An Innovative Net-Zero Prefab in Los Angeles

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By Jaime Gillin / Published by Dwell
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A net-zero prefab home design is set to reinvigorate a down-at-the-heels Los Angeles neighborhood.

In 2011, Restore Neighborhoods Los Angeles (RNLA), a nonprofit organization that invests in housing, sent out a request for affordable and sustainable designs intended for lots located in the city’s South Central area. "We very much want to introduce new design ideas and new technologies to low- and moderate-income districts," explains John Perfitt, executive director of RNLA. "We think that good design and new construction methods can, over time, have a very positive influence in restoring neighborhoods."

Components for low-cost prefab homes designed by Habitat for Humanity and the firm Minarc for South Central Los Angeles were trucked in and assembled over three days. Photos by Art Gray.

After whittling down the field from nine proposals, they selected a net-zero prefab design submitted by Habitat for Humanity and Minarc, a Santa Monica–based architecture firm known for its innovative, energy-efficient kit houses. Thanks to a streamlined, waste-free construction method and affordable materials, like unembellished cement board cladding and Minarc’s signa- ture Cradle to Cradle–certified mnmMOD panels, the firm’s three 1,200-square-foot homes came in at the requisite $150 per square foot—including foundation, trans- portation of the modular components, and rooftop solar panels, from Grid Alternatives, that offset 95 percent of the structures’ energy demands.

“There’s no drilling or chopping,” says Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir, cofounder of Minarc. “It’s

a very elegant way to build.” Photos by Art Gray.

Robert Dwelle, director of real estate at Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles, says that the collaboration will likely influence the way his organization approaches construction in the future. "Minarc’s system is comparable in time and price to stick building and provides a better insulated building," he says. "As a result of the project, we are now looking deeper at how our homes are designed, as well as how they operate, developing systematic ways to make the structures more energy-efficient." 

“These are homes that are truly sustainable—they don’t create any waste in fabrication, and there’s no waste onsite.” —Tryggvi Thorsteinsson, Minarc. Photos by Art Gray.