It will take sweat equity

So you want free materials or services? Be prepared to work for it -- and don't be surprised if the answer is no.

Most large manufacturers don't get involved with small, individual projects unless they see strong potential to gain acclaim through groundbreaking design or celebrity involvement. Smaller manufacturers, however, are more likely to seek inexpensive ways to win exposure and showcase their new technologies. Be prepared for them to be selective in choosing project partners and to seek reassurance that their sponsorship will pay off in the end.

"You definitely need to have a wheeler-dealer kind of mentality," developer Tom Schey said. "But if all the elements are there, they'll see that it's a good deal."

In 2007, Schey partnered with Kelly Chapman Meyer to develop Project 710, a spec house in Venice that was the first residence in Los Angeles to receive the Green Building Council's highest rating for sustainable design. The home was intended to educate the public through its use of recycled materials and products that promised less pollution and more energy savings. It opened for public touring, and Schey said proceeds were donated to the nonprofit Healthy Child Healthy World. (The group confirmed that it received $60,000.)

For homeowners, the value of goods received is offset by the time and energy needed to secure sponsors, throw parties, arrange and publicize tours, sell tickets and manage all the financial and legal ramifications if a charity is involved.

In the end, free stuff may not seem so free.

-- Paul Young

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