Gallery: Video Interview with Green Home Designer Michelle Kaufmann


At a West Coast Green conference in San Francisco, we were lucky enough to not only get a sneak peek of the Michelle Kaufmann mkLotus prefab house, but also to speak with the designer herself to get the low-down on the sleekly-designed zero energy home. Check out the video to learn all the details about the energy, water, and materials packed into this compact sustainable home.

The mkLotus was open to the public as part of the West Coast Green show at San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza. It’s small but stunning, with gorgeous xeriscape landscaping, and the most high-tech green materials and sustainable systems available,including a greywater recycling system, green roof, solar panels, and even a spot to plug in your electric vehicle for charging!

For more info, check out the longer video here>>

Inhabitat: Thank you so much for being here, Michelle.

Michelle Kaufmann: Thanks for having me.

Inhabitat: Tell us a little bit about the house that we’ve got here.

Michelle: This house, called “MK Lotus” is the latest pre-configured design that we have in this series of homes that is modular, sustainable, and modern. We found that to really achieve our goal of making it easy for people to go green, we realized we needed to pre-package the green solutions to make it really one-stop shopping.

Inhabitat: Can you tell us a little bit about the green features of the house?

Michelle: Yes. So with this home, we really approached it where we wanted to have a $0.00 electric bill. We wanted to maximize the efficiency of water. We wanted to minimize waste, and maximize material resource efficiency. How we did that was if we look at water, for example, we have a number of interesting solutions. One is we have a green roof, which helps not only with storm water run-off, but it also helps with insulation.

Inhabitat: Can you tell us a little bit about the green roof?

Tim Schmidt: Yes, this green roof that we’re looking at here sits on top of a insulated roof, which is made out of icynene insulation, which is already an R-42 insulation value. Now we add the green roof over the top, which even reduces more of the heat balance than the global warming of heating up the atmosphere, because the green just sucks in, and plus it gives back oxygen into the atmosphere.

Michelle: On another portion of the roof where we have a metal roof with solar panels on it, there we are actually collecting the rain water from that roof into a water catchment system. We’re actually making that into a pool, and the pool aspect is actually helping to filter that water. That water then will be used for irrigation for the landscape. We also are doing a gray water system, where we’re taking water from the washing machine and the shower and using that in the toilet. That way, we’re not using new potable water for the toilet.

Inhabitat: That’s a great idea.

Michelle: Yeah. And we’re also doing low-flow shower heads, dual flush toilets, so that way we’re really keeping the water usage down. For the issue of energy, we’re doing PV Photovol Taic solar panels on the roof, plus we’re doing Energy Star appliances. We have all LED lighting – LED lights are 90 times as efficient as incandescent. Our goal is to make it such that you don’t ever have to turn on lights during the day. That’s why we have windows that either go to the floor, so it washes the floor with light, or on corners, so they wash the walls with light.

Inhabitat: So we’ve got these lovely skylights here, which I can tell they let a lot of natural light into the house, but they also probably help a lot with heating and cooling. Is that correct?

Tim: That’s correct. This whole house has been designed with a chimney effect, so you crack windows in around the house, open your skylight, and all the hot air rises, and it’s a natural cooling effect instead of using air conditioning.

Michelle: That, in conjunction with a high performance mechanical system, where we have either radiant or we do a high velocity mini-duct system, so that way we’re using the least amount of energy possible for the house so that way it can be all powered by the sun.

Inhabitat: Are you able to power the whole house through the solar panels?

Michelle: Exactly. We’re making it efficient enough that it can all come from the sun.

Inhabitat: So you can buy one of these, put it some place in California, and be getting money back from PG&E. Is that correct?

Michelle: Exactly. You can either choose to hook into the grid – to PG&E – and you can sell back on sunny days, buy back on gray days, or if it’s in a more remote area, you could be off-grid and just have a back-up system.

Other sustainable features that we have in the home are all FSC-certified wood in the flooring and in the cabinetry. We’re doing concrete countertops using fly ash and in the kitchen, it’s with rice halls. And in the bathroom, we have the countertop of concrete with fly ash, but using porcelain that comes from recycled toilets.

Tim: Actually, they’ll plug the car in here, charge it up. You can preset the electric car to say, “If PG&E needs more electricity, then they can take it from my electric car.”  It looks like a standard plug-in, but it actually has a backfeed mechanism into the grid.

Michelle: Another key green aspect is really trying to design the home so it feels bigger than it is. How we’ve done that is through accordion glass doors by NanaWall, where you can completely open up the living room, borrow space from the outdoors, blur the boundary between the interior and exteriors. Even though the house is 700 square feet, it feels more like it’s double that size. This is the one bedroom, one module version. We can go up to four modules, four bedrooms. So it really depends on the client’s program, on their way of living, on their budget, and on their site.

Inhabitat: Are you going to auction this all off?

Michelle: I’m not sure yet what we’re doing with it. What we’re trying to do is find the best blending of being green but still cost-effective. Also, as we do more mass production, and we work in multi-family projects, for example, that’s when the costs go down quite a bit, and it gets very interesting.

Inhabitat: So tract homes could actually get a lot better at some point.

Michelle: And they need to.

Inhabitat: Thank you so much for taking the time to be with us here today. I love the new design.  I’m really excited about some of the new things that are happening with green pre-fab.

Michelle: Thanks so much for having me. I love Inhabitat. I love how much that you’ve provided a forum where people can share information, and development, and research so quickly, and in real time, which is helping everyone.

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  1. Terrence November 7, 2008 at 11:12 am

    I am looking for builders who are more realistic. Do we have a maor builders incorporating some of these design acheivements in a practical way? Today suburbs dominate, what pre-fab designs which are storm and flood resistant are actually being built today? I know that some builders prefab walls and certain peices of construction. Are there any builders responding to Katrina and the many other storm damage we experience every year in Amerca?

  2. dale October 26, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    nice work

  3. woodcraftdb October 9, 2008 at 6:35 am

    This home is spectacular. I was wondering if it is hardy enough to survive the winters in the Minneapolis area. Woodcraft is in the concept stages of a sustainable development in the Minneapolis area. We are looking for cunning and cutting edge \\\”sustainable design homes\\\” for a small beta development. If you are interested in this development please contact us at

  4. popeye01 September 29, 2008 at 3:11 am

    All very well but i wish to comment that by placing the photovoltaic panels flat on the roof they will only be 70% efficient why not project them at 30% angles facing south to get further efficiency.
    It does not indicate if battery cells are used to store excess energy during the day for use at night.
    The use of LED lighting although conserves energy for the user there has been no deep study into the effects on the environment producing these items this needs to be looked at in more detail the same applies for photovoltaic cells a recent study i have carried out shows it will take 45 years to recover the energy used to manufacture these panels so the only saving is to the user and are not truly environmentally friendly

  5. Inhabitat: Pictures Fro... March 17, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    […] Pictures From West Coast Green March 17, 2008, 8:54 pm Filed under: Inhabitat From… […]

  6. Rose Hare February 27, 2008 at 7:28 pm

    Wow, love this!! I’m an Eco Broker here in Port Townsend Washington and have alot of interest in your product. Please put me on your mailing list. Thanks, Rose Hare REALTOR

  7. Susan Nordland January 21, 2008 at 11:22 am

    I own a Hair Salon – Is there any way I can generate electricity. Cycling ?????

  8. Sustainable Urban Livin... November 14, 2007 at 11:41 pm

    […] had shared this idea with a friend and she recently forwarded me a link (thanks Niamh ) to a very chic and sustainable pre-fabricated urban housing solution. Here is the […]

  9. Anang Moite November 1, 2007 at 4:52 pm

    Dear Partners,

    The main focus of the company is renovate, redesign, develop and manage most of the dilapidated old homes around the capital into modern commercial, residential and other facilities

    I have a land and i want to partner to develop 2 & 3 bedroom detach story building

    Ghana is a business friendly country where companies and individual have a better retunes on their investment.

    The state has provided a tax-free for companies who want to invest in the country for both international companies and small-scale business for five years in any part of the country.

    The state also protects the companies interest.

    Looking forward for your quick responses.

    Best regards

    Anang Moite

    (Properties Development )

    Nii Moite Agency


    Phone: +233 277

  10. Linda ayres October 25, 2007 at 2:03 pm

    We are planning to build our dream home in Oriental NC starting in about two years. i am very interested in building in this format, however, we want an elevated house, because the house will be on a lake witch is fed from the NC sound

  11. alisa October 16, 2007 at 12:20 pm

    i LOVE this! Manhattan rooftop Lotus village anyone?

  12. diego almaraz October 12, 2007 at 7:29 pm

    The video doesn’t work, maybe you could give an updated link? Thanks

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