Katrina Cottages bound for Lowe’s stores

Small, hurricane-resistant dwellings are being rolled out by assorted designers and producers, using five different construction methods.

Four model cottages by new urbanist designers, each in a vernacular style appropriate to the Gulf Coast, will begin to be sold in 30 Lowe’s Home Improvement stores in Mississippi and Louisiana in mid-November. Lowe’s outlets in the two states — both of which are still in the early stages of reconstruction, more than a year after Hurricane Katrina — will sell the cottages as packages of materials. Professional builders or highly skilled do-it-yourselfers will then assemble the materials to make wood-frame “Katrina Cottages” of 544 to 936 square feet.
The Mooresville, North Carolina-based company has estimated that the packages will sell for about $45 to $55 a square foot, or roughly $25,000 to $50,000. New York designer Marianne Cusato, who created the first Katrina Cottage as part of the Mississippi Renewal Forum, designed two of the Lowe’s cottages. Andres Duany of Miami and Eric Moser of Hilton Head, South Carolina, designed the other two. Cusato is now working on the company’s fifth model, which will be considerably larger at 1,340 square feet.
If the cottages sell well in the first 30 stores, the packages of building materials will be introduced at additional Lowe’s outlets, perhaps eventually at all of the company’s 1,275 locations across the US. Regardless of where the packages are distributed, Lowe’s expects to sell blueprints of the cottages at all its stores.
An important goal of last fall’s Renewal Forum was production of a small dwelling in Gulf Coast vernacular style that could be used as an alternative to FEMA trailers. The cottage effort succeeded so well at capturing the popular imagination, however, that now a whole series of cottages is appearing — with Lowe’s as only one (though the largest) of the several merchandisers and builders involved.
Lowe’s calls its product a “materials package” rather than a kit. “It’s not coming like a pallet or a big box,” explained Lowe’s spokeswoman Jennifer Wilson. “There will be different shipments directly to the job site. We are trying to package the materials in a convenient way.” One shipment is expected to contain lumber and other materials, Wilson said. Another will contain lighting, plumbing, and other systems. Another will contain flooring and appliances.
The dwellings, designed to withstand heavy rains and winds as fierce as 140 mph, will meet most hurricane codes and the International Building Code while displaying an old-fashioned style that should fit the character of the Gulf Coast. They will feature rot- and termite-resistant siding (possibly a cement-fiber product), Duralume metal roofing intended to last 25 years, and moisture- and mold-resistant drywall, as well as insulation, fixtures, and electrical and plumbing systems. The idea is that professional builders or skilled do-it-yourselfers could erect a cottage in six to eight weeks. Several steps in the process would require inspection by a qualified home inspector, Lowe’s said. Some of the dwellings are designed to be expandable.
Buyers will have to supply the land, foundations, and air-conditioning systems, but otherwise, according to Cusato, “This is everything you need, including the screws and the nails.” It’s expected that after placing an order, a customer would wait four to six weeks for delivery.

Other cottage builders
Once Lowe’s gets its products into the stores, Katrina Cottages will have been produced by four different methods:
• On-site construction. An example is the Katrina Cottage that Moser designed, which was built in Pass Christian, Mississippi.
• Panelization (the house is made in parts in a factory, and the parts are later put together at the building site). Examples include a panelized cottage Steve Oubre and others produced for a charrette in Arabi, Louisiana; a prototype from Home Front Homes LLC in Englewood, Florida; and cottages planned by Andres Duany for the Bywater neighborhood in New Orleans.
• Manufacturing (the entire dwelling is produced in a factory and shipped to the site). Housing International, based in Sausalito, California, made a tiny cottage in its factory in Reserve, Louisiana, in September. The approximately 300-square-foot unit will be exhibited at trade shows. Steve Mouzon of the New Urban Guild gave it the Guild’s Seal of Approval. He noted that the Housing International product, which is to begin production in early October, would be categorized as either “manufactured” or “modular.”
• Packages to be assembled on site.  
“It is unprecedented, to my knowledge, that a building type would be conceived, designed, and executed in four out of five planned delivery methods by such a diverse group of designers, builders, and manufacturers in one year’s time,” Mouzon told members of the Gulf-Urb listserve.

cottage for dc area
Yet another Katrina Cottage, which Mouzon has been contracted to design for the newspaper supplement USA Weekend, “will certainly be modular, rounding out the five types,” he added. Officials in Falls Church, Virginia, asked that the USA Weekend Katrina Cottage — designed for the Washington, DC, metropolitan area — be placed in their city. The demonstration would “highlight a practical and attractive option for affordable housing, which is so desperately needed here and throughout this region,” said Carol Jackson, executive director of the nonprofit Falls Church Housing Corp. Jackson observed that such homes would be “a perfect fit” for many small lots in Falls Church and would be an alternative to seeing those lots overwhelmed by oversized houses. The 550-square-foot cottage — manufactured by Housing International and expandable to 1,200 square feet — will be given away in the Washington area Oct. 28. Whether it will be displayed in Falls Church is undetermined.
Another opportunity for Katrina Cottages is a FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) pilot program that has been allocated $400 million. The five Gulf Coast states — Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida — are eligible to compete for money to run pilot projects aimed at providing emergency or interim housing for hurricane victims. Looney Ricks Kiss of Memphis is one of the firms working with Mississippi officials on a proposal to use FEMA funds for a “Mississippi Cottage” based on the Katrina Cottage concept.
Overseas, too, the Katrina Cottage is getting attention. In England the Daily Telegraph quoted Hank Dittmar, chief executive of the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Environment, as saying, “We’re thinking about this as an application in many places. The Foundation recently went to a squatter neighborhood of Jamaica, and this idea was raised as a way of getting people into homes with proper sanitation.”
Finally, the Katrina Cottage is in the running for the People’s Design Award of the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. Anyone with an e-mail address can register and vote in the contest, which ends at 6 PM Oct. 16. To participate, click on www.cooperhewitt.org.

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