Blue Sky Homes LLC, the company pioneering a revolutionary prefabricated light-gauge steel framing system for use in residential homebuilding, announced today that construction would begin on its next project on Feb. 7 in Southern California.
The unique Blue Sky system provides individuals with the quickest and easiest way to have their own turnkey, architect-designed custom home with an array of green features. It also offers any architect the ability to expand their design capabilities for their own client projects.
The new Blue Sky project is a 1,225-square-foot home being built in the high desert town of Yucca Valley near Joshua Tree National Park. The client is Gordon Graham, a Canadian who will use the home as a weekend retreat. The house was designed by o2 Architecture of Palm Springs, the innovative firm that has designed a number of other home configurations that are available through Blue Sky Homes. Lance O’Donnell, A.I.A., is the firm’s principal and Martin Brunner is the project architect.
Key to the design and construction of the home is the Blue Sky Frame™ (patent pending), which consists mostly of cold-formed, light-gauge galvanized steel elements that are shaped, cut and drilled to precise requirements in a factory and then shipped flat to the job site where they are rapidly bolted together in Erector Set fashion. No site welding is required. The resulting frame exceeds all engineering codes for structural integrity – including all seismic requirements – and contains no load-bearing walls (neither interior nor exterior walls) or bracing of any kind.
Steel, when it is used at all in residential construction, is most often what is known as structural steel. Structural steel is hot-rolled into heavy-gauge I beams and other shapes and is typically welded together on site. The material itself is expensive and site welding adds additional costs and complexities.
“The real breakthrough we’ve achieved with the Blue Sky Frame is bringing all the advantages of steel – strength, durability and the ability to create large open spans – to the residential market while using mostly light-gauge steel,” said David McAdam, one of the principals of Blue Sky Homes. “Our frame elements are far easier to work with, are assembled very rapidly, require no site welding and, pound for pound, cost less than structural steel elements. We believe that you will see an increasing adoption of light-gauge steel framing in residential construction in the years ahead, particularly given the impetus to build homes more quickly.”
Another key advantage of the Blue Sky Frame is the ease with which it can be used on steep, uneven or sensitive terrain – often with minimal or no site grading required. That’s because the system is configured in what is known as a point-loaded, bi-directional, moment-resisting frame.
Such a frame relies upon a minimal number of upright columns (the only structural steel used in the system) that are bolted to independent concrete footings, allowing the home to float above the terrain. No flat slab or continuous perimeter foundation is required. Indeed giant weathered boulders and ancient junipers characterize the property where the Graham residence will be built and none of those features will be disturbed during construction. That means the house will have a very light touch on the spectacular and pristine desert terrain. It also means that substantial costs will be avoided for the earth moving and compacting so often required for traditionally built homes.
Because the frame elements arrive at the site prefabricated the time required to build the house is vastly shorter than for traditional homes. Blue Sky Homes estimates that the new residence will be fully framed within three days, a weatherized shell will be enclosed within one week and the entire house will be fully complete in seven or eight weeks. Solterra Development of Palm Springs, California is the general contractor for the project. Michael Flannery is the firm’s principal.
“Most prefabricated homes that you read about are fully assembled in a factory,” said McAdam. “That means the builders then have to transport large-volume cubes on very large trucks and then set those cubes on concrete slabs utilizing equally large cranes. This approach is not only very expensive and inefficient but, for many locations, all but impossible given access limitations. We think it makes much more sense to fabricate the elements of the house in a factory, ship them flat, and then assemble them rapidly at the site.”
The Blue Sky Homes process of utilizing factory fabrication coupled with site assembly also yields another important benefit, said McAdam. “Our method does not limit the dimensions of our homes because we are not restricted by the width of roadways. For example, the great room in this rather modest-size new residence will be a wide open 45 feet by 14 feet. Unlike many ‘prefabs’ nothing about this house will be suggestive of a house trailer.”
Another unique aspect of the Blue Sky technology is the use of prefabricated insulated exterior wall panels that further enhance the speed and ease of construction and the durability of the finished structure. Known as S.T.E.P.s (Steel Thermally Efficient Panels), they consist of expanded polystyrene extruded with light-gauge steel studs. They come from the manufacturer pre-cut and are rapidly and securely attached to the Blue Sky Frame. They provide high insulation value, have utility chases and exterior and interior finishes are easily attached to them.
With no wood in either the Blue Sky Frame or in the wall panels Blue Sky homes are highly fire resistant and all but impervious to rot, mold or termites. And they require very minimal maintenance.
From an environmental standpoint Blue Sky homes boast very high credentials. The steel used in the homes is manufactured with up to 70 percent recycled steel content. Unlike most traditional homes, construction waste is largely limited to a factory setting where it is efficiently recycled. And the very speed of site construction is itself a significant environmental advantage because of the reduced number of trips to the construction site required by workers. Furthermore, Blue Sky Homes offers a wide range of green options – including solar photovoltaic systems, advanced solar hydronic hot water systems, non-VOC paints, Energy Star appliances, and much more.
The Blue Sky Frame has been rigorously tested and has been in use in commercial applications for more than 20 years.
A number of other architects are now using the Blue Sky Frame to design their own projects. The Blue Sky Frame has attracted particular attention from architects and builders in places such as Hawaii and the Caribbean where its attributes of construction speed, durability and green credentials are particularly valued.