Chico-based home designer building disaster-resistant homes – Chico Enterprise-Record
CHICO – A Chico-based architect is trying to use prefabricated, non-combustible, eco-friendly and customizable home kits to help rebuild homes in Paradise and other parts of California where replacement homes have yet to be built due to natural disasters.
Vern Sneed is the owner and designer of Q Cabin Kits, which aims to replace combustible plywood, clapboard and paper casing materials with structures made of 90% steel. Sneed said the companies that manufacture the studs, roofing and other steel materials use 80% recycled content in their steel.
Although Sneed began the project in 2010 and sold the first home in 2013, the inspiration for Q Cabin Kits dates back to 1986 when Sneed was an architecture student at the University of Kansas. Sneed said a professor assigned a project to the class that required students to use a pre-engineered building as a shell. The professor told the class that the students had to get a handle on that industry or else it would take over all the jobs from the architecture students.
The idea stuck with Sneed, who said he was starting to think about ways to lower the cost of building homes while ramping up the excitement. The windows used have a heavy aluminum frame and a tempered glass interior. Sneed said the aluminum frame is important to have because traditional vinyl window frames can melt off the wall and give fire easy access to a home’s interior. He said with the windows, “it will take a few minutes a few thousand degrees before something goes wrong with that window.”
Sneed also mentioned the series of troughs on the outside of the houses, which collect water and direct it to one point so that rainwater can be used for agriculture or for watering plants. He said the steel exterior leaves no room for fire to be drawn in when normal roof panels are allowed to burn, and argues that the most vulnerable part of a house to burn is the overhang. The roof parts are delivered in arches with a tap and screwed.
“For me it’s all about design. I have a degree in architecture and I’m more into design than anything else before this,” Sneed said. “When you get to the level of doing houses, which is a smaller design project from a hospital or something like that, it’s quite exciting to change the materials.”
Sneed said he feared making the houses a kit that could be built quickly would hinder his creativity, but he said it did the exact opposite.
“I’ve found no limits to my creativity, and if anything uses these materials, my architectural thinking has expanded,” Sneed said.
Sneed, a resident of Chico, said he moved from Mount Shasta to Butte County, in part because of the need he saw for replacement homes, particularly in Paradise.
“We’re trying to let Paradise know that this is a good solution and also economically,” Sneed said. “There are really great subsidies out there. They’re still struggling to afford a replacement up there, and we’re trying to solve that with the price of our units.”
Sneed said permit drawings can be ready in 60 days and in Paradise it takes about three weeks to turn plans. He said foundations and grades take two weeks and currently there is a construction time of three months for most structures.
A full list of the types of cabins and structures, along with prices, can be found by visiting http://theqcabin.com/q-cabin-kit-models/.