Ahhh … the humble schoolyard portable. My mother, a Montessori teacher, spends nearly every day from September through June in the confines of one and I myself experienced a trailer-bound education for two years at a small, private middle school: not only was the school library located in a portable, but algebra class was held in a structure called RAG (“Room Above Gym”), an insulated, desk-filled cube that, as described, was installed on the roof of the school gym and accessible via an exterior staircase.
I never would have thought that these unattractive structures brought in to remedy the lack of space in overcrowded schools would ever have any sort of afterlife. Turns out, they do thanks to research+upcycle
, a San Fernando Valley-based modular home company. The firm, founded by architect/contractor Robert Anderson, his son Chase, and Robert’s wife Petra, an interior designer, is in the business of procuring retired schoolyard portables and transforming them into what Los Angeles Times
green living guru Susan Carpenter describes as “low-cost but high-style living spaces.”
Here’s how the whole classroom trailer upcycling process works: R+U purchases the used/unneeded 24 by 40-foot trailers for $10,000 a pop and salvage their steel frames, gutting the interiors and lifting the 8-foot ceilings by 15 inches. Initially, the company considered working with used shipping containers and construction office trailers but found classroom trailer units to be much easier and inexpensive to transform
into dwellings at an off-site factory. Unlike shipping containers, for example, classroom trailers were originally built to provide shelter and conform to California's Division of the State Architect
(DSA) standards. Additionally, most schoolyard trailers are composed of two 12 by 40-foot segments that are easy to reconfigure and play around with when deciding the final layout of a home. Basically, they're the ideal modular home building blocks.
So far, the firm has completed just one conversion, a 1,500-square foot prototype residence dubbed Trailer de Cuba
. Composed of two trailers, the three-bedroom home in Granada Hills was completed for $100,000 in around ten weeks and managed to snag an Honor Award from the San Fernando Valley Chapter of the American Institute of Architects
. Inspired by the success and positive feedback from that home, R+U now offers three different preconfigured modular home designs
including the iKnead1, Slim, and the Ombudsman. Prices for the homes start at $100 per square foot and include EnergyStar appliances, low-flow toilets and fixtures, zero-VOC paints and finishes, tankless water heaters, and oriented strand board (OSB) flooring. Possible add-ons include greywater systems, cool roofs, solar panels, and bamboo or FSC-certified wood flooring.
Of course, the big eco-factor
here isn’t all the bells and whistles that R+U outfits each home with prior to and after delivery and installation:
By repurposing existing structures, there is far less energy consumed during the building process than there would be if we built each home entirely from scratch. Rather than allow these viable resources to go unused or eventually clog landfills, we incorporate them into each home we produce.
Good stuff although it's unclear if living an upcycled classroom trailer will cause its inhabitants to have frequent flashbacks to middle school algebra class. Personally, that's something I'd prefer not to experience again. For more, head on over to the research+upcycle