Despite their potential as affordable, well-built housing for the masses, modern prefabs in California have tended to be custom-built designs that exceed prospective buyers' budgets. In South Los Angeles, however, a nonprofit organization called Restore Neighborhoods LA recently finished three architect-designed prefab houses topped with solar panels and aimed at moderate-income families.
The RNLA houses were designed by the Santa Monica firm Minarc, headed by the wife-husband team of Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir and Tryggvi Thorsteinsson, and built with the couple’s interlocking panel system, dubbed mnmMOD. A bonus: mnmMOD is produced in nearby Vernon, providing local jobs and cutting down on transportation costs, the firm said.
"You can build anything you want out of this panelized system," Ingjaldsdóttir said, though she added that the typical homeowner would need an architect's help to develop the floor plan and build the house using the system.
Those plans can vary. Although they use the same components, the three houses are different.
"We looked at each lot first in terms of wind and sun orientation," Ingjaldsdóttir said.
Components for each house were conveyed on two flatbed trucks, and workers erected the walls and windows on site in three days. Standard construction would have required two weeks for homes of comparable size (1,200 to 1,375 square feet with three bedrooms and two baths), Thorsteinsson said.
"Only screw guns are needed to build the envelope," he said of the mnmMOD system. "Everything is precut."
Habitat for Humanity contacted Minarc two years ago because it wanted to answer RNLA’s call for a net-zero energy home, one that generates as much power as it uses, said Robert Dwelle, director of real estate for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles.
"The fact that the roof and wall panels were prefabricated was just an added bonus," he said.
The three houses were assembled by Habitat staff and contractors, diverging from the model of volunteer labor that the organization has pioneered. The houses aren’t bound by the usual Habitat requirements because they will be sold on the open market. Potential buyers simply have to meet RNLA requirements.
"Their income has to be below 120% of the area median income for the Los Angeles metropolitan area," said John Perfitt, RNLA’s executive director. "And they have to go through a home buyer education program in advance."
Perfitt estimated that the houses will sell for $300,000 to $325,000.
Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said these houses were aimed at low- and moderate-income families. They are aimed at moderate-income households.