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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Echo Park man wants to build green homes that don’t cost a lot of green

Photo courtesy Sunia Homes

Pre-insulated wall panels await installation on home site.

After discovering that the old Echo Park house that they purchased was in worse shape than they expected, Jerome and Jamie Pelayo decided to demolish the structure and replace it with an energy-efficient home with a contemporary design that they could afford.  The result is a simple, some would say stark, two-story cube built from pre-fabricated wall panels that now rises above a narrow lot on thee 900 block of Rosemont Street. Construction was completed in only five months and the home – which is heated by a wood-pellet stove and take advantage of air tight construction to keep indoor temperatures comfortable -  cost about $150 a square foot. That’s about $260,000 for a 1,700-square-foot home.  Now Jerome Pelayo  has started a home building company, Sunia Homes,  that applies many of the materials, techniques and design used on his Rosemont Street home.

Pelayo, 30, was trained as an attorney – not an architect. He has never built a home before and is not a contractor. But he has been able to team up with a real estate brokerage, Keller Williams, in an effort to find buyers interested in building homes using the same concept.

The homes are not for everyone, Pelayo concedes. For one thing, in order for the homes to be built for about $150 a square foot, they must be based on one of five-floor plans and use similar construction techniques and materials.  The Rosemont house also features sleek but simple kitchen and bathroom cabinets. There are also no bedroom closets – clothes are hung from tubes attached to the ceiling.

“Our goal is to provide the Sunia homeowner with the tools to live more self-sufficiently and more economically, which requires some level of involvement: tending to the garden, filling the stove with pellets and opening a window or skylight here and there,”  Pelayo said in an email. “It’s really not a big deal and stuff we genuinely enjoy doing, but it might not be for everyone. The same goes for the modern, minimalist design of our homes.  Our concept is perhaps a more natural fit for our generation, but that’s not to say others can’t enjoy it.”

The following is a brief Q&A with Pelayo regarding Sunia Homes:

What are some of energy efficient/green materials and building techniques used in the home?
Our homes come standard with solar panels, rainwater harvesting, greywater-to-garden, wood-pellet stove, real-time energy monitoring, FSC bamboo flooring, a reflective white roof, insulated low-e windows… even a 200sf vegetable garden. For the structure, we rely mostly on passive solar design principles (high insulation, airtight construction, thermal mass, orientation of the home and natural ventilation) to keep us comfortable and energy consumption to a minimum. The simpler, the better.

How did  you decide you wanted to start your own home building firm?
The initial reason behind the project was that we couldn’t find a modern, energy-efficient home that we could afford. So once we came up with a solution, we wanted to make it available to people who are in the same boat as we were at the time.

What’s your background?
I am not a contractor. In fact, I’m not an architect either (I studied law) and this is my first house. When we couldn’t find the house we were looking for  and decided to build our own home, I taught myself 3D modelling software (AutoCAD, Sketchup…) and some basic notions of architecture and went from there. Once the plans were drafted, I worked with a structural engineer to have everything engineered to the requirements of the City of LA and went through the plan approval process to get the building permits. I assembled a team of guys and built the house. I’m oversimplifying, of course, but those were the broad strokes.

 

Wood pellet stove heats Echo Park house./Sunia Homes

How can you keep building costs to $150 a square foot? How much can be customized before that $150 a-square foot price no longer becomes realistic?
Two things: standardizing the process and keeping our operation small and crafty. We offer five variations of our model house, ranging from a 3 to a 5 bedroom, from 1,735 to 2,365sf. This gives the client flexibility but the core of the house remains unchanged. This means we are building a similar structure every time, thereby streamlining the process: getting the plans approved by the city is easy when they had been approved for a previous project; the crew is familiar with the process and the structure, so the assembly is faster and more reliable; we get better rates from the suppliers, etc.

Since the type of finish (paint, tile, flooring…) doesn’t affect the timeline, virtually all finishes are customizable, so the owner still ends up with his personalized home. Everybody wins.

As soon as we break from standardization (i.e. build a custom home), the price balloons and the process takes much longer. It’s like asking a car manufacturer for a custom car.

We also keep our operating costs to a minimum: we don’t have an army of engineers and architects on our payroll and don’t work in lavish offices, which are all costs that would otherwise be passed on to the client. And we don’t have the financial resources to just throw money at problems that we face, so we have to come up with creative, cost-effective solutions, which are usually more thought-out and efficient anyway.

Was there anything you learned from building your own house that is now reflected in the homes you propose building for Sunia?
I would say the most significant room for improvement lies in the overall organization and logistics. Synchronizing every step of the construction process is crucial, so when one phase is complete, the crew and materials for the next step are ready. We documented the entire process, so that won’t be an issue in the future.
We’ll be adding a window in the back room, which turned out to be a little dark, but that’s about it.

13 comments

  1. The house looks great and seems like it functions even better with all the eco-friendly features. I wish the best of success to this local business venture.

  2. Too many mountains
    And not enough stairs to climb
    Too many churches
    And not enough truth
    Too many people
    And not enough eyes to see

    • Too many Gerry Finer
      not enough signal to ignore

      And no opportunity to delete him…

      • If you see something that looks like a star
        Shooting up out of the ground
        And your head is spinning from a loud guitar
        And you can’t escape from the sound
        Don’t worry too much, it’ll happen to you
        We were children once, playing with toys
        And the thing that you’re hearing is only the sound
        Of the low spark of high-heeled boys
        High-heeled boys, high-heeled boys

        If you had just a minute to breathe
        And they granted you one final wish
        Would you ask for something like another chance?
        Or something similar as this?
        Don’t worry too much
        It’ll happen to you
        As sure as your sorrows are joys
        And the thing that disturbs you is only the sound of
        The low spark of high-heeled boys

        The percentage you’re paying is too high priced
        While you’re living beyond all your means
        And the man in the suit has just bought a new car
        From the profit he’s made on your dreams
        But today you just read that the man was shot dead
        By a gun that didn’t make any noise
        And it wasn’t the bullet that laid him to rest was
        The low spark of high-heeled boys
        High-heeled boys, high-heeled boys
        High-heeled boys, high-heeled boys

        If I gave you everything that I owned
        And asked for nothing in return
        Would you do the same for me as I do for you?
        Or take me for a ride
        Strip me of everything including my pride
        But spirit is something no one destroys
        And the sound that I’m hearing is only the sound
        The low spark of high-heeled boys
        High-heeled boys, high-heeled boys
        High-heeled boys, high-heeled boys

  3. We live on Rosemont and the building of this house attracted a lot of attention from neighbors due to the speed in which it was built, plus its striking appearance. The construction team finishing the Camino Nuevo school were particularly intrigued. Jerome and Jamie are really nice folks and happily shared info with the curious.

  4. Oh my god. That is the ugliest architecture I think I’ve ever seen! That is pure blight. That takes the term “ugly square box” to new heights. AND it is a severe clash of style with all else in the neighborhood, a real block buster.

    • Tom tom tommy,

      You are a serious douche to the highest degree. Perhaps even a third degree douche belt.

      As soon as you graduate third grade, please come back to reevaluate the vomit of which you have expelled.

      Have I mentioned what a douche you are?

      Douche.

      • I don’t think I agree with Tom, but if anything comes from the third grade, it would be the name-calling in Blow hard’s comment. That kind of comment also would appear to violate The Eastsider’s Terms of Service that prohibit abusive and hateful material from being posted on this site.

  5. If Tom is interested in ugly architecture, I might direct him to the 2 story apartment building three lots down from this house. And don’t worry, I’m sure the owners of this new house were planning on putting black metal bars on all of the windows to better fit the “style” of the neighborhood.

  6. I like the house. The neighborhood has both cottages and apartment buildings so the house doesn’t feel out of place or out of scale. The massing also works when you walk by. It feels good. The photo doesn’t really represent the experience of seeing the house and may not do it justice. It doesn’t feel aggressively modern or ugly. I admire that they build it themselves and on a reasonable budget. But so may of the cottages we now love were ugly eyesores at the time. Its not easy to bring in a house in this city for that budget.

  7. it seems the permitting process in city of LA is so hard that pre-fabs actually make sense… even though they typically are only viable in areas with expensive or hard to get labor sources.

    This guy may be on to something… I love the home, just wish that big flat dead space in the front was better utilized than covering with reclaimed wood.

    .02

  8. As a close neighbor, I’m happy to see this kind of successful and efficient innovation! The house looks great and gives flavor to the neighborhood!

  9. My home is located just down the street from this house.. have to say these are two of the nicest people that you can ever meet! and the house is wonderful..watched the entire construction day to day and saw how involved he was in every little detail of the home..

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