The modular home Excel created for the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition build in Baltimore earlier this year was the show’s biggest build to date. It was also one of the most ambitious builds Excel Homes has been involved in, which makes it a good topic to discuss with Excel’s Director of Architectural Design and Innovation, Steven Saffell.
MODULAR MUSINGS: There are single-family homes, and then there’s this home, an 11,120-square-foot-project built to house about 10 people for Boys Hope Girls Hope Baltimore. What are some of the challenges involved when designing a modular home of this size?
STEVEN SAFFELL: Excel Homes is equipped to build homes and structures from a few hundred square feet to 50,000 square feet or more, so the size was not a big deal for us. When we get into larger structures we simply increase the number of boxes to accommodate and size the supporting infrastructure like the foundation, electrical and plumbing to match.
One thing that does require more attention is the structural details. Great care is taken on every home to assure the loads are transferred correctly so the home will last, but with this home it took some extra effort. We worked closely with the architect and several structural engineers to make sure not only the loads of our structure were addressed correctly, but also to make sure the loads of the barrel vault roof that was built on site were addressed correctly when they interacted with our structure. It took a group effort.
MM: Please explain the “hybrid” approach used in this project.
SS: When we say this was a hybrid, we are not talking about electric cars, but it does have some solar technology incorporated into the design. When we say hybrid in this context we are talking about a hybrid of building technologies. In this case, we combine the best of what modular, panelized and stick built had to offer.
The foundation system was built by Superior Walls in an off-site location and brought to the site for fast assembly. This allowed Excel to set the modular portion of the structure within hours, not days or weeks. The modular portion consisted of 11 boxes that made up the outer ring of the structure and completed about 70 percent of the structure. Excel also provided panelized components to complete the floor of the great room and foyer, exterior walls for the two-story entry foyer, walls for the walkout basement and roof decks to complete the flat roof portions.
The barrel vault of the great hall was completed on site using traditional site built methods; but in retrospect, we could have completed that portion in the factory and lifted it into place in four sections like we did the floor deck of the room. Every time we build a project like this that challenges us to push the envelope of what people expect modular to be we find new ideas and are just that much more prepared for future requests.
MM: The interior of this home looks incredible. What was the biggest design challenge with this particular home?
SS: For this home it was the great hall. The architect and design team had a vision of a massive space over 40 feet long, 24 feet wide and two-and-a-half stories tall without any intermediate support columns for the roof. This was to be the center of the home and a major design feature, so we had to get creative.
The solution turned out to be simple and came together really well. The best ideas tend to be that way – simple. What we did was to create an outer wall, like a castle, and then we built and placed floor decks in what would be the center courtyard of the walls. The front of the home we sealed up with two-story panelized walls that closed up like a drawbridge. Finally, we capped the whole thing off with a barrel vault over the center section to create the massive room.
It is a solution we are all very proud of and one I am sure you will see on future designs.
To be continued. Check back on Friday for part two of our interview with Steven Saffell.