22 Tuesday —
Yes, dear friends, Jim and Deb have found the perfect house, and it isn’t our Airstream. We have studied on this since we stumbled onto it on the web in May of this year. Clayton Homes has a very nice website on which we have spent a lot of time poring over this. We extensively played on-line with the options, comparing the different layouts and pondering, to Flex or not to Flex. And now we have a chance to see a built model.
The Tim Horton’s Restaurants TransCanada Tour completed, we were plotting our course south from Vancouver, B.C. It’s high time we returned to the States. We’ve been in Canada for what seems like all summer, although less than two months. And what if, while we were away, President Obama succeeded in enacting universal health care for us but we didn’t return in time to meet the registration requirements? Should we cross the border then head sharply east through the Cascades, or head down through Seattle then east toward our next destination near Boise?
Then Debbie said, “Isn’t one of the Clayton Company facilities in Seattle? Let’s find out if we can tour and look at this thing.” We arranged an appointment to tour the home the next week. The home is in Everett, Wa, and we found an attractive Washington State Park near Mt. Vernon, Wa. Jim’s goal was to keep us well north of Seattle. This is made simpler because there aren’t any state or national park campgrounds near Seattle. The commercial RV park we tried two years ago, Issiquah RV Park, might as well be situated in the median of I-5 for the highway proximity and traffic noise. Let’s stay in Bay View State Park and drive in one day to Everett for this tour.
We drove an hour to Everett to see the Clayton I-house at Heritage Homes. The model we found is, according to sales rep Vic, the second ever built. They cannily have this looker sited on the lot front — Vic told us, “Yes, we’re getting an amazing number of visits because of it. Two busloads of DOE people dropped in the other day and toured through it.” This is not a mobile home, although it is mobilized to deliver from a factory to your site. The difference? A mobile home is lighter weight, and simply more portable. This modular home is wider, at sixteen feet, and much heavier at 67,000 pounds. And it seems, although factory built, just as sturdy and solid as a stick-built — maybe even more so.
Jim built modular homes in the 70’s in Asheville, NC with a local homebuilder, David Tenpenny. Tenpenny’s company prepared a masonry foundation and traditional subfloor system, typical of any modern sticks and bricks house. The crane and truck would deliver and place factory-fabricated wall sections in the proper place on the floor. The Tenpenny work crew plumbed and squared the sections and nailed them quickly, watching for another section lifted by the crane. One day’s work would see a 1,800 sf house framed completely with all exterior and interior walls and roof trusses placed.
The factory-built wall sections were as well-built, or better, than field-built wall sections. Some of the modular manufacturers included extras like notching or boring the wall studs for electrical wiring to speed (and reduce cost of) the field work. The delivered wall sections arrived with sheathing and siding installed, minus the lacing-in pieces to be applied in the field. Tenpenny Company arranged electrical and plumbing rough-in, insulation, then sheetrock and all finish work. The finished result was just as solid as any stick-built house but raised and dried-in in weeks instead of months.
Okay, back to the I-house. This modular house is completely assembled and finished in the factory. It differs from the modular houses we built in the 70’s because it is built to be transported (once) on the road. The I-house isn’t just a “Wide Load”. This is apparently called a “Super Load” in the DOT permitting jargon, because it is sixteen feet wide and sixty-seven feet long. The model we viewed was built in eastern Oregon and had a rough journey to Everett. The trailer under the modular home suffered a broken axle and three flat tires in Yakima, Wa. They stopped and fixed the axle and tires although they had ten more axles and nineteen more tires still good on the ground.
What about the model we saw? We didn’t take pictures because it is staged identically to brochures. All the rooms, wherever you view an I-house model, are supposedly staged almost exactly as the on-line pictures and the print brochures. Clayton Co decided it knew how to market these homes and wanted the “just right” appearance matched in the models everywhere. No problem for us, the uniformity kept the touring surprise-free. The house and the Flex were everything we expected, which is a nice surprise.
We entered the living room through a french door flanked by two fixed french doors, all Andersen with Low-E double pane glass. The bamboo flooring is very attractive. We found simple and nicely arranged IKEA furniture consisting of a comfortable dark brown leather sofa, a coffee table, a not-so-comfortable orange reading chair, and a twelve feet long entertainment center. The living room, dining room and kitchen are open plan and so create one attractive room of almost fifteen feet by thirty feet. Clerestory windows are in the wall above the entertainment center. The opposite wall has two large double Andersen Low-E windows facing the living room.
Upscale IKEA casework and Energy-Star stainless steel GE appliances create an attractive and very functional kitchen. The kitchen has a lot of natural light from a large Andersen Low-E casement window facing into the kitchen and two small windows along the kitchen counter. The wall cabinets have translucent glass panels and might be really cool with a little LED lighting behind. An island sports a large counter, the double bowl sink and a lot of storage below. A huge pantry flanks the refrigerator, opposite the sink island.
A hall connects from the great room, past the bathroom, guest bedroom, and two hall closets to the master bedroom. The hall has natural lighting from three clerestory windows and another two clerestory windows are in the alcove entering the master bedroom. WOW! Great natural light. All the windows plus the french doors on the ends admit a lot of light. A good idea would be to visit this house on a really dark day to see how it feels in articial lighting.
The bathroom much larger than we thought it would be and has water-saving fixtures including a dual flush toilet. One of the hall closets conceals a Rheem tankless water heater, capable of two gallons per minute at a temperature rise of 90 degrees (F). This is plenty of hot water since supply water temperature is around 58 degrees. You would use the 148 degree water (58 + 90=148) mixed with some cold water so 2gpm of hot water is plenty. The roof is heavy duty steel, insulated from the house with R-30 to R-40 insulation (depending upon your locale). The entire roof area is designed to collect rainwater to the two outboard roof leaders for storage and later use on the garden or washing.
The walls are framed with 2X6 studs and the floors with 2X10 floor joists. The owner provides a continuous foundation for this pre-assembled modular home. We want either a crawl space or a garage under the I-house, depending upon the lot. If we extend the garage foundation by the lengths of the two decks (12’X16′ at each end of the house) we can put a long garage underneath. The garage could be a very cool feature — consider an eighty feet long by sixteen feet wide enclosed space under the house. This is long enough to provide pull-through parking for the Airstream and attached truck, with room left for parking our Honda Civic at an end. If we don’t have a sloped lot to provide daylight basement for the garage entrances then we build an interesting garage above-ground somewhere.
I-house also can have a “Flex” addition. The Flex is a 16′ X 16′ room with a partition hiding the lavatory and door to the toilet and tub. The Flex was the most cozy portion — is it because we are used to our little “flex” home? Perhaps, and Jim changed his mind about whether he wanted I-house only or both I-house and Flex. He liked the Flex so much. It adds a guest efficiency/bedroom, a second story deck, a “ham shack” for our radios, maybe an office. You access the second story deck via outdoor steps, and 15′ X 15′ deck is a great space. Overall, the I-house and Flex seem very chic, well-built, solid, comfortable, affordable, and ecologically sound.
An internet search turns up a lot of articles for the I-house. Many (most?) seem to be from the manufacturer’s press releases early 2009. Some of these articles have blog comments following. The comments vary widely between favorable impressions and sharply negative criticisms. The more we re-read the literature, the more our positive impressions are solidified. The wildy critical posts we read about the I-house seem so far off-base it is clear the writers did not see the house first-hand and also apparently did not read the available literature.
We stayed at Heritage Homes almost four hours, including a very quick look at several Marlette homes on the lot. Vic, the sales representative, is very knowledgeable about the I-House and hopeful to start generating sales on these neat homes. We hope so too. We want them, or a good successor, to be available when we’re ready. Big question remains, where? And, when? The Clayton I-house really looks like a sweet answer for future permanent residence for us, whenever that is.