Modern Cottage: Modern Modular Construction

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Photos courtesy of Prefabulous + Almost Off the Grid: Your Path to Building an Energy-Independent Home by Sheri Koones, and Modern Cottage, LLC

In its early years, the term “modular home” carried with it the image of an out-of-the-box kit that, when put together, created a simple structure. But that has changed greatly in the last 20 years with the introduction of new technologies, new factory techniques, better cranes for lifting bigger pieces and with efforts by companies such as Epoch Homes, Pembrooke, N.H., to offer a host of customization options.

The Modern Cottage  shows how today’s modular homes have created an option for building that can take a design that, by other means of construction, would be expensive and create a home that is beautiful, green and more affordable.

Today’s Modular World

In modern times, the term “modular” has come to mean a construction approach, rather than a particular style of home. The approach is to create custom-designed pieces of the home pre-built in a quality controlled indoor environment using sophisticated manufacturing systems, then delivered to the jobsite via large modules, set on a prepped foundation and finished with new and old types of building techniques.

Epoch Homes has been involved in the industry since its 1983 founding and has made it a mission to create quality custom homes using both modern and established techniques. The builder combines the finest materials and old world craftsmanship with the efficiencies and economies that modular construction offer.

The company begins each residential project by creating a unique home plan based upon the individual buyer’s needs and tastes. All Epoch homes are built for energy efficiency, and the products Epoch offers range in size from a 900-square-foot cottage to a 15,000-square-foot modular mansion. Epoch Homes also uses modular construction for home additions and remodeling, entire modular subdivisions, multifamily projects and light commercial buildings.

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The Winning Design

Epoch Homes, partnered with Modern Cottage LLC, to build the Modern Cottage, a 2,700-square-foot, three-bedroom home in in Ancram, N.Y., a few hours north of New York City. The minimalist modern-styled home was designed as a weekend getaway for Manhattanites seeking refuge from the city in New York’s Hudson Valley.

Epoch Homes, Modern Cottage Builders and architect Joel Turkel collaborated to create a design that incorporates a unique architectural appeal for the target market of home buyers looking for modern design, while also incorporating high performance building science. The home not only attached the top level (Emerald) for NGBS, but also a Home Energy Rating System rating of 45 meaning that it is 55% more energy efficient than a standard built home.

Knowing that the Modern Cottage would also serve as a model for future projects in the region, a system of modular, panelized walls was incorporated with a Structural Insulated Panel (SIP) roof system to showcase the range of technological capabilities these systems and modular building in general offer. The different building systems were assembled on site once the modules were delivered.

Challenges

One design challenge was to create custom design that was simple and inexpensive to build but contained all the house features the architect wanted to include. Active cooperation between the builder, architect and manufacturer facilitated cost savings in terms of size and function. Meanwhile, the way in which the different parts of the building came together, including details on sealing and elimination of thermal bridges, what type of HVAC and lighting systems were specified, and what type of appliances were used helped the different parties achieve energy goals.

A second design challenge was balancing the need for high energy efficiency with the desire for large spans of glass to bring in the views of the surrounding area. This was accomplished with Epoch’s high-performance wall system with Icynene spray foam insulation, which incorporates a thermal break between the sheet rock and the wall framing. A layer of rigid insulation was added to wrap the exterior of the house. The thermal mass concrete slab floor, a radiant heating and a geothermal system also lesson the solar heat gain from the windows.

Why Build Modular?

The misconception that modular construction has a limited architectural range has lost a lot of ground in recent times spurred on by successes such as the Modern Cottage. Modular can be applied to almost any design or style today, and the homes are built to the same building codes as stick-built homes. The same materials used in traditional types of custom homes can be used in modular custom design.

As with any type of building, differences in quality exist depending on factory practices and different builders, but in general, modular homes offer many benefits. Epoch Homes lists these benefits for its product offerings:

  • Fast construction time and faster onsite completion
  • Top level structural integrity
  • Weather-protected materials
  • Risk-reducing warranty
  • Costs that can be predicted
  • Less waste used in the process
  • Environmentally friendly materials used
  • Greater energy efficiency
  • Greater quality and process control in the building process
  • Economic benefits, including initial cost savings; longer life cycle; reduced architectural fees; lower maintenance costs; lower energy costs; lower operating costs; faster move-in; and thus lower carrying costs/construction financing

According to John Ela, CEO, Epoch Homes, who was named the NAHB’s 2011 Certified Green Professional of the Year: “Once consumers visit a quality factory and learn about the quality, speed and cost savings, they readily see the advantages. Education is our best sales tool.”

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