Prefab Houses: A New Way to Build

Changing the way prefab houses are built by integrating energy efficiency into the process

By Yvonne Nguyen

Nestled in between two main roads in downtown Laguna Beach is Beachitos, a modern custom duplex created by J. Kramer Corp. that redefines prefabricated homes. Development and construction for the home started in early 2019 and was completed and ready for the owners by midsummer 2020.

J. Kramer Corp. is a custom home builder based in Laguna Beach that specializes in remodels and new residential builds. Although it was established in 1998, Joe Kramer has been building custom homes and multi-family residences since 1990. His professional experience, as well as his speculative work experience in building and selling homes at record prices for the market, provides J. Kramer Corp. with the ability to move schedules forward, keep costs down and deliver a home to customer specifications. 

Though it is a prefabricated house, Beachitos is unlike any other. Beachitos is the first in Orange County to be built using BONE Structure frames made out of 89% recycled steel to drastically reduce construction waste. BONE Structure is a new way to build prefabricated houses with energy efficiency integrated into the process. 

The technology, by nature, is environmentally sustainable as the steel construction combines traditional framing methods using precise amounts of recyclable materials with airtight insulation and high performance windows to complete the thermal envelope, making it a great foundation for net zero homes.

Beachitos is the perfect example of a project where the owners were involved in the process from the start to finish – from development and construction through to design and finishings – and ensuring that all designers and builders were on the same page. Whether that was working with developers to create a custom frame for the foundation of the house or with architects and interior designers to maximize the space and accentuate the oceanfront views.

The inspiration for the home was a modern duplex that allows the owners to rent out the second unit or have extended family move in. The owners wanted something that took advantage of the views while maintaining a simplistic floor plan, all while incorporating further sustainability with solar panels and power sources for their electric cars. 

With such stunning surrounding scenery, architect Anders Lasater worked with the clients to create a duplex with modern design using simple materials such as concrete, wood siding and expansive walls of glass to capture the ocean views. The duplex provides ocean views from all the main living areas including the living rooms, kitchens, decks and master bedrooms with skylights positioned throughout the home to bring in tons of light. The deck at the back of the duplex captures whitewater views from Fisherman’s Cove and Catalina sunsets. 

Designer Greg Rayes meticulously worked with the clients to create a design that reflected their sense of color, affinity for modern materials and love for the coastal living aesthetic. The main house features three bedrooms, three bathrooms and a downstairs studio, multifunctional living space that can flex as an art studio. The rental unit has two bedrooms and two bathrooms. Each unit has a two-car garage.

Due to design and build constraints in Laguna Beach, everything was customized in the design process, positioned on the lot and the actual materials were custom selected. Since BONE Structure is designed to minimize waste, the components were delivered in crates and had to be precisely assembled to ensure that height restrictions were met, walls were perfectly aligned and that each component was expertly placed.

The biggest challenge, aside from obtaining approvals and permits, was the actual building process. The lot itself is mostly solid rock and made digging out the footings a challenge. Furthermore, the lot goes from street to street in a wedge shape with buildings on either side, which means scarce space for materials and deliveries. 

With prefabricated homes, the entire building is shipped and assembled onsite, which can be difficult when there’s limited space to inventory and organize components. The parts were delivered in crates and, many times, had to be moved directly off semi trucks by crane and placed in their exact place. 

With 85 placements in total, it was paramount to start off this build correctly. Any deviation or misplacement would throw off the entire frame structure and would prevent the pre-made pieces from bolting together. Concrete foreman, Rudy Conriquez made sure that the structure was straight, the foundation would receive the metal columns required, and that the templates were placed precisely to match the calculations from plans. 

This new way of building is perfect for anyone who appreciates sustainable design, wants to protect their home against threats of fire and wants something that is long standing and beautifully articulated. 

The Beachitos project won the 2020 AIA People’s Choice Award and the 2022 Gold Nugget Award of Merit.

“The Beachitos duplex is an example of when the owners, the builder and the architect all want the same thing and work together to achieve something special,” Amy Kramer, Secretary at J. Kramer Corp, said. “I drive by it every day.”

Yvonne Nguyen is the Editor of Green Home Builder. She can be reached at yvonne@builder.media.

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