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Innovations come from Codding Steel, 'pod' bathrooms and kitchens

[caption id="attachment_13413" align="alignright" width="360" caption="Rendering by Kellogg & Associates of Las Palmas"][/caption]

SONOMA VALLEY - A planned 52-home development north of the city of Sonoma has been redesigned to include more environmentally friendly features while significantly lowering anticipated sale prices.

By scaling down the size of the homes and incorporating lower-cost building and energy systems, the developers of the Las Palmas development at 17310 Sonoma Highway in the Fetters Hot Springs area figure they have shaved about 25 percent off the estimated cost of the project, which is $20 million to $22 million, according to Kevin Kellogg, a Santa Rosa-based architect and partner in New Pueblo LLC.

"It was retrofitted to be deeply green and increase the affordability component," Mr. Kellogg said.

Construction documents for the 6.38-acre project are currently in plan check with the Sonoma County Permit & Resource Management Department. Start of construction is targeted for spring 2010.

It was an environmentally "responsible" project when it was approved by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors in 2006 with 20 percent inclusionary housing. The current design, with homes now having 1,500 square feet instead of 1,650 square feet, calls for 21 of the homes, or 40 percent, to have deed restrictions, with 10 houses for residents in the low-income category and 11 moderate-income.

The average home sale price at this time is estimated to be $460,000.

Key to bringing down the cost of the project were contributions from Rohnert Park-based Codding Steel Frame Solutions, BuildPods of Hayward and Foster City-based photovoltaic system provider SolarCity.

[caption id="attachment_13417" align="alignright" width="144" caption="BuildPods of Hayward has designed factory-built kitchen and bathroom modules for Las Palmas."][/caption]

When an initial bid from Codding Steel came in too high, the company went back to engineers at Genesis Worldwide, the Canada-based developer of the light-gauge steel framing panel manufacturing system, to come up with lower-cost possibilities that could be produced from the Rohnert Park factory.

One solution was to use a different gauge of steel for studs that was well within design tolerances but would reduce the cost. Another was to make connectors for the metal studs in the panels locally instead of buying them from a vendor, and to simplify the configuration of the connectors with fewer drill holes.

Just as panelized steel framing can shorten construction timeframes, so can modular kitchens and bathrooms. For this, New Pueblo went with BuildPods, a company started by steel building system developer ConXtech, and construction management firm Build Group in October 2007 to bring the European model of factory-built modular rooms to the West Coast. Rather than trying to build whole structures modularly, the company has focused on the high-value parts.

BuildPods uses an assembly-line approach to construct fully plumbed, wired, ducted and finished bathrooms and kitchens in modules up to 10 feet wide so they can be delivered by truck. At the job site, the modules can be lifted off the truck and placed on a given floor of the project with a telehandler-style forklift.

Modules designed for Las Palmas would be 9-foot-by-20-foot kitchen and 10-foot-by-17-foot bathroom-and-laundry units.

"We're eliminating waste and all the trades having to go to the job site," said Bill Rollinson, senior vice president of business development and marketing.

Modular construction can limit scheduling problems for subcontractors, such as materials not being delivered by the time they arrive, but the structure still needs to have all the infrastructure installed to match up with what's installed in the modules.

What helps that process is building information modeling, or BIM, a method of computer-aided design that can help avoid unanticipated job-site problems, such as wiring specified to go through a beam. For installing modular rooms, BIM offloads job-site headaches to the design phase of the project to make sure pipes, conduits and ducts in the modules and structure align.

As for the solar-energy systems planned for the Las Palmas homes, SolarCity worked out a deal, based on the new size of the homes and the number of dwellings, to cut the cost to half of what a typical residential system would cost, according to Mr. Kellogg.

New Pueblo has designed Las Palmas to match the requirements of the U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design pilot neighborhood development rating system, but the company is not going to pursue certification because of the cost involved.

That includes not only sourcing components from within a 150-mile radius of the site and use of recycled content but also incorporating aspects of a transit-oriented development. That includes connections to the several bus lines that pass the property and the Central Sonoma Valley Trail through the property.

Financing for the project includes $2.9 million in loans from county redevelopment and housing funds, $1.65 million in state grants for infill housing and school access, $400,000 in equity financing from Newport Partners and potential for about $16 million in construction lending through the federal New Markets Tax Credit program for economically distressed areas such as Fetters Hot Springs.

New Pueblo is Mr. Kellogg, Scott Johnson of Sebastopol-based development company Terra Partners and a former executive of Santa Rosa-based nonprofit building Burbank Housing Corp., and two silent partners.

They want to use Las Palmas as a model for future projects. Community-building features planned include a community Web site for sharing services such as baby-sitting and possibility for a community garden, if the right management model is found. The community will have covenants, codes and restrictions, or CC&Rs, but it won't have a homeowners association by design. Interior roads and streetlights would be dedicated to public entities.

Project engineering was provided by Santa Rosa-based firms ZFA Structural Engineers and Carlile Macy, for civil design.