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prefab home

This Prefab Home is Zero Energy and is a Chef’s Dream

By Tobias RobertsRise Writer
Jul 3, 2019

Most prefab homes, whether designed by an architect or a manufacturer, are factory produced (many are also mass-produced) in order to reduce the final cost to the homeowner. A number of sustainable prefab home models exist, but finding a builder that offers customized prefab homes and achieve LEED Platinum certification can be difficult—no matter where you live. 

Craig Schauffel found a way. Schauffel’s home in the Carneros region Napa Valley, California, was created by the sustainable design firm LivingHomes—which designs and develops modern, prefabricated sustainable homes. Schauffle’s home was built in a factory in Rialto in Southern California by LivingHomes’ frequent collaborator, Plant Prefab—a California-based prefab building company focused on custom, high quality, sustainable homes. Throughout the area, which was recently hard-hit by wildfires, homeowners are struggling to find contractors to rebuild their homes. A company like Plant Prefab offered a viable solution.

prefab home exterior
Photo Credit: Craig Schauffel

A Home Built in Day

One of the biggest benefits of prefabs is that they are fast to build. While most new houses can take months, or even a year or more to build, Schauffel’s home was done in about a day.

Schauffel’s home is the first one in Napa that Plant Prefab has installed. The homes can be built in one day because they arrive at the site 90 percent finished.

Schauffel’s 1,300-square-foot, mid-century ranch-style home sits on 1.55 acres, has three bedrooms and two baths. Schauffel chose LivingHomes and Plant Prefab, he says, because the houses are designed to be very energy efficient and use more sustainable materials. The home, estimated to cost about $325,000 (the land was purchased separately), cost about 30 percent less than a ground-built home, he added.  

For homeowners with a modern aesthetic, the homes are also attractive. Schauffel’s house has modern, clean lines and a sleek exterior. Numerous glass doors and windows create a space that feels more spacious than its actual size.

prefab home windows
Photo Credit: Craig Schauffel

What else is sustainable about the house?

Plant Prefab incorporates a number of recycled and upcycled materials into the homes, including insulation made from recycled glass fiber, recycled tiles from recycled glass, and FSC certified wood. “What lowers our carbon footprint,” says Steven Glenn, CEO, “are the decisions we make about what we put into the homes we build, and we are careful about waste.”

Some of the sustainability features in Schauffel’s home are:

  • Zero VOC paint for the healthier home interior
  • Clean air HVAC units for each room that have zero dust
  • An energy-efficient tankless water heater
  • The use of reclaimed and recycled building materials such as wood floors and bathroom tiles
  • Large triple pane glass windows
  • Clerestory windows in every room that let in a lot of natural light and save energy

“We use the LEED program for environmental design to keep us honest,” Glenn says. “It’s a nonprofit, and provides independent, third-party verification of the claims that we make.” Still, Glenn says, LEED doesn’t always compel builders and homeowners to move toward the environmental imperatives that would constitute a truly sustainable home, so Plant Prefab implemented its own environmental program: Z6.

“We want to make homes zero energy, zero water, zero carbon, zero waste, and with zero emissions,” Glenn says. “We care about where materials come from. We want a low carbon footprint for the homes. We also want to achieve zero water, wherein water from the home is reutilized in the landscape for irrigation purposes.” The sixth “Z” is “zero ignorance,” he adds. “The real measure of sustainability depends on how the homeowner operates the home.”

“People have to make responsible decisions to have a lower carbon footprint,” Glenn says. “We try to educate homeowners about what we do and why (during the building and design process). We have integrated systems that give homeowners real-time feedback on their energy use. People need feedback in order to be able to use less energy.” Sensors placed on a home’s electrical panel offer real-time feedback related to household energy usage.

prefab home bedroom
Photo Credit: Craig Schauffel

Since moving into the house in 2018, Schauffel has seen a 75-percent reduction in his electric bill compared with his previous home. He also loves the design, particularly the 14-foot-high cathedral ceilings and the clerestory windows. “The high ceilings, natural light, and positive energy that fill the home make it feel warm and welcoming,” he says. “The design is efficient, purposeful. The flow of the space is perfect. The rooms are sized perfectly—not too small and not too large, but just right.”

The Culinary Lanai

Schauffel, a Michelin-recognized chef, added to his house a 1,000-square-foot outdoor lanai as his culinary and entertainment center. “Being a chef, I wanted an industrial kitchen space like the professional kitchens I cooked in,” he said, “with all my culinary toys: professional stove, high temp commercial dishwasher, wood-burning oven/grill, dining table, wet bar, and lounge/TV area."

chefs patio
Photo Credit: Craig Schauffel

"It’s a place to create culinary provisions from the 3/4 acre culinary gardens and orchards I am developing. My plan is to share these creations at local farmers' markets and restaurants in Napa Valley. I love entertaining and sharing my passion for food.”

prefab napa valley
Photo Credit: Craig Schauffel

Why Did the Homeowner Choose Sustainable?

Reasons abound to invest in a more sustainable and healthy home. “For me, it was all about living green and building a sustainable home that met my values of being environmentally responsible and resource-efficient,” Schauffel says. “I did a lot of research on the best sustainable homes, and Plant Prefab rose to the top.”

Like most homeowners, he also had a limited budget. Finding a balance between cost efficiency and the high-quality value was important. The fact that constructing this house generated less waste than a traditional onsite stick-built home also factored into his decision.

He also wanted to live in a home that was healthy for him and the environment. The home, Schauffel says, “recharges me mentally, physically, and spiritually, because I know that the ecological footprint is as minimal as possible and because I’m saving money while helping the environment with the energy efficiency.”

Lessons Learned

Homeowners interested in sustainable and environmentally friendly home construction, take note: Schauffel suggests that homeowners “Look at builders’ processes and operations. I found that some were good at the assembly line style of production, but the product lacked quality; the materials weren’t up to the standards one might expect.”

He adds that looking at prefab homes online is fun, but touring one is essential. “Same goes for the recycled materials you might select,” he adds.  For example, “Cork floors sounded good to me, but on visual inspection, in the home, I wasn’t happy with how they looked.”

Thoroughly researching companies that design and construct sustainable homes is one thing; another is finding a company dedicated to putting sustainable and energy-efficient systems in place while helping homeowners learn the best ways to use and monitor those systems. “My journey to getting into my Living Home by Plant Prefab was quite a long one,” Schauffel says, despite how quickly the house itself went up.

“We engaged in a two-and-a-half-year process to get the building permit needed to install an engineered septic system and a new well,” he explained. “But that process gave me plenty of time to plan and customize the house. From the start of the build to the installation took only four months, but years of planning will do that.”

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: 2021-11-26T16:42:32+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.