The weeHouse has been around since 2002 and its designers, Alchemy, have updated the tiny home design many times since then to make it more energy efficient and modern. Every weeHouse is custom built to suit your budget and site, while taking advantage of the cost efficiencies of prefabrication.
What makes them green?
Being prefabricated, the weeHouse has some environmental advantages over conventional construction. Alchemy, the designers of weeHouse, partner with prefab makers who take steps to reduce the environmental impact of construction, including by reducing waste.
The architects at weeHouse are happy to work with sustainable energy experts to customize any weeHouse with greener materials and systems, including active solar, geothermal, green roofs, and other renewables and energy saving measures. They already include some low-VOC and green-certified materials in the design and say that they hope to include more in the future as production increases (whereupon they can obtain discounts for such materials to keep costs low).
For now, some of the greener building materials that come as standard in the weeHouse include durable white oak engineered flooring harvested from sustainably managed Wisconsin forests, with a low-sheen, VOC-free oiled finish; painted corrugated steel with a 35-year warranty against peeling and fading; some Bosch appliances in the kitchen; and an EPA Water Sense-approved toilet in the bathroom.
Every weeHouse has a well-insulated building envelope and is oriented to take advantage of passive solar heating. weeHouses are fully insulated with 2×6 walls and 12″ floor trusses for the floors and ceilings. Nominal R values are: Walls R19, Floor R35, Ceiling R44. Higher levels can be achieved using spray foam or flash-and-batt insulation. Vented roofs assist in tempering the house in extreme heat or cold.
The weeHouse meets IBC (International Building Code) and IRC (International Residential Code) standards and is typically stronger than a site-built home because it has to withstand the stresses of being moved. Alchemy reinforce all corners of the frame, doors, and windows, and glue and screw the subfloor and sheetrock to the frame.
You can also choose to add in-floor hydronic heat, wood or gas stoves, forced air, and split wall air conditioning with remote compressors. Alchemy helps to coordinate with ducts, plumbing, electrical etc. to accommodate heating and cooling utilities. You’ll probably want to work with a local HVAC contractor to purchase and install your mechanical units in order to meet warranty and service conditions.
As Alchemy is an architecture-only firm, they don’t build the modules themselves. So, unlike other firms where you can visit the factory and work closely with the manufacturing team, weeHouse’s designers rely on factory partners doing a good job. This may help with cost savings in some cases, depending on where you live, but it means it’s hard to really tell if the weeHouse is built in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way. In some special cases, partnering factories may allow for a visit during manufacture.
What else is great about weeHouse?
If you want to build a whole weeHouse community, Alchemy can help you do that and will pass on the cost savings of building multiple prefabricated units. The company notes that many of their clients begin with one or two weeHouses and expand later to accommodate a growing family or other life changes.
One thing I really like about Alchemy is that they break down estimated costs in such a way as to remove some of the fear of unknown unknows, such as how much a crane costs and how expensive it will be to deliver your weeHouse to your building site.
As long as you can get a truck onto your building site, you can get a weeHouse delivered in the U.S. This means having an 18′ wide path for the loaded truck. You’ll also need access for a crane, which should fit on site if you can get the semi-truck on site. However, you’re also going to need an approximate 30′ circle for the crane’s stabilization arms and swing radius, and the ground must be firm enough to support the weight of the loaded crane.
Alchemy estimate you should budget between $300-$400 per hour for approximately 8-10 hours of crane time. A set crew from the factory or provided by your general contractor will facilitate the bolting of the weeHouse to its foundation. This is typically in the $2000-$4000 range.
Alchemy estimate transportation costs from the factory at $8-12 per truck/per mile. This depends on the factory, but typically includes permits and fees for using roads to transport your weeHouse. One truck accommodates one module, in most cases. For super small units, you may be able to squeeze modules onto the same truck to lower your costs.
If your site isn’t so accessible, you may still be able to order a weeHouse; it just has to be designed a little differently, using structurally insulated panels (SIPs) for instance, and/or traditional stick-built methods to deliver the home and assemble some parts on site.
If you live outside of the U.S., you may also be able to buy a weeHouse. Shipping and delivery typically costs $15,000-$20,000, however, so may make this too pricey an option. In Canada, weeHouses can be built with factory partners that allow for delivery in BC, but not to the rest of the country. There may be an option to work with a general contractor to have a weeHouse built on-site.
What kind of eco-friendly prefab homes do they build?
weeHouse was originally designed by Geoffrey Warner, AIA, principal architect at Alchemy LLC. Since its inception in 2002, the weeHouse has evolved into a line of structures used as homes, offices and studios. The iconic Arado weeHouse (a “Studio”) remains popular, while weeHouses have also been stacked and arranged in various configurations to create modular dwellings that accommodate larger families and communities.
The weeHouse can be as small as 300 sq. ft. and as large as 2,400 sq. ft. They can include steel or wooden siding, low-e glass, stainless steel appliances, and in-floor hydronic heating, and start at around $80,000. Standard weeHouses are 14’ wide, because this allows them to be transported more easily on a flatbed truck. In some cases, you may be able to order a weeHouse that is slightly less wee at 16’ wide. You’ll likely incur extra costs for road closures and route planning, however.
Each weeHouse arrives on-site between 80% and 90% complete. The standard weeHouse package includes all interior plumbing, electrical, cabinetry, custom hardwood flooring, windows and doors, as well as many other designer-chosen items and finishes. Depending on house design, siding is either done in the factory or by your general contractor and team on-site.
The standard weeHouse exterior siding is corrugated steel (available in a variety of colors and finishes). They also offer Alchemy-designed “corncrib siding,” a horizontal rough-sawn pine rain screen siding finished with solid or semi-transparent stain as an upgrade. You can also pick and choose multiple siding options within one project and fully custom siding options are available.
Alchemy includes the cost of built-in appliances in the budget and have certain brands and models they favor. They can usually integrate other models, but additional design time may be necessary if these deviate from standard models in size, shape, and other factors.
The typical weeHouse design-build timeframe is about 9-12 months from the initial deposit and signed contract. They may be able to complete small or special projects more quickly if you ask them nicely. You’ll need building permits for your weeHouse, and Alchemy and the factory producing your weeHouse will obtain state permits. You or your general contractor will need to pull local permits.
It’s usually best to have a foundation on which to place your weeHouse, so utility connections and heating and cooling units have somewhere to hide. Piers, perimeter, or full foundations (like walk out basements) are all fine for the weeHouse, however. Some have set on a tuck-under garage, others built on metal stilts, and others with full basements for extra storage and living space.
Alchemy can also design custom projects, including those that use modular elements. These are often built on-site by licensed local builders rather than being fully prefabricated. Examples of Alchemy’s custom projects include the Blair BarnHouse, the Klocker House, and BarnHouse I & II.
Who are Alchemy and why should you trust them?
Alchemy are best known for the weeHouse design, but the bulk of their work is more traditional architectural design. Since the first weeHouse was built, Alchemy have completed more than three dozen prefab projects in the U.S. They’re happy to simply sell you a standard weeHouse or to help you design a custom home, studio, in-law suite, or other prefab building, and can work both on a project fee and hourly basis depending on project specifics.
Alchemy aren’t shy about their customer testimonials and are happy to give you names and contact information for former clients if you’re looking for reassurance of quality and service. Their team boasts a lot of experience across many realms and they can provide references and resumes should you want them.
One of the Alchemy team, Marcy Conrad Nutt, is particularly focused on exploring best practices to reduce the construction industry’s environmental impact. She is a registered architect in Minnesota, has more than 16 years of experience, is a LEED Accredited Professional, and sits on the board of an organization developing affordable housing in Minneapolis.
Their contracts are based on those used by the American Institute of Architects, and the factories they use work with third party agencies for home inspections. They’re also happy to work with your real estate lawyer or other legal representation to make sure you’re comfortable with what’s in a contract.
One final thing, you can visit a weeHouse before committing to buy! Check out their current list of weeHouses available for rental through their owners.