A Steel Prefab Treads Lightly on a Desert Floor

June 4, 2009


Steel is just about the most recyclable building material on earth. You could be well reading this in an office building built with steel originally smelted from iron in Julius Caesars day.

So it makes good green sense to build eco prefab houses with steel…
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Steel does not spread fire. Building with steel allows for a lighter load, so it does not require a huge concrete foundation. Making concrete is one of the most carbon intensive building industries there are, producing the heaviest carbon footprint.


And steel framing makes for construction simplicity: these homes are able to be erected by hand and do not require welding, special torque tools or specialized inspections. This allows an entire house to be framed and enclosed in less than five days.


The sustainable elements are built in onsite, such as what appears to be an industrial-strength radiant flooring system, (maybe someone can correct me in the comments if I’m wrong in assuming that’s what this is)


Again, it looks like these workers are blowing on a thermal mass to create a warm radiant heated floor for cold desert nights, and this could be powered by a solar thermal system on the roof to heat the water. However no mention of radiant flooring or solar is made on the prefab site at Blue Sky Homes so I could be wrong. But if not, why not? The site looks decidedly off grid.


To grade a traditional home pad would have irreparably damaged this beautiful site, instead the house stands above the terrain on legs, which is becoming an increasingly common new eco building vernacular: because this allows local wildlife to continue to move freely underneath the house without disturbing the human interlopers in their land. And vice versa.


This part prefab system offers 500 square foot modules that can be combined in any combination to create houses of any horizontal configuration and up to three stories tall. At the center is a factory built “core,” where the bathroom, hot water tank, air handler, washer/dryer and electrical subpanel are all located:

This core unit is constructed in a factory, shipped to the job site as a pre-assembled element and lifted into place with a small crane. The only on-site work required is hooking up rough plumbing and electrical to the “core,” which takes a few hours as opposed to the weeks it traditionally takes to install these elements on-site.

Designed with assistance from a team of engineers and the LA Architectural firm 02Arch this sustainable desert prefab home by is framed with cold-formed, light-gauge galvanized steel to create a bi-directional, moment-resisting frame.


This Blue Sky Home is sited 4,000 feet above sea level amid massive weathered boulders and ancient piñon and juniper trees.

Images: Blue Sky Homes


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