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SF Bay Area

Olson Kundig’s First Prefab Home Hits the Market at $4.2M in Silicon Valley

The San Francisco Bay Area’s affordable housing shortage has spurred innovation in recent years, with prefab builders like Abodu and Mayasa developing turnkey ADUs homeowners can add to their backyards as rentals or in-law units. Now, one company is leveraging the potential of prefab construction to serve up high-end single-family residences, a market that hasn’t been feeling as much of a squeeze.

Aro Homes, a homebuilding startup with venture capital funding recently listed its first residence at $4.2 million in Mountain View, California. The 3,000-square-foot, four-bed, three-bath plan on a fifth of an acre is asking slightly more than the area average of $1,200 per square foot, according to data collected by Redfin; the average cost for a home in the city is $1.8 million.

In Mountain View, California, Bay Area startup Aro Homes partnered with Seattle–based architecture firm Olson Kundig on a 3,000-square-foot modular home. The residence is the first prefab by the firm, and Aro’s first built design.

The Silicon Valley spec home, which is now in contract to sell, is also the first prefabricated design by Olson Kundig, the Seattle-based architecture firm founded in 1966 by Jim Olson and Tom Kundig. The partners built a reputation for the firm by designing context-driven residences that emphasize a sense of place, whether a Costa Rican tree house, a forest retreat in Washington, or a Vermont cabin clad in Cor-Ten steel.

But nearly none have been as green as the home by Aro, which doesn’t require fossil fuels. “[It is] one of the most environmentally positive houses Olson Kundig has ever designed,” attests principal Blair Payson, who joined Olson Kundig in 2004 and became part owner last year, according to an announcement from the firm.

The home’s parts were built in Aro’s Sacramento factory before being assembled at the Silicon Valley property.

Olson Kundig chose acetylated wood cladding for its durability.

The entry has floor-to-ceiling glass that brings in light, but because it’s recessed, maintains a sense of privacy.

The all-electric residence is a configuration of flat-roofed wooden boxes with one gable topping the second level. Olson Kundig designed the roof in an L-shape so that no matter how the home was positioned on the site, a solar array could be adjusted for optimal exposure. “It’s a core factor in the net-carbon-neutrality goal for each home,” says Payson, explaining that the carbon that went into construction, in theory, will be offset within 15 years.

The home’s building envelope, HVAC system, and lighting are designed to increase the home’s energy efficiency and achieve its carbon neutrality potential, too. Acetylated wood siding and metal roofing, among other materials, were chosen for aesthetics and durability.

Sliding glass doors connect the living space to the backyard.

The home is entirely electric, down to the appliances.

“The fundamental driver at the core of Aro Homes is to reimagine traditional residential construction and shift existing paradigms around what buyers typically expect in a home,” says Payson.

Carefully placed windows enhance the home’s connection with the outdoors.

Using an approach common within prefab home construction, Aro built parts for the home at its Sacramento plant and assembled them in situ at the Mountain View property. Aro claims that with some fine tuning, this hybrid approach to construction—building parts off-site; putting them together on-site—can reduce the amount of time it takes to build a single-family home to less than 90 days. Construction on the Silicon Valley property began in the summer of 2022 and went to market September of this year.

Aro homes are engineered to use 67 percent less energy than the American Institute of Architects (AIA) 2030 Challenge baseline. The company estimates that the house will use 107 percent less energy than the baseline once energy reductions from photovoltaic panels are accounted for.

Aro homes are designed to be carbon negative, owing to a suite of features: low-voltage lighting, Span electrical panels, battery storage, electric heat pumps, windows with high R-values, rooftop solar panels, and a high-velocity HVAC system.

Aro Homes secured funding through Innovation Endeavors, the Palo Alto–based venture capital firm cofounded by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt. Aro launched publicly in November of 2022 after raising $21 million. “We set out to build carbon-negative homes that are beautifully designed, super livable, and built more quickly and with less waste,” says Aro co-CEO Carl Gish.

The company currently operates within the Bay Area, but has ambitions to scale while making its homes more affordable, with a goal of bringing 1,000 homes to market each year. Their second build is expected to hit the market this November.

“If this house can, in some small way, nudge the market to expect higher performance and higher quality design, the impact could be exponential given the size of the single family market,” says Payson.

“Our belief is that Aro’s off-site assembly and shortened on-site assembly approach can be applied to other typologies across the residential spectrum, such as infill backyard housing and townhouse developments,” says Gish.

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