Shelter with Service: The Underlying Concepts behind Loq•kit

Posted January 3, 2008 – Last Update March 20, 2009

Pursuing the Prototype

Mass production processes offer enormous potential for reducing housing costs. Industrialized housing systems have been developed by architects and designers in the past, with mixed results. And today we still do not have a market-viable prototypical mass-produced affordable house that is available to consumers. Mass production presents a unique challenge for housing, because its efficiencies are realized by producing sameness. Yet, our homes are an extension of ourselves, our families, and our identity. Variety, uniqueness, and the ability to personalize our space is highly desirable - while mass-produced repetition in housing does little to inspire our desire for self expression. It is for that reason, that Loq•kit was developed as a system of interchangeable building components. Loq•kit homes can be mass-produced - and assembled to be unique from one another. They may be modified by the owner, enabling homeowners to personalize their space. Furthermore, because the components can be released from each other (from the interior of the home only), they may be rearranged and reused over and over. Easy to service, Loq•kit homes can be updated continuously over their lifetime. This enables homeowners to add or subtract to their homes, rearrange components, change their look and layout, and obtain reused parts at a further-reduced price. Loq•kit aims to demonstrate that the market-viable prototypical mass-produced house is rather, a system of interchangeable, reusable, and servicable house parts.

Loq•kit Green

Loq•kit is a mass-produced system of interchangeable and reusable house parts that allows unique interior layouts and exterior designs. Walls, doors, and windows can be added or removed. Home additions can be added or subtracted – including second stories. And consumer electronics technologies are incorporated via wire harnesses or electrical Buss duct – fully integrated within the structural frame. Integrated electronics technologies that may be added or subtracted include photovoltaic electricity-generation systems, security systems, low-voltage, and audio systems. The building components also incorporate a roof rainwater collection system. Loq•kit building components are of three varieties: structural frame (recycled steel), infill and snap-cladding (natural fiber-reinforced resins – ideally, non-petroleum based). A variety of structural members snap-lock into place - while all infill and snap-cladding components utilize snap-lock connections. With snap-lock parts, components may be interchanged between homes, and the undamaged parts may be reused over and over. For conventional wood-based assemblies, deconstruction is very time consuming and expensive. Nails and glues are one-way assembly practices and are difficult to reverse/separate. Consequently, construction materials are seldom reused, and are lost to landfills. For example, “in 1998 the U.S. generated 136 million tons of waste from construction and demolition. Only 20 to 30 percent was recycled or reused.” A Characterization of Building-Related Construction and Demolition Debris in the United States, 1998. Furthermore, Loq•kit is not a construction-based technology at all. Construction is a waste-producing process of modifying already produced raw materials to take on custom installations. Skilled carpenters cut and modify (in a factory or on site) materials that have already been manufactured, packaged and delivered as a finished product. Construction is a second fabrication of materials that produces vast amounts of waste. “Annually, builders in the United States generate approximately 31.5 million tons of construction waste, almost 24 percent of the total municipal solid waste stream in this country.” – National Association of Home Builders, “Building a Balance: Solid Waste Disposal Environmental Education Fact Sheet,” 2004. In contrast, Loq•kit is a home-building technology based on the paradigm of assembly. Assembly is the process of manufacturing components once, in their final configuration – and ready for installation. Assembly produces almost no waste.

Sustainable Service Technology – How it Works:

Loq•kit introduces the concept of housing not as a product for sale, but as a service for homeowners and their families. The design and layout flexibility of the system employs the concept of interchangeable parts. When a customer purchases a Loq•kit house, their home will be included in a lifecycle maintenance program. Loq•kit will provide their homeowners with lifetime care of their home. Should any component become undesirable in the future, either by failure or choice, the part will be replaced for free, or at a reduced price by Loq•kit. For example, when a family grows, Loq•kit is available to add bedrooms to the house. The family will be credited for the no-longer needed components that are removed during the remodeling process. Because the components can be removed undamaged, they can be repackaged by Loq•kit for further cost reduction to other homeowners. This is an economically-sustainable program of reuse which assures that components do not end up in landfills. The lifetime care of homes by Loq•kit ensures that reused components are continuously routed through the company, where they may be graded for continued service. At a point where a component is judged to be sub-standard, Loq•kit will be in possession of the part, where it can be broken down into singular materials for recycling into new components. Virgin material needs can be limited by an effective recycling program. This cradle to cradle service program of housing, as an affordable system of mass-produced and interchangeable parts – rather than a one-time, waste producing product for sale, is the novel concept behind the Loq•kit house part’s 2nd place finish in the C2C Home international sustainable design competition. Loq•kit embodies the concepts of affordability through mass-production, interchangeable parts, personalization, lifecycle service, and reuse. It is a system that employs green materials, new technologies, and introduces a program for providing affordable homes while eliminating construction waste.

1. Redefining Progress

Loq•kit is a systematic strategy for producing affordable and sustainable homes. Each home represents a coordinated assemblage of principles, ideas, and methods. Overarching themes have guided the creative and development processes; while fundamentally, the strategy can most easily be understood in relationship to a single idea: that sustainable and necessary progress is not linear, but must be a closed loop.

In our modern culture, there is a general understanding that society is progressing, or moving forward. In our recent past, advances in scientific discovery, technology, and communication have lead to a greater and more detailed understanding and use of our physical world – benefitting society. Daily life today is considered to be better than it was in the past. Children learn this concept from lessons on history, photographs from the past, their parents' stories of tougher times, and countless other sources. Adults enrich these ideas, and provide further evidence by traveling into space, building ever-higher skyscrapers, and focusing on unending market growth. Progress is real, and the concept is understood, if not met with anticipation, by everyone in our culture.

At the beginning of this new century, we are very aware that fossil fuels are limited, and are decreasing. While a large spectrum of renewable energy possibilities are being pursued world-wide, our way of life and expectations for the future remain primarily dependent on fossil fuels. Our concept of progress itself has been realized by utilizing a resource, that once used, cannot be regained for millions of years. Coal, oil, and natural gas have nurtured a brisk and steady progress over the past 160 years. From an agricultural life lived in sod homes without electricity and indoor plumbing – to our current hectic and busy lives, with larger, more comfortable modern-appliance-filled homes – the transition (progress) has been made possible by fossil fuels. Those fossil fuels used to transform our lives are gone now. And there remains a limited supply. As we adjust our fuel sources toward renewable energies in the future, our expectations of unlimited and ever-growing progress shall also change.

The Loq•kit house parts were developed under a more sustainable banner of progress. Rather than an outwardly-advancing method for providing more comfort, more utility, more available energy, or more linear progress – ideals that are ultimately not sustainable – Loq•kit is a holistic and inwardly-advancing system that is focused on distillation, input reduction, and efficiency. It is a method of guiding progress in a concerted and inclusive effort toward housing that is technically advanced, affordable, and sustainable. Loq•kit is focused on a technical revolution in housing.

• Promoting Circular Progress

Where linear progress is growth driven – Loq-kit's model of progress is circular, inclusive, goal and efficiency driven. Circular progress is a rallying of disparate organizations, or systems toward the achievement and refinement of a known goal. Loq-kit's process began by selecting the most promising methods and technologies available to produce a desired outcome. Economic concerns were not a primary concern of this selection process. The technological departure point, although crude, is able to convey a holistic vision of the desired end state - mass-produced, high-quality, and unique homes. An evolution of ideas, methods, and materials will follow as the technology is advanced over time. The system will incorporate new efficiencies, introduced from now very inter-related, yet separate building trades. Input is directed inward, and aimed at increasing system efficiency. The system adjusts as specialized methods are passed to the “middle,” and affected parties in the “ring” react with new ideas in an effort to accommodate revised information. Unlike linear progress, the creative effort of large numbers of seemingly unrelated players are focused on a common goal - to increase system efficiency. The technological progress that is made is not defined by the unrmarket trends of only-slightly-related vendors – but was defined at the outset.

Unlike Loq•kit's system-based approach, the current housing industry is made up of various (and very much unrelated) manufacturers, vendors, and installers - each throwing a unique product or service into the mix. Each trade is focused on the continued refinement of their own product, with marginal concern for overall building system efficiencies. Each trade is on their own path of linear progress. Yet, shelter is a life need. The performance of the housing industry as a whole can be tracked by annual housing starts, but systemic progress toward refinement and affordability is largely undefined and unmeasurable. There are few efforts to focus the interrelated systems development of homebuilding, so that houses may be affordable. There are also few plans to utilize state-of-the-art manufacturing processes and facilitate the technological change needed for an affordable alternative to construction. Loq•kit aims to change all that.

Loq•kit is a model of circular progress. It is a holistic system of home assembly made possible by technology. It is a strategy originating from its values and it begins at its end point. The guiding values incorporated into the system are affordability, personalization, and sustainability. Because it is a method of achieving circular progress (where continued refinement reduces costs over time), manufacturers, vendors, and installers are related by a common mission: that by initiating a concerted plan, much-more-affordable, unique, and sustainable homes can be produced – while making a profit.

2. Affordability

Loq•kit’s primary goal is to provide an affordable alternative to the high cost of conventional home construction. Shelter is not only the American Dream, but is a life need. The post-war dream with “picket fence” is currently unattainable for many families – most who simply need a secure place to live modestly, and raise their children. Yet, this place is increasingly difficult to find. Today’s private home building industry largely serves middle- to upper-income families. Lower income families simply do not make enough money to cover the costs and profits required by homebuilders utilizing conventional construction methods. Where is the home building technology that is affordable to lower-income families, and able to generate profit for private industry? Loq•kit is that technology.

Housing affordability is possible by employing current manufacturing processes. It is not only increasingly desirable as an economic reality for housing our people, but will become absolutely necessary in the future. Affordable housing is “sustainable” housing. (A quick note: at this point in our nation’s history, nearly everything has a carbon footprint. Truly sustainable living has last been practiced in this country by American Indians and early settlers. Until we integrate technology with respect for our environment, we will be striving for sustainability.) Generally, an affordable (modestly priced) home, is created with fewer inputs. Average house size was 1,500 square feet in 1970 – while in 2000, the average single-family home was 2,200 square feet. House size has been growing over recent years while family size is declining. Larger homes require more material and labor to build. They require more energy to operate, and utilize more inputs to maintain. Larger homes also generate more waste during construction, and upon demolition. The following topics describe how a focus on housing affordability can direct us toward more-sustainable home building methods.

• Construction vs. Assembly

Construction, like Assembly, is a process. The two processes differ greatly at the point in which technology is emphasized. With Construction, building technology is applied to materials, and their method of connection is assigned, at the time the parts are put together. The focus on technology occurs later-on in the process. With Assembly, technology is designed into the building materials. Component shapes and connection methods are determined long before raw materials are produced. The utilization of technology is an early and all-encompassing focus directed at the beginning of the process. With the technology-focus occurring at the outset of the process, greater control is given for decreasing housing costs with interrelated, rather than ambiguous, materials and connections. Each process is considered below.

• Construction

The raw materials of construction (sheet goods, lumber, concrete products, finishes, etc.) are almost entirely unrelated physically. These materials may work efficiently in combination with themselves (such as with modular concrete masonry units, or taped drywall seams) but tend to be devoid of a connective relationship with the larger assembly. The result is a time-consuming process of modifying parts and installing them with rudimentary connection technologies. The connective methodology of this system is largely reliant on “layering” in order to achieve overall-system structural strength, thermal and moisture protection. Additionally, connections are made with fasteners that permanently alter the materials, ultimately leading to greater waste.

Wall Construction Layering

A typical home construction process in Minnesota produces an exterior wall system of seven separate layers – from the outside–in: siding, air-infiltration barrier, sheathing, studs and insulation, vapor barrier, drywall, and paint. Each layer is individually packaged and shipped to retailer, and then to a factory or building site. At the factory or building site, each material is modified by a trained installer – at which time, the packaging is discarded, and the remnants from the custom installation are also discarded. Seven layers, and eight individual materials are modified and installed or discarded in an effort to create one composite assembly. Additionally, many fasteners, and tapes, joint compound and sandpaper are also used and discarded. The labor-intensive, and waste producing Construction process combines individual and separate technologies into a more-or-less technically-sophisticated composite. Once the parts are combined, they cannot easily be reused. In order to preserve construction materials for reuse, the labor-intensive construction process must be reversed, layer by layer. More care must be given to the disassembly process, because the fastening mechanisms of Construction are not designed to be removed. It is because of the difficulty of disassembly that Construction practices are almost never reversed. It is far more cost-effective (due to the careful and labor-intensive disassembly required) to purchase new materials than to reuse Construction materials. The amount of home Construction debris filling our landfills is astounding. “If 25 percent of the buildings demolished every year were deconstructed, approximately 20 million tons of debris could be diverted from landfills” – National Association of Home Builders, Deconstruction: Building Disassembly and Material Salvage, 1998.

In general, (and in contrast with Assembly) Construction, as practiced in the U.S. and many other countries, is a time-consuming, high-material-input, waste-producing, and expensive home building process. While – on the upside – it is a process able to produce houses of unparalleled uniqueness and beauty. The Construction process enables soon-to-be homeowners, their designers, and builders unlimited choices in directing the application of technology toward a highly custom and unique final configuration. It is expensive, and the results can be fantastic. Yet when housing affordability is a foremost concern – Construction is a luxury that many cannot afford.

• Next Topic: Assembly

• Coming Soon:

3. Personalization

4. Modesty and Community

5. Resource Management/Materiality

6. Harvesting the Biosphere

7. The Technical Metabolism