Area builder develops eco-kits for DIY homes
Noah Grunberg said he custom designs each kit for the specific building site, and sites the placement of the house, for maximum energy efficiency.
Noah Grunberg with his model green home in Colrain, which was designed with energy-savings features such as passive solar heating and thick insulation panels.
BUCKLAND — A new house under construction in Colrain will serve as Franklin County’s introduction to Noble Home, a Buckland-based business that designs and makes “eco kits” for people who want to build their own energy-efficient houses.
Founder and owner Noah Grunberg of Shelburne Falls started Noble Home in Boston in 2006, but for the last two years he has run the company in a shop within the red Schmidt Farm barn on Route 112. The green building materials provided in Noble Home kits include thick plastic foam core wall and roof panels, and exposed-beam truss ceilings made from local lumber from the Hall Tavern Farm in Charlemont.
“All the materials are nontoxic,” says Grunberg. “There is no plywood and the structure is super-insulated.”
Depending on the homeowner’s preferences, the kits can include designs for rainwater collection, solar and wind power, root cellars and greenhouses.
“Hall Tavern Farm give us rough-hewn beams and we mill them in our shop,” he said. “We mill everything we present, so it can be fit on site. About 95 percent is precut and ready to be fit.”
The poor economy and housing slow-down has given Grunberg time to design and develop kit homes that can be installed within a few months by “weekend warriors and do-it-yourself kind of persons,” he said. “The thrust of Noble Home was for good quality, affordable homes that owners could build.”
Grunberg pointed out that, at the turn of the 20th century, Sears and Roebuck Co. was selling home building kits that were dropped off at house lots. “It’s not a new idea, but it’s being revived,” he said.
Grunberg grew up in Chatham, N.Y., and studied product design at the Rochester Institute of Technology. After, he apprenticed at the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation (now called the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture), which shaped his views on architecture.
After studying at the Boston Architectural Center, Grunberg and a colleague started a company that designed renovations for artists’ lofts and build-out spaces within empty warehouses, mostly around Boston.
Grunberg said they operated that business for 10 years, gradually getting into home renovation and home-building.
“What we found was that our clients wanted to participate in the design and they wanted to take part in construction of their home. They needed to — to save money,” he said.
Grunberg said the search for more affordable solutions led them to consider modular housing. He said they toured modular home businesses “to see if we could get some more interesting designs.” But the companies he met with weren’t interested in veering away from the design formulas that had always worked for them.
That led Grunberg to consider developing his own kits, for both more affordability and for the means to provide good quality “green constructing.”
After a bunch of false starts, he developed the current system. The kits include white pine posts, pre-notched rafters and pine collar tie assembly, tongue-and-groove pine ceiling, 7.5-inch insulated roof panels with EPS foam insulation, with a continuous R-value of 36. The 5.5-inch wall panels are made of light-gauge steel with EPS foam insulation, with an R-value of 25. Homeowners have a choice of siding: tongue-and-groove pine, corrugated metal and Hardeepanel, which is fiber cement-board siding. The windows are Pella windows with aluminum frames and insulated glass. The concrete slab floors absorb heat during the day, from passive solar heat, and release it at night.
Grunberg said he custom designs each kit for the specific building site, and sites the placement of the house, for maximum energy efficiency.
He said the kits include design for wiring and plumbing, but those elements have to be purchased separately. He says the cost averages about $50 per square foot. The home samples on his website give a price range of between $35,000 for a one-bedroom home to $56,000 for three bedrooms.
“A lot are two stories, with the lower story bermed into the hillside,” he said.
In 2009, Noble Home won honorable mention in the Green Dot Awards, which is an international award given to companies focused on creating projects, products and services that honor the environment.
“The last couple of years have been pretty slow,” said Grunberg. “I’m OK with that. I have three sample designs, but I don’t like to work from that: I work with people, back and forth, to get the floor plan that works for them.”
For now, Grunberg has several part-time employees.
An open house is planned at this three bedroom, “pilot” home, at 434 Main Road on Saturday, from 1 to 3 p.m.
He said those who come can watch a video of how these houses are installed and see photos of other Noble Homes that have been completed in Boston, Cape Cod and in other locations.
For more information about the homes or the open house, call Grunberg at 617-694-7253.
To see some of the completed homes, visit the website: