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Thursday, August 3, 2017 - 12:00am

Designing The L41Home: Interview with Janet Corne & Michael Katz

Janet Corne and Michael Katz are the creative minds behind the ultra-compact home that has been situated in our Science Park since 2015. The home attracts a lot of attention as more and more people ask themselves, should I consider down-sizing to a smaller space? Janet and Michael think that you could, especially if the house is so elegantly designed and liveable as the L41Home. We caught up with them to ask them more about the features and motivation behind their creation.

What was your vision when you were designing the L41?  

Our vision was to create a mass-produced, ultra-compact, highly sustainable, high-design, energy-efficient house which would make it possible for the millions of people who otherwise could not afford to buy a house, to become homeowners.  Simply making a house small, however, is not good enough, it must be highly livable and delightful and the L41 is both. With every inch of space utilized and many built-in storage solutions provided, L41 fulfils the maxim, “everything in its place and a place for everything”.  

It seemed to us to be a very strange anomaly that many products are mass-produced, yet our houses, are built by hand in the rain or in out of date “factories”. We believe that in the same way that the Model-T made it possible for the masses to own a car, the L41Home initiative could transform the building industry from one that produces relatively large, expensive, hand-built or prefabricated houses, to one that builds small, affordable houses and thus provide high-quality houses in sufficient number and price to realistically house the world.  
How would this house be made to function off-the-grid?   

“Off-grid” means that the energy production, water-production, sewage and garbage treatment and even portion of the food-production should be “on-site”.  Let’s start with energy, the L41Home will be an “All-electric” house. The reason for this is that in the sustainable world of the future, we see the limitless energy of the Sun entirely replacing oil. We will cover all the vertical and horizontal surfaces with Photovoltaic Tiles which will transform the buildings into Electrical Generators with the energy being stored in high-efficiency batteries.   

Water-production will be dealt with by utilizing various systems, capturing and storing rainwater, converting the humidity in the air into water, using our free electricity to desalinize seawater etc. The most important way, however, is to purify and re-use as much of our water as possible. This is where dedicated Biological Treatment Plants come into the picture. The biological sewage-treatment plant will be a beautiful garden in which sewage is treated by plants, fish, mussels and algae (the Rocky Mountain Institute has its plant in the lobby of its building!) and the purified water will be reused for toilets and gardens. Also, the majority of garbage will be composted on site and garbage collection will become a thing of the past.  

We believe that food-production will become increasingly important in cities and we see a future in which a large amount of our food will be produced in private gardens, roof-tops and open land in the cities and all our L41 projects will be designed with this in mind.  

What are some of the sustainable design features you’ve included in this home?  

The L41Home is built of highly sustainable materials and systems, limits the use of all toxic or “heat, beat and treat” products, is designed as an “off-grid” house which produces more energy than it uses and treats sewage, garbage and water on site. It is constructed of Beetle-killed, Cross-laminated Timber. (CLT) Wood is the building material that is at the heart of the L41Home. Provided by nature, wood is renewable, non-toxic, strong, lightweight, flexible, affordable, beautiful, retains carbon and the list goes on.  

The Planet is suffering from the detrimental effects of using non-renewable resources such as coal and oil and creating building materials with “heat, beat and treat” processes. These are recognized as unsustainable and we rapidly are appreciating the implications of building with natural, renewable resources such as wood.    

How much does it cost to build a house like this?  

To build a “normal” house today costs approximately $250 per square foot. In a small house the expensive items such as kitchen, bathroom and mechanical systems remain, so it costs more, say $350 per square foot. So for the L41Home Studio at 220 square feet, the price will be approx. $75,000 + transportation, foundations and City hookups. When we replace our present, “Charles Dickens”, house-building factories, with up-to-date robotic factories, however, the costs of manufacturing our houses will decrease exponentially (just think about the cost of building a car by hand!).  

Why do you think some people are interested in ‘living smaller’ now, when housing sizes in North America have increased so drastically over the years?  

The world of wanting more and more and bigger and bigger is starting to change. It seems to be the dawn of a new consciousness and a new generation that understands the principles of need over want, preservation of  resources,  improving  the  lives  of  others  and enhancing  our  future  by  means  of  sustainable  actions. Whether it is because of oil-price increases, financial melt-downs, global warming or all combined, subjects such as “Small is Beautiful” and “Tiny Homes” are going mainstream.   

What if my family is too big for this house, with 4 people?  

L41Homes have been designed to cater to everyone from singles to large families and will be available in many sizes and configurations, from Studios to 4-bed, 2-bath homes. If you want more bedrooms or bathrooms or even larger rooms, we’ll simply add more modules!  

What direction do you see the future of sustainable housing going in Vancouver, and beyond?  

We see the future of sustainable housing in Vancouver and beyond as being dependent on construction systems, density, land-use, improving high-rises and utilizing off-grid systems.   

With respect to construction, we believe that housing will have be built of light-weight modules, small enough for Robotic mass-production, transportation world-wide on trucks, freighters and trains, easy assembly and flexible sizing and stacked to create single-family houses, medium-density complexes and Tall Wood, high-density buildings of approximately 20 floors.  

High-rise residential buildings in Cities are extremely important, but one of the major problems is that traditional high-rises do not provide wonderful living environments. Our L41Home Tall Wood buildings will go beyond being sustainable to being designed to show that high-rises, instead of providing soul-less “boxes in the sky” can include many of the delights found in Italian Hill Towns, providing everyone with their own “House” and garden, a feeling of identity and joy and an opportunity to live, shop, work and play in a vibrant community.   
Finally, we see the advent of true off-grid systems which will save Cities billions in infrastructure costs and provide greater flexibility in how Cities are planned.  

If you'd like to see for yourself what it would be like to live in the L41, you can take a tour of our module, right here in the Science Park at Science World.

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