A Fabulous Green Prefabricated Home: Living in L.A.

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Photo By Scott Van Dyke
Gorgeous, airy views and outdoor living spaces such as balconies, decks and a living roof garden connect this healthy, modular home with its urban environment.

Perched in an established hillside neighborhood in Santa Monica’s Ocean Park neighborhood, LivingHomes CEO and founder Steve Glenn’s modernist home is quite a conversation starter. But this is no superficial conversation about how hot prefab has become in the last few years. (Prefabricated houses are manufactured in units and assembled on site.) Steve’s house–which also acts as a model home for his sustainable residential prefab development company–boasts an array of eco-friendly features, from solar panels and a green roof to recycled-cellulose countertops and LED (light-emitting diode) lighting.

The first residence to receive a platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for Homes program, the two-story, 2,500-square-foot home is composed of 11 modules that were crafted in a factory and constructed on site in just eight hours. Steve’s home was also named one of the American Institute of Architect’s Top Ten Green Projects for 2007. (We introduced readers to this home in “Your Green Home of the Future” in the March/April 2007 issue.)

We recently visited Steve’s home and asked him about living in this open, airy space.

Natural Home: You live in a zero-energy, zero-carbon, zero-emissions residence. Can you explain what all that means?

Steve Glenn: It would be a misnomer to say we accomplished all of that–those were the design goals we set up to guide the design of all our houses. We’re reclaiming water from the house for irrigation, which is what we mean by zero water. We’re minimizing waste and carbon, as well as VOC offgasing inside the home. Note: VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, are toxic chemicals from manufactured items–such as building materials, adhesives and paints–that outgas into the air.]

On this first one, we really didn’t achieve all of these goals. We’re not quite zero on anything. We knew we wouldn’t have zero waste and would have a small level of VOC emissions. The point was to minimize these as much as possible, and we came extremely close. We bought carbon offsets–paying for sustainable companies to perform greenhouse gas-reducing activities such as planting trees–for the home’s first year of operation, and we’ll be zero carbon because of that.

NH: How much did it cost to build this house?

Steve: $250 per square foot for the structure and $130 to $140 per square foot for the foundation. We charge about $300 per square foot, installed, for our homes.

NH: Your house was the first to receive the highest available LEED for Homes certification. What did it take to get this, and was it worth it?

Steve: It took a lot of hard work, but our company is committed to LEED’s environmental standards. Because the LEED for Homes program is point-based, with points awarded in many different categories, there were lots of ways to get there. At this level, we had to do a lot in each category, or it wouldn’t add up. So we worked hard to make the house energy and water efficient, and we were very responsible about how we sourced materials and how they were used.

NH: What would you do differently?

Steve: I’m quite comfortable living in the house. I can’t think of any big things I’d change, but there are small things like light switches that should be in different places. The man who designed this home, Ray Kappe, is a world-class architect who has already built many amazing houses.

NH: What’s your favorite part of your new house?

Steve: The light and the visuals–the space’s complexity, texture and volume.

NH: Modular, prefab houses–especially those that can be marketed as green–are hot right now. What should readers know if they’re in the market for this kind of home? What should they look for?

Steve: I’m not aware of that many people who are building green modular homes. A number of companies are doing modern prefab houses, but relatively few are integrating a comprehensive, LEED-certified environmental program. Prospective homebuyers should look at a company’s track record and environmental features. Moving forward, as the LEED for Homes program unrolls officially in the coming year, it will be important for prospective homeowners to ask builders whether they plan on building LEED homes.

The Good Stuff

• Prefab building reduces construction waste. Homeowners also can adjust the home’s layout to meet changing needs.
• Infill (within the established city, reducing urban sprawl) urban site was minimally disturbed during construction.
• Living roof garden repurposes stormwater runoff, helps reduce heat and insulates the home.
• Advanced irrigation system minimizes water use.
• Low-VOC, formaldehyde-free materials and finishes are used throughout.
• LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs use less electricity than fluorescent or incandescent bulbs and last at least twice as long.
• Landscaping consists of organically grown, native, drought-tolerant plants.
• Interior finishes and cabinetry are built from reclaimed or Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood.
• Thermal, high-performance windows reduce heat loss or gain.
• Bosch appliances meet Energy Star standards and Kohler fixtures are water efficient.
• Kitchen countertops are Paperstone, made from post-consumer recycled paper.
• Rainwater harvesting and graywater recycling systems reuse water for landscape irrigation.
• Environmental monitoring system measures water and electricity use.
• Solar panels generate electricity.
• Solar water-heating system drives radiant heating system.

For more information, visit www.livinghomes.net.