One Man's Getaway Solution: A Pre-Fab Blu Home That's Really Green

When Tim Disney decided to construct a vacation retreat in Joshua Tree, he asked for something compact, sturdy and hassle free, that would make a minimal impact on the environment. This is his answer.

Photo courtesy of Blu Homes For his mini-compound in the Joshua Tree desert, filmmaker Tim Disney used two pre-fab 'Origins' units joined by a site-built connector.

Sure, everyone likes the thought of an environmentally savvy, less expensive pre-fab home, but does the reality live up to the hype? When some people envision a “manufactured home,” they think of the tin boxes that crowd trailer parks in small towns throughout Southern Californina.

But homes manufactured offsite and then assembled onsite have come a long way, according to filmmaker Tim Disney, who selected Blu Homes to create a weekend retreat for his family of five in Joshua Tree, on a rocky lot near the entrance to the national park.

“I heard about Blu Homes through friends who founded the company,” he said, "and this seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. He explained that he'd been involved in traditional construction projects before, and those projects experienced constant delays and took much longer than expected, not to mention the inevitable surprise cost increases. “With Blu, you have a fixed price going in, and it will be done to spec and on time.”

He says many of his new, Joshua Tree neighbors came out to watch his home being assembled, or rather, unfolded. Because of their unique, steel frame construction, the compact homes fit on a truck, and can then be unfurled when they get to the site. “It's almost like Lego. It’s fascinating to watch,” Disney says. He notes that the steel frame construction also allows for higher ceilings and bigger windows than most pre-fab homes allow.

Image courtesy of Blu Homes The living room area features sliding glass doors, recessed can lighting and tile floors, while the kitchen has a backsplash of Florida glass square tile, plus cabinets in Asian Ash.

Which leads to another common question: Don’t you have to sacrifice a lot of space with homes like these? “It is relatively modest in size,” Disney concedes. “But big houses mean big problems and big messes. There’s also more to heat and more to cool, and they have a bigger environmental impact,” he says. Even the traditional home's construction, with workers and materials being trucked to and from the site everyday for weeks, taxes the environment.
 

Disney's compound in Joshua Tree was created quickly. It has a main house made up of two “Origins” units connected by a site-built room. The main house comprises three bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen, dining area, and living room and sitting areas. All totaled, it measures about 1,600 square feet.

There's also a smaller pod they call “Baby Bear,” which is a 400-square-foot studio-type unit with a kitchenette and bath, nestled down among enormous boulders. “That’s everyone’s favorite,” he says. "They all like to stay there."

In California, the Origins units run from about $145,000 for a studio to roughly $210,000 for a two-bedroom. Then you can add about half of those amounts to the building total for typical site costs. Prices very from region to region. 

The compound suits the needs of Disney's family perfectly -- he has a wife and children aged 17, 13 and 2. Sometimes the whole family drives out, sometimes there's a sleepover with several teenage friends, and other times it's just the two adults. The compound accommodates many different guest configurations. Someday Disney says he'd like to have a vacation home at the beach, but for now, the wild, "moon-scaped" desert suits them perfectly.

While Disney chose the Origins model for "its plain, flat top profile that’s very horizontal and seemed appropriate for the site,” it might not be for everyone. Those with a narrower urban or suburban lot might be more attracted to Blu's most recent addition, the Balance Metro, with 16-foot high ceilings. It includes all the same building and green features as all Blu Homes, plus some new high tech bells and whistles like motion sensor water-saving faucets, Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats, zoned heating and cooling, and optional features like electric car plug-in hubs and wireless multi-room Sonos sound systems. In California, it costs about $385 assembled. Always moving forward.

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