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livinghomes rk1 prefab leed platinum

Inside Look: The First Home to Receive LEED for Home Platinum Rating

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Nov 14, 2018

Most people have heard that prefab homes can save you time and potentially money while also cutting back on the huge amounts of construction waste that are associated with homes built on site. More drastic home sustainability measures, however, come from design considerations that seek to limit resource and energy use.

Steve Glenn is the CEO of LivingHomes, a design and development company that has built dozens of award-winning prefabricated homes. The design studio is the first home factory in the US dedicated to sustainable construction, materials, processes, and operations in order to minimize the negative impact on energy, water, resources, and the health of the people who live in the home.

livinghomes exterior
Photo Credit: LivingHomes

According to Steve, “there is nothing necessarily more sustainable about prefab homes, except that they create much less construction waste. What makes our homes more sustainable is how we design homes and build them.”

Steve’s own home was the first-ever house that his design studio designed and built, and is an example of radical home sustainability. Built-in 2006, his house, known as the LivingHome RK1, was also the first home ever to be certified as LEED platinum.

livinghomes rk1
Photo Credit: LivingHomes

The eleven module home encompasses 2,500 square feet, includes three bedrooms and two and a half baths, and is located in Santa Monica, California. Ray Kappe, the renowned architect who has been characterized as “the apotheosis of the California House” designed the home.

In terms of the construction process, everything from the foundation up was assembled on-site in only eight hours after the modules were built at the LivingHomes factory.

Energy Considerations of the LivingHomes RK1

The RK1 is moderately sized at around 2,500 square feet. It was designed as an urban infill strategy, but the design can also be modified for 5 bedrooms and 3.5 bath design. The modest size of the home, however, shouldn’t fool you as it packs in a ton of details to maximize the livability of the home.

livinghomes rk1 balcony
Photo Credit: LivingHomes

In terms of sustainability, the RK1 was designed to drastically reduce energy and water use while also making efforts to protect healthy indoor air quality. The home also sought to reduce reliance on non-renewable resources for construction while also cutting back the carbon emissions associated with the home.

Steve’s home has as a solar photovoltaic system on the roof that produces anywhere between 50 to 70 percent of the total energy used by the home, depending on the time of year and the climate. Steve also mentions that “to reduce energy, our home also has extensive insulation and high-performance windows. We also have a super high-performance radiant heating system where the water is preheated by the sun.”  The solar water radiant heating system also offers a sustainable source of hot water for the home.

LED lights and Energy Star appliances are also incorporated throughout the home to further reduce electricity demand and improve the energy performance of the home.

living homes rk1 exterior
Photo Credit: LivingHomes

What About Household Water Use? 

Santa Monica, California, where Steve’s home is located, only gets 13 inches of rain each year, which is less than half the national average annual precipitation. The RK1 is designed to thrive in this relatively water-scarce region.

Steve mentions that in terms of household water use, “we were the first home in LA County to have a greywater recycling system.” The greywater from the showers and sinks of the home is sent to a tank before being used to irrigate the area around the home. In terms of landscaping, the greywater is used to irrigate drought-tolerant native species that have been strategically chosen for the dry climate of southern California.  There are also low flow water fixtures located throughout the kitchen and bathrooms.

Compared to other homes in the Los Angeles area, these water-saving design tips allow the RK1 to use dramatically less water. “We get a water report each month that shows how we compare to other area homes,” Steve tells us, “and we are usually 70% below the water we would be permitted to use through local regulations.”

livinghomes rk1 family room
Photo Credit: LivingHomes

Sustainable Materials 

Another important element of the overall sustainability of the RK1 was that it aimed to radically reduce resource use and the carbon emissions associated with the building and performance of the home. All of the major building materials were either obtained from recycled or reclaimed sources. The home has a steel frame, and steel is the most recycled building material with over 65 million tons of steel scrap being recycled each and every year. “Much of the steel used for the frame of our home probably came from old cars,” Steve mentions.

All the wood in the home is also FSC certified to confirm that it was sourced from sustainably managed forests.

The LivingHomes RK1 also includes tiles made from recycled glass, shower dividers that are made from recycled plastic, and countertops that are made from newsprint cellulose. The high-performance insulation in the walls is made from recycled jeans.

livinghomes rk1 kitchen
Photo Credit: LivingHomes

To maintain the highest standards of indoor air quality, all of the paints and stains are either VOC free or have extremely low VOC emissions. There are fans located in all of the bathrooms that operate on motion control to take out moisture before it can cause mold and negatively affect the indoor air quality. Steve’s home also includes a fan in the garage that gets rid of any carbon monoxide emissions from vehicles before it can seep into the home.

Even the gas fireplaces contribute to the sustainability of the home. The fireplace burns denatured alcohol, also known as ethanol. This allows the fireplace to burn cleanly while producing virtually no smoke.

As a factory-built home, the RK1 certainly reduced the amount of construction waste while also expediting the overall construction and assembly time. The sustainability features of this home, however, result from an environmentally conscious design process, which is one of the reasons that this was the nation’s first LEED Platinum home.

Disclaimer: This article does not constitute a product endorsement however Rise does reserve the right to recommend relevant products based on the articles content to provide a more comprehensive experience for the reader.Last Modified: 2020-06-12T20:54:19+0000
Tobias Roberts

Article by:

Tobias Roberts

Tobias runs an agroecology farm and a natural building collective in the mountains of El Salvador. He specializes in earthen construction methods and uses permaculture design methods to integrate structures into the sustainability of the landscape.