New Philly rowhouses are green but affordable because prefab: “zero energy with zero premium”

From Philadelphia Inquirer writer Inga Saffron: “Far too often, housing designed for Philadelphia’s poor wears the architectural equivalent of a scarlet letter.  A trio of new rowhouses in Logan could make them change their minds.

“Not only are the rowhouses stylish and modern both inside and out, they are among the most energy-efficient ever built in the United States.  Produced by Onion Flats, the quirky firm that designs, builds, develops, and sometimes markets its own residential projects, the homes are the first in Pennsylvania to be certified by the demanding International Passive House Institute.  Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the houses is that they cost the same to build as a conventional brick box, about $250,000 apiece, or $129 a square foot.

“Onion Flats wasn’t asked to deliver quality design when the firm was hired by a local nonprofit development group, Raise of Hope, architect Tim McDonald recounted.  How fast and cheap could they build the houses, Raise of Hope wanted to know.  McDonald promised to make the design as sophisticated and energy-efficient as the homes his company is now selling for $700,000-plus on North American Street in Northern Liberties.

“Onion Flats was able to pull off the feat because of the work it has done to develop low-cost, modular construction techniques. A few years ago, Onion Flats founded a spin-off company called Blox to build rowhouses in sections inside a Pottstown factory.  While the modules were being assembled in the factory, Onion Flats was able to prepare the site, saving time and money.  Today, barely six months after Onion Flats received the Logan commission, the three rowhouses stand in the dappled shade of mature trees, ready for families to move in.

“McDonald sees the project as proof that low-income housing can be just as good as the market-rate version. ‘These are zero energy with zero premium, so there should be zero debate. Why would you build it any other way?'”  Full article here.

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