Sustainable Homes Getting Prefab Makeover

Affordable, sustainable homes mean that you don't need to live in a tree to lower your carbon footprint.

One model from LivingHomes stable of prefab sustainable homes for families. (Photo: LivingHomes)

Nov 4, 2012· 1 MIN READ
A Bay Area native, Andri Antoniades has previously worked as a fashion industry journalist and a medical writer.

Sustainable homes have been an emerging theme in the housing market for some time now; people are warming to the thought of downsizing into single-person dwellings that use less space, less energy, and are built from repurposed materials. The one area of the market that seems off-limits to this kind of revamp has been the tract home market. Built on the premise of being cheap multi-room family dwellings, it's usually thought of as cost prohibitive to produce sustainable homes—or it was, until now.

The prefab home market is awakening to the idea of doing things differently, and that means designing sustainable homes that are energy efficient and eschew toxic building materials, while staying in a price range that's accessible for more than the very well-off.

According to its own site, LivingHomes is a company that entered the prefab sustainable homes business specifically to reimagine a new "normal" in housing architecture, one that weds purpose and functionality with environmental respect and sustainability.

Sounds fancy, but really it boils down to some pretty impressive stats. According to TreeHugger, Living Homes models promise zero energy waste courtesy of efficient lighting and appliances, a smart heating/AC control system that reduces power usage, and among other things, a framework built from recycled materials, VOC-free paint and formaldehyde-free millwork.

From an aesthetic point of view, these sustainable homes at least look more in line with nature than boxy stuccoed houses of past decades that have become synonymous with the phrase "tract home."

LivingHomes models are actually certified LEED Platinum―meaning they meet the strictest and most comprehensive guidelines for low carbon footprint yield. Though houses of that caliber will never be as cheap as traditional prefab homes, they’re still cheaper than custom-built homes, costing about $145 per foot. For an LEED Platinum house, that’s remarkable.

The ideas behind LivingHomes―energy efficient, small, and built with sustainable materials―has been a burgeoning movement in the housing industry for some time. This year saw the building of the world’s skinniest house in Poland―measuring in at just 47 inches wide, and requiring so little energy to maintain, it syphons off what little electricity it needs from a neighboring building. Others embracing these environmentally friendly themes may not be as skinny, but are generally one-room sustainable homes that include unique elements like compostable toilets and solar-heated water.

Still, LivingHomes models stand unique among them, most notably because they can fit an entire family, not just one person. And more than one of its models is a two-story structure with actual stairs inside, instead of the ladder that's become ubiquitous among single-person sustainable homes.

It's too soon to tell how the market will respond, but if models like LivingHomes take off, families will no longer have to choose between eco-friendly sustainable homes and affordable.