What if you could buy a modern and eco-friendly house the same way you might buy a Chevy Volt or Toyota Prius? You could select options like you do leather seats, wheel upgrades, and built-in GPS navigation. Seth Krubiner of Simpatico Homes offers a way to do just that, but without wheels or a GPS. He offers custom-built modern homes that are a notch above most prefabs. Here, he talks about his own prototype and the “dealership” he also calls home. Read our Q&A after the break.


The Simpatico prototype’s corrugated-metal siding requires no maintenance. Finished in the factory, the material features durable paint much like an automobile. Photo: Russell Abraham / Kate Carboneau

Simpatico Homes

Floor-to-ceiling windows add to the open feel of the second-story bedroom. Double-paned, low-E, and Energy Star-rated, the windows are a major energy-saving feature of the home. Photo: Russell Abraham / Kate Carboneau

Simpatico Homes

This IceStone countertop adds sophistication and sustainability to the Simpatico kitchen, aided by Energy Star-rated Bosch appliances and a Heath Ceramics tile backsplash. Photo: Russell Abraham / Kate Carboneau

Where did you get the idea to build high-end modular homes? 

My own background is in mid- and high-rises, lofts, and townhomes, and I’ve done contractor work on the side—buying, selling, and remodeling. I have a close friend who builds modular homes on the East Coast. There is a lot of interest in prefab homes out there. One in ten new homes is built this way, and it’s becoming a significant piece of the industry. I’ve always wanted to take custom modern architecture and find a way to make it more accessible to a wider audience. The modular space seemed like the perfect way to do that. We’re creating modern architecture that is standardized, and we’re bringing the price down by prefabricating most of it in a factory. We’re doing things differently than the East Coast; there is a different standard of architecture there. In the West Coast, we’re more modern and green.

Location Emeryville, CA
Size 2,450 sq ft
Completed 2012
Program Prefab modular residence
Awards 2012 Gold Nugget Awards Merit Award for Prefab or Modular Housing Concept

Developer Simpatico Homes
Architect Robert Swatt, Swatt Miers Architects
General Contractor Simpatico Homes

Certification LEED Platinum
Materials Porcelain, wood, cork, and bamboo flooring; glass tile; engineered wood
Water Rainwater-harvesting system, low-flow plumbing
Energy Net-zero energy, passive-solar design, hydronic radiant floor heat, LED lighting, Energy Star appliances and windows

How does it work?

Typically, building a custom home is a major process. You have to make every decision, assemble the team, and manage the work. We offer one-stop shopping. We’ve predetermined the team and the design to take advantage of off-site manufacturing technologies. The number of decisions you have to make is much smaller. It’s similar to buying a car; some things are standard and other things can be customized. For example, in our system the size of the modules are standard because they need to fit on the truck, be transported under bridges, etc. But within the different rooms, you have choices from a finish standpoint, such as flooring materials, cabinets, countertops, and tile. Homes are built to the same codes as site-built homes and arrive in separate modules to your site. Each module is roughly 80 percent complete with the kitchen, plumbing, drywall, windows and doors, recessed lighting, and subfloor installed.

Tell us about the prototype.

The Simpatico Prototype Home is a two-story home with a third-level roof deck. It’s designed for a long and narrow urban lot. The home measures 24’x70’ and has three bedrooms, three bathrooms, plus a study, with 2,086 square feet of living space. The design drew inspiration from the modern, architect-designed Eichler Homes, which were built across California in the 50s and 60s. We worked with architect Robert Swatt of the firm Swatt Miers Architects, which is known for its high-end modern homes. We take their knowledge and expertise and apply to it to the prefab movement. Together, we designed some standard details and methodology; they use our kit of parts.

What kinds of materials are used?

We look at these homes concerned with sustainability. We’ve chosen materials that aren’t harmful or depleting of resources; we’re also concerned with durability and low maintenance. We offer a variety of options, including two types of no-maintenance siding: corrugated-metal and composite-wood siding. On the inside of the home, we chose a lot of green materials, and everything is formaldehyde-free. Our paints are low- or zero-VOC, and we offer an option for hydronic radiant floor heat. We use all LED lighting and low-flow plumbing fixtures. All of the windows are low-E coated, double-paned, and Energy Star-rated. We use bamboo flooring for accents and stairs. The structures are wood framed though most of the wood isn’t standard dimensional lumber; instead it’s engineered wood products that are made from smaller pieces of scrap wood and laminated in a way to make it lighter, stronger, and straighter. Engineered wood doesn’t warp and has a stronger green story.

How is this method of building a home green? 

Building a home in a factory is much greener. Most of the construction is done closer to the labor, which results in fewer car trips. We have a better way of managing waste, which can be much more challenging on-site. On-site, extra materials often get tossed into a Dumpster; in a factory, extras can be saved. It’s also more efficient from a research and labor standpoint.

What’s next for Simpatico Homes?

Our prototype is complete, but it’s different than a typical model home because you can see how it’s livable because someone lives in it—me. We’re considering purchasing land or a small subdivision and building homes on a spec basis. We’d like to be able to help a wider range of people than just those who are looking to build a home on their parcel of land. We’ve seen the need for homes that are available right away, for those who would like the convenience of purchasing something that is move-in ready.