, ventilation, and more daylight, among other available technologies and practices.

    http://www.ecobuildingpulse.com/Images/tmp15B3%2Etmp_tcm131-1031814.jpg

    true

    The design of the building is always our main driver, says architect Mathis Manchow. Sustainability is secondary. That said, Casa Locarno is a model of resource efficiency. In addition to a design that enables ample natural light and ventilation, the house uses local timber species (considered carbon-neutral in Europe); a highly insulated, prefabricated structural shell; and a multitasking, wood-burning fireplace for heat storage, ventilation, and more daylight, among other available technologies and practices.

    600

    designyougo

    Green Streak
    “The design of the building is always our main driver,” says architect Mathis Manchow. “Sustainability is secondary.” That said, Casa Locarno is a model of resource efficiency. In addition to a design that enables ample natural light and ventilation, the house uses local timber species (considered carbon-neutral in Europe); a highly insulated, prefabricated structural shell; and a multitasking, wood-burning fireplace for heat storage, ventilation, and more daylight, among other available technologies and practices.

  • Solar energy generation is a common practice for European housing, helping offset the high cost of grid-supplied power. For Casa Locarno, a roof-mounted array of solar collectors provides energy for the low-temperature, underfloor heating system and the domestic hot water supply. On cold and cloudy winter days, additional energy is generated through a heat exchange in the fireplace.

    http://www.ecobuildingpulse.com/Images/tmp15B4%2Etmp_tcm131-1031816.jpg

    true

    Solar energy generation is a common practice for European housing, helping offset the high cost of grid-supplied power. For Casa Locarno, a roof-mounted array of solar collectors provides energy for the low-temperature, underfloor heating system and the domestic hot water supply. On cold and cloudy winter days, additional energy is generated through a heat exchange in the fireplace.

    600

    designyougo

    Sun Spot
    Solar energy generation is a common practice for European housing, helping offset the high cost of grid-supplied power. For Casa Locarno, a roof-mounted array of solar collectors provides energy for the low-temperature, underfloor heating system and the domestic hot water supply. On cold and cloudy winter days, additional energy is generated through a heat exchange in the fireplace.

  • Working with VELUX, a global window and solar thermal supplier, architect Tanja Jordan designed SOLTAG to be a comfortable model of efficiency, using prefabricated panels and modules and a wealth of windows. Daylight and ventilation are the key to low-energy demand, she says. But they need to be used as architectural components, beyond their technological attributes.

    http://www.ecobuildingpulse.com/Images/tmp15B5%2Etmp_tcm131-1031820.jpg

    true

    Working with VELUX, a global window and solar thermal supplier, architect Tanja Jordan designed SOLTAG to be a comfortable model of efficiency, using prefabricated panels and modules and a wealth of windows. Daylight and ventilation are the key to low-energy demand, she says. But they need to be used as architectural components, beyond their technological attributes.

    600

    Adam Mørk

    Beyond Technology
    Working with VELUX, a global window and solar thermal supplier, architect Tanja Jordan designed SOLTAG to be a comfortable model of efficiency, using prefabricated panels and modules and a wealth of windows. “Daylight and ventilation are the key to low-energy demand,” she says. “But they need to be used as architectural components,” beyond their technological attributes.

  • SOLTAG, a demonstration house near Copenhagen, uses CO2-neutral solar energy generation for space and water heating, the former via an underfloor system that operates at a lower temperature and pressure to further reduce energy demand. Large expanses of operable, thermally efficient fenestration offset mechanical means for ventilation, lighting, and heating. Size: 84 square metres (approximately 904 square feet); Architect: RUBOW arkitekter, Copenhagen, Netherlands.

    http://www.ecobuildingpulse.com/Images/tmp15B6%2Etmp_tcm131-1031823.jpg

    true

    SOLTAG, a demonstration house near Copenhagen, uses CO2-neutral solar energy generation for space and water heating, the former via an underfloor system that operates at a lower temperature and pressure to further reduce energy demand. Large expanses of operable, thermally efficient fenestration offset mechanical means for ventilation, lighting, and heating. Size: 84 square metres (approximately 904 square feet); Architect: RUBOW arkitekter, Copenhagen, Netherlands.

    600

    Adam Mørk

    Glass Act
    SOLTAG, a demonstration house near Copenhagen, uses CO2-neutral solar energy generation for space and water heating, the former via an underfloor system that operates at a lower temperature and pressure to further reduce energy demand. Large expanses of operable, thermally efficient fenestration offset mechanical means for ventilation, lighting, and heating. Size: 84 square metres (approximately 904 square feet); Architect: RUBOW arkitekter, Copenhagen, Netherlands.

  • Located on a ridge overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, this private residence near Bodrum, Turkey, employs prefabricated wood-frame modules serving as a thermal mass within a lightweight steel frame, requiring only a few support columns to puncture the site. The wide-open yet efficient floor plan affords space-use flexibility and promotes natural ventilation and cooling without mechanical means. We used what was available and wove it into a new context, says architect Georg Driendl. Size: 175 square meters (approximately 1,884 square feet); Architect: driendl*architects, Vienna, Austria.

    http://www.ecobuildingpulse.com/Images/tmp15B7%2Etmp_tcm131-1031826.jpg

    true

    Located on a ridge overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, this private residence near Bodrum, Turkey, employs prefabricated wood-frame modules serving as a thermal mass within a lightweight steel frame, requiring only a few support columns to puncture the site. The wide-open yet efficient floor plan affords space-use flexibility and promotes natural ventilation and cooling without mechanical means. We used what was available and wove it into a new context, says architect Georg Driendl. Size: 175 square meters (approximately 1,884 square feet); Architect: driendl*architects, Vienna, Austria.

    600

    driendl*architects

    Mobile Paradise
    Located on a ridge overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, this private residence near Bodrum, Turkey, employs prefabricated wood-frame modules serving as a thermal mass within a lightweight steel frame, requiring only a few support columns to puncture the site. The wide-open yet efficient floor plan affords space-use flexibility and promotes natural ventilation and cooling without mechanical means. “We used what was available and wove it into a new context,” says architect Georg Driendl. Size: 175 square meters (approximately 1,884 square feet); Architect: driendl*architects, Vienna, Austria.

If you focus only on the reasons why European home builders are a decade or more ahead of the United States in the quality and performance of sustainable housing, you’ll miss the available, proven, and affordable technologies and tactics that can travel over the Atlantic to close that gap.

To be sure, a heavier (and accepted) dose of government regulation, more stringent (and mandated) energy-use and carbon-emission standards, and a deeply embedded cultural ethos that champion the collective good over individual aspirations all seem as foreign (and frightening) to American builders as wearing a kilt and eating the traditional Scottish dish haggis—and something they are even less likely to try.

But political and social differences aside, there’s a lot to be learned and applied from the European model of low-energy and low-carbon, yet comfortable and durable, residential design and construction. All it takes is a better understanding and some American initiative to bring it across the pond.

Off-Site Construction

How Europeans define “off-site” or factory-built housing differs greatly from the “component framing” manufacturing that is employed in the United States.

Gerry McCaughey, who previously owned Kingspan Century, a SIPs-based, whole-house building system manufacturer in Ireland that produces 8,000 units a year, likens it to the difference between crafting a Mercedes and supplying steel to the factory. He bemoans the American model of local lumberyards providing open-frame roof trusses and wall panels that are assembled on site by stick-trained framing crews.

“It’s just a way for lumberyards to sell more sticks, not produce housing,” he says, and certainly not to a higher performance or environmental standard.

The European model, which accounts for about 30% of all new housing in England and perhaps 70% in Ireland, with similar market shares across the European Union, delivers precision that can’t be matched in the field. “In Europe, it’s an accepted fact that factory-controlled conditions result in higher quality,” he says. “And the higher the energy- and carbon-efficiency standards, the harder they are to achieve with on-site construction.”

In the United States, HUD-code and modular home shipments combined for 10% of the new-housing pie in 2010, a share that’s falling despite a greater emphasis on green building at a lower price point.

The key is accuracy through automation. Kingspan Century, for one, achieves framing tolerances equal to the width of a thumbnail, and its machines perfectly shoot six nails a second to secure a sheathing panel—a speed that enables the manufacturer to double the number of fasteners beyond the code-required pattern to deliver a stronger and airtight structure. “In the factory, the saw blade always comes down on the correct side of the line,” says McCaughey.

It doesn’t end there. European housing manufacturers are one-stop shops for entire home packages, at least to the drywall stage inside and the application of exterior finishes.

In addition to certified, four-man crews that can dry-in a two-story, 2,000-square-foot house in a day, companies deliver and stage drywall stacks across the slab and second-floor floor deck before the walls arrive, among other efficiencies that save time and reduce construction waste, the latter by perhaps 40%.

To match that performance, says McCaughey, American companies must accept and apply the whole package and philosophy of European automated home production. “The technology and machinery is available, but it’s just a tool,” he says. “You have to tell it what to do, and that means engineers instead of framers in the factory. It’s a fundamental difference.”