Simpatico relies on the use of some site-built components, unusual in the prefab game. In the Krubiner house, the walls in the garage and the living room are made from insulated concrete from Omni Block. Providing both aesthetic and practical benefits, block walls work well for exterior or interior walls that don’t require plumbing and heating. They’re also cost-effective, as they can be built on a slab, rather than a foundation, and don’t require exterior siding or interior drywall.
Raise the Roof
To incorporate what Swatt calls “a dimension of space you don’t often associate with modular construction,” Simpatico’s factory-built pieces come in two ceiling heights: nine or ten feet. Just above the ceiling, the customization continues—Simpatico modules can be designed to house green roofs, which boost insulation, absorb rainwater, and reduce runoff. In fact, the prototype makes use of all the rooftop spaces: Each one contains either a green roof, the 6.2-kilowatt solar-panel array, a roof deck, or terraces. “Every inch of the roof is doing double-duty,” Krubiner says.
Instead of taxing the taps, the home’s drought-tolerant garden can be watered with runoff from the roof. Krubiner’s technology of choice: Rainwater Hog, an off-the-shelf, expandable system of rainwater collection tanks that stores water for irrigation. Because the Hogs are slim, they can be positioned directly under a downspout without blocking the walkway—a necessity on a tight city lotlike this. “The nice thing is that you can easily link them together,” says Krubiner. This will come in handy if he ever needs more, but so far his two sets of five 50-gallon Hogs are enough for the property.
It makes sense for a modular home building company to use products that are broken into smaller pieces. That was indeed the logic behind Krubiner’s decision to implement four-inch-deep, two-foot-square trays from Green Roof Outfitters into the two roof gardens. Because the 100-percent-recycled-material trays were cleverly designed with built-in handles, “you can remove them if you need to get to the roof itself,” says Krubiner. He’ll be filling the trays with Sedum Tile mats from Etera, which come preplanted with a colorful array of succulents sturdy enough to withstand the roof’s hot sun and the region’s dry summers.
“You don’t think of maintenance as a sustainability issue, but it is,” says Swatt, who points out that most exteriors require stain, paint, or sealant for upkeep. This house instead boasts a zero-maintenance facade made from concrete block, corrugated metal, and Parklex—a siding material from a company based in Navarre, Spain. Parklex is an amber-colored wood, yet, because it is a thin veneer set in resin on top of an engineered panel core, it doesn’t require any scraping, painting, or sealing. If the siding ever does need cleaning, a pH-neutral soap-and-water solution and a mop will do the trick.
For heating, Simpatico installed a state-of-the-art Daikin Altherma system. The air-to-water heat pump setup creates hot water by drawing the heat from ambient air. (The system also provides heated water for the radiant floor heating.) This type of technology is more common in Europe but growing in popularity Stateside. The Daikin helped make the house all electric, moving it closer to its net-zero goal.