Friday, February 01, 2008

Huf Haus versus DaVinci Haus

Over the last year or two I’ve received regular emails and the odd blog comment asking me what I thought of the DaVinci Haus system, which, on the surface looks like a copy and paste Huf Haus clone. From the beginning I’ve maintained that the example DaVinci Haus I’ve seen near Zürich (a 4-axis) didn’t measure up to the equivalent Huf Haus examples. And I’m pretty sure my own white 3-axis Huf Haus knocks that particular DaVinci Haus into a cocked hat on every measure I care to imagine.

So that’s that then… but… well, two things have happened recently that've caused me to think that I’ve done DaVinci Haus a grave injustice.

This is a DaVinci Haus - not a Huf Haus!

The first thing: just before Christmas I saw another “queer looking” Huf Haus that looked rather fantastic – and no wonder it looked a bit different; it was a DaVinci Haus. I’m resisting the temptation to be more specific than that, but I think that the owners deserve to keep their privacy – however, I did get a quick look around the place and a peep inside, which was very nice of ‘em as they didn’t know me from Adam. The second thing that happened is that whilst sniffin’ about the web looking for landscaping ideas, I came across the following website:

And my oh my, don’t those DaVinci Haus pickies look nice.

Sooooooo, as an apology to DaVinci, I’ve decided to write this post to try and straighten the record a bit.

Like Huf Haus, DaVinci Haus are an established German manufacturer and erector of turn-key factory assembled houses. (Note the term “factory assembled”. During a social event last year, I spent and hour or so chatting to a very senior Huf Haus manager who made it clear that they take a dim view of alternative terms such as “pre-fab” and “kit”). Like Huf Haus, yer typical DaVinci Haus is characterised by the post and beam architecture, steeply sloped roofs, floor to ceiling glasswork, open plan interiors, sweeping staircases and open floor-to-roof galleries. Yer DaVinci woodwork is available in black, white and grey. And you’ll see that most DaVinci owners opt for those black roof tiles, but red and dark grey tiles are on the menu as desired. Both have that fresh, modernist look that makes ‘em look like visiting UFOs when lit up at night.

Or during the day, for that matter. Nowt else in yer neighbourhood looks as fresh and modern and clean… unless it’s another Huf Haus… or (mumbles) some bloody DaVinci Haus.

Let’s be clear: what’s beyond question is that the Huf Haus company is the original and only manufacturer of the landmark modernist design dreamt up by the great Manfred Adams during a fit of artistic creativity. However, DaVinci has entered the market with a similar concept, that, while not the real thing, is somehow similar enough to be in the same space. Is it a clone? Well, that’s a harsh term as it implies a certain level of cynical plagiarism. Erm, well there are plenty that’d say it’s just that: a open clone and therefore an example of cynical plagiarism. But l’d more tactfully say that it’s very similar, and the differences (and there are quite a few, as it turns out) tend to escape the casual glance. All I can say is that when I saw that particular DaVinci Haus in the distance I immediately assumed it was the real thing: “Oh look, a Huf Haus… erm, but it looks… not quite right. Hang on… is it a DaVinci? I think it is…”

Ok, so in the interests of not landing up in some court, I’ve managed to skirt the cloning issue, so let’s concentrate on what’s significantly different about DaVinci.

How are DaVinci to work with as a company? Dunno, we went with Huf Haus and I’ve written about 100,000 words on my impressions – very good ones. But does anyone seriously think that one successful German construction company would be greatly inferior to any other? And they’d be insulted to think that they’re only equal to a Brit equivalent, so the “German-ness” has a lot of credibility in itself - DaVinci are a success in Germany, and they’d not get even a whiff of that if they had a reputation for slackness or sharp practices.

How do the costs compare? I’ve heard DaVinci’s about 5% cheaper, but can’t give any guarantees – probably not enough to change yer life, but then again 5% of a lot of money is still a lot of money. What about the material quality then? Erm, just imagine the correctness and strictness of the German building codes and that should take care of that concern. German houses don’t fall down or rot – and yer can drop a feather behind a window on a windy day and it’ll fall straight down to the floor. The loos flush, the showers shower, the plumbing doesn’t creak and rumble and the heating heats. The windows and doors open and shut, and the locks lock.

So what are the differentiators?

Well, they’re mostly in the product design itself…

DaVinci Haus interior

Daft as it seems, I didn’t notice the headline difference at first: the structuring of the DaVinci beams is very different from the Huf Haus design. Now yer Huf Haus lateral beam very obviously starts outside one end of the house, continues inside, and extends all the way through and out t’other end. The cross beams do the same, side to side, and go under the lateral beams, criss-cross – and the whole kit ‘n’ caboodle are held together with whopping great steel bolts. So, yer Huf Haus beams (side-to-side, end-to-end, criss-cross, cross-criss, whopping big steel bolts) are one of the most definitive features of the Huf Haus interior, along with the walk-around posts, extensive windows and the vast open plan areas. Well, yer DaVinci beams don’t criss-cross in the same way, nor do they as obviously pass through from the exterior to the interior. They’re almost apologetically countersunk into the walls, into the ceiling and indeed into each other – so much so, that there are some owners of black DaVinci houses who (gasp!) paint their interior beams and posts white!

Exterior and interior beams painted in different colours! Well, imagine that! They’d be much scowling and muttering into beards at Hartenfels if some Huf Haus owner had the temerity to do the same. But to be fair, the more blended DaVinci interior beams allow such painting without the exterior/interior disparity looking as daft as a paint brush.

There’s also a subtle difference in the area above the windows – yer Huf Haus windows have a sort of wooden plate running along the top that is used both to hide the light cabling above and the curtain rail below. Very handy. The criss-cross of the Huf Haus beams also liberates some space above the windows - which is where the skinny upper windows go. Have a look elsewhere on this blog and compare with an interior photo from the DaVinci website above and you’ll see what I mean.

The next difference is very minor: the DaVinci stairs, gallery and balcony handrails are of painted wood instead of steel tubes. Ok, no drum rolls or crash of cymbals required, but it was one of the differences that contributed to the “not quite right” exterior look of the DaVinci Haus I saw.

I’m really unsure whether my next observation is fact or just the way that things have turned out in those DaVinci pictures and the two examples I’ve seen in the flesh: your standard Huf Haus has windows literally everywhere, and in fact apart from a few solid wall panels here or there to hold the bloody house up, you’re free to use as much window as your modesty and inhibitions will allow you. Endless windows come standard with your Huf Haus – and you are then free to reduce them as you wish – at no extra cost sir. When you look into your standard Huf Haus catalogue (you’ve got one now, right?) you should assume that the few solid walls shown on those various floor plans are the ones needed to safely support the structure. Many of the DaVinci pickies show houses with less windows than their Huf Haus equivalents – especially in the bedrooms for some reason, but also here and there in the downstairs areas. Why is that? Do the standard designs come with fewer windows, so more windows equals more costs? Does the different beaming system have an impact on the structure, so yer need more solid walls to hold the house up? Is it simply because yer average DaVinci punter uses the interior space differently, or are invariably less into naturism? The jury’s out, but I can’t help feel it’s a combination of all the above.

Except for the shyness, ‘cos most Huf Haus owners are reluctant streakers, instinctively using the internal posts and the odd piece of furniture as 'natural cover' during the inevitable midnight streaks from bathroom to refrigerator to bedroom.

And this brings me onto the overall aesthetic difference between the two designs: yer Huf Haus is more industrial looking inside and out. There are a number of touches that DaVinci have done to soften the look – wooden handrails and countersunk beams are just two examples, but if you look very carefully at the DaVinci imagery, you’ll see other ‘softening’ details – for example, those whopping big exposed bolts that are so evident inside a Huf Haus are kept to an absolute minimum in the DaVinci.

Looking through the DaVinci imagery, I can see that their system is as equally flexible as Huf Haus. Lot’s of different shapes and sizes, and fancy tailoring is in evidence. However, I believe there’re a few DaVinci examples that the Huf Haus people might not have been too enthusiastic about… Now Huf Haus is quite rightly proud as punch about their product family, and consider each and every example scattered about the European countryside to be a three-dimensional advert of what they’re about. They’re guardians of the original Manfred Adams design, and therefore can and should be forgiven for occasionally keeping an eye on the aesthetics when some prospective client steps a little bit too far “out there”, taste-wise. Well, there are some DaVinci pickies which show customisations that I’m sure Huf Haus would have cooperated with, but might perhaps have gently advised their clients against if at all possible. To my eyes, some of DaVinci’s customised balcony extensions and non-standard roof treatments look, to be frank, ungainly. And there are some skylights hammered through here and there that could have been a bit more thoughtfully integrated into the overall design. One can only imagine that DaVinci are more “accommodating” to the wilder wishes of their clients…

Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Well, few of us want to be strongly guided by some representative of the taste police – taste is subjective, after all. But then again, even fewer of us want to think that our dafter ideas will be politely agreed to with an insincere smile, a cynical shrug and an outstretched palm for the extra dosh. Neither Huf Haus or DaVinci go to these extremes, thankfully, but which company has the better balance? Well, I suppose that depends on you. I’m personally glad that I was talked out of one or two of my dafter ideas by Huf Haus – and shudder to think that I might now be living with those ideas if we’d gone with DaVinci.

Any regrets that Claudia and I went with Huf Haus? Of course not. We’re Huf Haus people, through and through… erm, well we are now. But on balance, I reckon we’d have gone with Huf Haus even if we’d done a more thorough job of assessing DaVinci – ‘cos we really do prefer the look of the Manfred Adams original: the criss-crossed beams, the expose whopping big bolts, the endless windows, the more industrial feel of it.

Now if anyone reading this knows a thing or two about DaVinci and would like to correct or add to any of the about, then feel free to comment. As I stated earlier, the intention is to paint a fairer picture of DaVinci.


dan said...

Hi Ric, just a general question.

We hungarians tend to want to accomodate our cars in closed, heated garages. We also tend to want to accomodate our closed, heated garages inside the house, or at least have direct (closed, heated, rain-protected) access from house to garage.

After spending 5 years lloking through all HUF catalogs, I never saw one with that feature. Whys dat? Why dont you have a garage? And as such, a closed, heated access to/from house/garage?


Ric Capucho said...

Hi Dan,

Well, I suppose the Huf Haus system has nothing against using some of the space for garaging, and I'm sure a heated garage wouldn't be a problem - other than the costs involved.

However, I think we're basically looking at a cultural difference - most of the marketing material is German or Swiss (or even English) so a heated garage wouldn't be a priority. I believe many Germans are comfortable with a carport, and the Swiss are usually fairly happy with that arrangement, or some sort of underground parking. The Brits are fairly flexible - as ever.

Maybe contact your local Huf Haus representative and see what they've done in the past?


dan said...

Oh, one more thing.

How much gas or electricity have you been using for the heating through the winter, or, rather, throug the year?

Ric Capucho said...

Hi Dan,

No gas where we live.

We have a heat pump system. Works by scavenging the temperature differences between the inside and outside, so our electric bills are about 40% of anyone else's. You might want to see if you can find some information on the concept, because I'm really very happy with it.


Paul said...

Hi Ric,

I will take the time to have a proper look round your site soon, but it will be interesting to see the difference between your experiences and our own - we are extending/remodeling our house the old fashioned way.

We have gone for UFH though - and despite it being a tad chilly and still having some gaps in the exterior, it's very toasty indeed. No ground source heat pump for us - bit pricey here in the UK - just Gas (of course that's really cheap now).

Our Blog

jimmy said...

Hi there

Surely the walls in these houses are not load bearing so you can put anything in the gaps, glass, wood, paper, nothing at all...

I bought a house from davinci and they were quite happy to let me use any amount of glass. They didn't try to charge me extra for glass sections as opposed to wall sections. That said, we didn't use glass everywhere. There are reasons other than modesty to opt for a wall. Even with thermal glass, walls are always going to be better insulators. In some cases you can have too much light in a room. On the North face of the house it makes sense to have less glass than on the south side (solar gain etc). The houses look better when all done in glass, particularly at night - but how a hosue looks can't be the only consideration. As far as nudity goes I couldn't care less who can see through my windows.

KD Haus also make post and beam houses and I'm sure there are others. I didn't go with Huf because they were generally rude and didn't return my phone calls when I was speccing the house. This despite having prepared plans for my house with an architect and visiting their offices in Hartenfels. So I was clearly a serious customer. I got the feeling they were swamped with business following the grand designs show.

Huf has become a housing brand. Everyone recognises the name and has positive associations. Like Prada or Ducati. I'm not sure I made the right decision not to go with Huf. If it ever went to resale, I think a Huf haus would sell better than a KD Haus or a Davinci.

Quality seems good however and customer service is excellent.

Ric Capucho said...

Hi Paul,

We actually have an air to air heat pump, which isn't as efficient as a ground to air heat pump. About 40% versus 20%, or somesuch.

Reason is because our house is built on a soddin' big mountain of glacial moraine (think soil and small rocks) and the local council take a dim view of any system that (a) drills holes into the hill that's supporting the entire village and (b) could change the underground temperature.

Nothing of the above makes any sense to me, using my popular science brain, but those are the facts - no ground to air allowed, and air to air it is.

Still cheap as chips to operate, but the system did cost us about eight thousand quid, so Blighty might be underwater from global warming by the time the operating saves have paid off your box. Antarctica can melt all it wants, we'll never get wet up where we are - although I must admit a new ice-age might buggah us up a bit.

Interesting that you're doing some remodelling. It'll be years before we consider it ourselves - but then again, if there's any remodelling to do now, then maybe we should have thought of it a bit earlier.

Let me know what you're doing, 'cos these things are always interesting.


Ric Capucho said...

Hello Jimmy,

The Huf Haus walls are either load-bearing a bit or load-bearing a very lot.

Out of the 16 sections (mental count) that make up our perimeter, it turns out that 4 of them must be solid, as they're the main load-bearers - think of something that somehow triangulates the post and beams so the whole thing doesn't fall down like a domino house. There are another (mental count) 2 internal walls that must do the same job.

We also elected to make another 2exterior sections and 1 interior section solid to save our blushes. And give us something to hang a painting on.

The rest of the walls are glass, and are mildly load-bearing - something we found out when we were trying to put a big window into the celler room underneath a glass section - no go, unless we were prepared to put up with a glass section with some sort of cross post in the middle of it - sod that, quoth we.

Good to hear DaVinci have the same glass/solid wall policy - no extra charge either way.

Not glad to hear you found Huf rude. Not sure what went wrong with your case, but we didn't find them rude at all. Still, you sound a happy bunny with DaVinci, so all's well that ends well, eh?


Jimmy said...

That makes sense that some wall sections would contain diagonal beams to stop the house collapsing like dominoes.

dan said...

Just look here, and see the metal fixings that triangulate the walls:

These are inside the walls, so yuoll not get to see them or even know they are there with HUF or Davinci, as you get the walls delivered ready.

Cavania said...

We are living in the UK and have just bought a block of land on the coast in Western Australia. We are extremely taken with the construction methods of these kit homes. With the back log of construction in Australia the thought of shipping a home and having it built in a very short space of time is very appealing. Geraldton Australia is extremely hot and windy so should be a challenge. Thank you for your blog and the insight.

Ric Capucho said...

Hi Karen,

Sorry for the delayed reply.

There're a couple of obstacles that you might want to consider before seriously planning on building a Huf Haus in Oz.

Firstly, the Huf Haus people operate within truck driving range of their German factory. Some of those trucks drive as far afield as Moscow, but they won't be driving as far as Australia - not without water wings. And those trucks and the blokes with muscles therein are needed to get that house of yours built.

Having said that, I've been 'informed' that the Huf Haus people are considering a project to build a cluster of big posh houses somewhere in the Far East. The proposed solution to the truck problem? Renting some whopping big cargo airlifters.

Secondly, the house has been optimised for cooler climates - not that sloped roof for snows. And those endless windows are great for views - and heat retention.

However, they do provide aircon kits, so probably solvable.

And feel free to post your photo on my blog at any time. :-)


Cindy Dy said...

I'm so happy that I found your blog. You had a really wonderful site. Thank you for sharing this steps and information to us. It is really a big help.

Shea Kang said...
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Jim Curry said...

I'm very sorry if this is a bother, but... I just love the Huf Haus look to pieces. I think it's just SOOOOO cool, and potentially such a great lifestyle. Must be great living with that amount of natural light streaming in from every direction. I live in North America, and Huf won't build here. But, that's just a detail. The real question is whether these Huf Hauses can be suited carefully to extremely and harshly cold climates without breaking the bank in utility bills. Can these things stand up to real cold? (-40C is common here). Can they stand up in wind? (80mph is not uncommon here). They look grand. Can they be designed in a very practical way for harsh environments? (Can they put in a sauna????)