LivingHome Features A Modular System

By Libby Motika
Palisades News Contributor

Steve Glenn founded LivingHomes with one goal in mind. He wanted to construct housing that emphasized good design combined with a light ecological footprint. He learned that he could achieve his target most effectively with pre-fabricated modular construction, certain that if done right, you could have better quality and less cost.

Glenn’s own house in Ocean Park, completed 11 years ago, is not only the first LivingHome, but also the first in the nation, to be certified LEED Platinum (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design). An external point-based system, LEED measures performance in five key areas of human and environmental health. The LivingHome demonstrates the successful marriage of good architecture and sustainability in energy, water and construction materials both inside and out.

The Santa Monica Conservancy is hosting a salon at the LivingHome on Saturday, June 10, from 3 to 5 p.m., where guests can tour the home and learn more about sustainable resources.

The first residence to receive a platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes program, this 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. Photo courtesy LivingHomes

The first residence to receive a platinum rating from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Homes program, this 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. Photo courtesy LivingHomes

While the concept of “green” homes is more relevant today in the face of increasing global temperatures and resource pollution, there were attempts to build green after the energy crisis of the 1970s. “People were building straw-bale houses or underground, but these were homes that not too many people wanted to live in,” Glenn says.

Admitting that he was not talented in design, Glenn, who studied Urban Planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, decided early on that developers are more important than architects, as they could steer creative design. He would use noted architects to develop LivingHomes plans.

Glenn selected acclaimed Southern California architect Ray Kappe’s plan for his home and others in the 40-plus single-family and multifamily projects now completed. Kappe’s home in Rustic Canyon demonstrates the architect’s signature modernist aesthetic that incorporates state-of-the-art structural technology and materials.

Kappe founded SCI-Arc to explore a more experimental perspective than traditional architecture schools. Early on he was interested in construction systems and particularly ways of mass-producing housing other than the typical system. So, in the early 1960s he devised a modular system. Glenn’s home consists of 11 modules, each averaging 10,000 pounds, which were assembled on the 50-by-100-sq.-ft. lot in just over eight hours. Three-and-a-half months later, the home was move-in ready. There are several types of prefabricated homes, including mobile homes, kit homes (pre-cut pieces assembled on the site) and modular homes (think Lego pieces), that are built off-site conforming to local building codes, then assembled on site.

Modular homes can be ready for living in a fraction of the time required for conventional construction, because site preparation and structure development in the factory can proceed in parallel. The homes are shipped to the site about 90 percent complete, including rough plumbing and electricity, and oftentimes appliances and tile.

An advantage of using a modular system is how adaptable it can be for rearranging inside spaces. “Homes generally change as your situation changes,” Glenn says. “Expanding and downsizing can be accommodated by movable walls and accordion-style walls. Instead of fixed closets, millwork building units can be moved around if need be.”

Having solved the design part of the plan, Glenn focused on a comprehensive environmental program.

All the building materials are either recycled or, in the case of wood, harvested accord- ing to Forest Stewardship Council standards. Cedar cladding, tiger-wood decking and formaldehyde-free euro plywood for interior walls create an attractive palette of texture and color. The concrete for landscape features is recycled. The upstairs flooring is cork, which is a fast-growing material, sparing trees.

Countertops in the kitchen are recycled cellulose (newspapers), and the bathroom sink boards are fabricated from recycled glass and mirrors. The floors are recycled porcelain, and one shower door is recycled plastic.

Interior finishes and cabinetry in Steve Glenn’s house are built from reclaimed or Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood. Photo courtesy LivingHomes

Interior finishes and cabinetry in Steve Glenn’s house are built from reclaimed or Forest
Stewardship Council-certified wood.
Photo courtesy LivingHomes

Energy savings is the most important category to get right, Glenn says. Insulation, LED lights, radiant heating and Energy Star-certified appliances that reduce energy use without sacrificing performance all cut down on energy costs.

On the roof of the house, photovoltaic panels convert sunlight into electricity, while an evacuated tube system absorbs sunlight and converts it into usable heat. The rooftop garden helps to cool the house.

To maximize water efficiency, low-flow, dual-flush toilets are installed throughout the house, a gray-water hookup for sink, shower and bath water is used for irrigation, and there’s a cistern for storm-water collection.

While undetectable to the eye, indoor emissions can be toxic. An airflow system circulates throughout the house and siphons out moist air in the bathrooms. The fireplace burns denatured alcohol, eliminating smoke and carbon residue. An indoor garden filter filters out toxins and produces oxygen.

While Glenn finds the LEED program useful as an external measure, his ultimate goal is to create healthy homes with minimal ecological footprint: a goal all homeowners can achieve, he believes. Beyond taking measures to reduce energy, water, waste and carbon, Glenn believes that ignorance is a big hurdle. We all can become more conscious of our environment.

For more information about the upcoming Conservancy salon, visit smconservancy.org

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