Cost-Effective Net-Zero Houses Built in a Matter of Days


The Santa Monica-based award-winning green design studio Minarc partnered up with Habitat for Humanity, and a local non-profit firm Restore Neighborhoods LA to design and build affordable, net-zero energy prefabricated homes in the low-income areas of South Los Angeles. Together they built 3 homes, which were all built on vacant lots in the poorest neighborhood of South Los Angeles. The houses all feature Minarc’s innovative, interlocking panel system, which is called mnmMOD. The homes are also equipped with roof top mounted solar panels.

According to the Minarc co-principal Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir, this is the first time the firm’s low-waste and quick assembly system has been used to build affordable housing. By using the mnmMOD system, a home can be assembled in any form, and the process of framing and construction can be completed in as little as eight hours. Each panel of mnmMOD transitions from external cladding to interior Gypsum Board and includes recycled steel framing, a waterproof membrane, along with a thermal break and mechanical chases. Electrical and plumbing installation time is also greatly reduced and there is no need for on-site structural metal work and sheer walls. The mnmMOD has already been tested by builders, is International Building Code-approved and has passed City of Los Angeles Building and Safety Department standards.


For the South LA homes, the flatpacked mnmMOD was transported to the building site via a flatbeck truck directly from the production factory in Vernon, CA. The walls were erected in 3 days by the Habitat for Humanity staff and volunteers, by slotting the precut polystyrene foam panels into a recycled steel frame. The result was three 3-bedroom homes ranging in sizes from 1,200 to 1,375 square feet. According to Minarc, it would take roughly 2 weeks to erect a home of a similar size using traditional framing and construction methods.



The mnmMOD system is a sustainable solution that results in Net Zero efficiency in the homes where it is used. The ease of assembly also greatly reduces the manpower needed to build homes, resulting in a much more cost-effective solutions for low-income housing. According to Habitat for Humanity, which provides housing for the low-income segment of the population, the mnmMOD system might be used in their future projects as well.

The three new prefab home will be sold on the open market for $300,000 to $325,000. The buyers’ median income will need to be below 120% of the area median income for the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and they will have to attend a homebuyer education program before purchasing.

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  • Jason Bush

    The price you’re asking is crazy. I had a z-home that had way more green features and energy savings.

    • marc barrett

      This is pretty well prices for Los Angeles. Homes in this area (ugly dilapidated wooden bungalows built in the 20s they to the 40s) go for over $300,000, this is Los Angeles after all – where all real estate is vastly overpriced. I do believe however that most “green” prefab/modular builders are really taking advantage of buyers with their inflated prices. This is just plain greed. I have to wonder how most of these companies, which outsource the construction of the homes to companies like Champion, Hallmark Southwest (who are well established manufactured home and modular home builders) can justify the huge markup they place on a product that costs probably around one quarter to a third to actually build. The prefab green home movement will never gain ground except among the elite unless these companies lower the prices to realistic levels and stop the unnecessary exploitation of green minded people.

  • Flix

    Could you please specify “cost-effective”? Does this imply only cost
    effectiveness in terms of you can build this house easily and quickly?
    The price 300.000-325.000$ doesn’t really seem to be that cheap and
    affordable on first sight.

  • Ethel Sims

    We’re the building permits priced higher than a traditional home in LA?

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