Tradition meets high-tech design

'There is a logic to building homes in the factory that hasn't taken off.'

Modular homes and energy-efficient, “net-zero” homes have long occupied opposite poles of the building-reputation spectrum. More

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MANUFACTURING

Tradition meets high-tech design

'There is a logic to building homes in the factory that hasn't taken off.'

COURTESY UNION STUDIO ENERGY GURU Bob Chew and Union Studio have teamed up for Redberry, a series of modular homes, shown above.
Posted 7/9/12

Modular homes and energy-efficient, “net-zero” homes have long occupied opposite poles of the building-reputation spectrum.

On one end, modulars are known for affordability and assembly speed, but also a lingering association with the trailer park or cookie-cutter tracts of ranches.

On the other, net-zero houses bring to mind high price tags, complex gagetry and unconventional, modern architecture.

Now a new enterprise from Rhode Island renewable energy guru Bob Chew and Providence architects Union Studio hopes to find a harmonious middle ground in joining these two building concepts.

Called Redberry, the collaboration has designed a series of modular homes featuring Union’s traditional New England architecture and Chew’s solar technology. The homes will be manufactured by Epoch Homes of New Hampshire.

“We have always had an interest in sustainability but have been explicit that we weren’t interested in all the gadgets that usually seem to go with it,” said Union Studio principal Donald Powers. “We felt you should be able to live in a net-zero home and not have everyone who walks by know it is a net-zero home.”

With wood shingles, clean lines and compact floor plans, Redberry houses are designed to fit in with old New England neighborhoods and appeal to buyers outside of the environmental or techie worlds.

But despite their historically inspired appearance, Redberry homes will try to capitalize on improvements in manufactured-home systems that many see as the future of residential construction.

“Modular homes struggle with the legacy of trailers,” Powers said. “The best ones are factory-built homes with more quality control than you can have in the field. The only constraint is the dimensional restrictions because you have to ship them over the road. But that can be solved.”

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