A prefab's new eco promise

Production home meets LEED platinum standard while still cutting the cost for the buyer

The concept is simple: Make a modern, prefabricated home with the lowest environmental impact - and price - possible.

It's called the C6, and it premiered in two locations this month: Palm Springs, where it was part of a Modernism Week prefab showcase, and the TED Conference in Long Beach, Calif.

Starting at $179,000, the C6 prefab from Santa Monica, Calif.-based LivingHomes is half the price of the company's other models. It's the first production home designed to achieve LEED platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environ-mental Design program, and it's the first to incorporate a range of products certified by Cradle to Cradle, the environmental rating program founded by sustainability gurus William McDonough and Michael Braungart. The cost, $145 per square foot, includes 34 tons of carbon offsets.

"When we started in 2006, we wanted to bring homes to a class of consumers who value design, health and sustainability in the products they buy," said LivingHomes chief executive Steve Glenn, citing Prius-driving, Whole Foods-shopping, iPhone-wielding, Patagonia-wearing consumers as his target. "Production builders haven't historically targeted those people. LivingHomes does."

To accomplish that goal, Living-Homes has devised a formula: Collaborate with architects to create standardized homes that integrate environmental sustainability and use factory production techniques to build homes cheaper and faster than traditional construction, Glenn said. In the case of the C6, the design was inspired by California real estate developer Joseph Eichler, who from 1950 to 1974 built tract homes centred on courtyards accessible through multiple points. In the C6, living spaces at both ends of the house open with sliding glass doors onto a miniature court-yard, aiding air flow and the blending of indoor and outdoor space.

Three modules fit together to make a 1,232-square-foot house with three bedrooms, two bathrooms and 9-foot ceilings. It takes less than two months to construct the C6 at the factory and one day to install on-site.

Other benefits besides speed: The paint is VOC-free, and the cabinets and carpet are free of formaldehyde and urea. LED light fixtures and "smart" controls for heating and cooling aid energy efficiency. An abundance of clerestory windows and skylights reduces the need for electric light. (A 4-kilowatt photovoltaic array is part of the zero-energy C6 on tour but is not included in the price.) To save water, the house also has low-flow fixtures and grey water-ready plumbing.

Many of the building materials have recycled content, including Trex decking, Andersen double-pane windows and Caesarstone quartz counters in the kitchen and bathrooms. McDonough designed a 100-per-cent recycled and recyclable doorknob for the house. His Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute has certified other products used in the C6, including the Owens Corning insulation in the ceiling, floors and walls, and Mosa bathroom tiles.

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