After WWII, there was a developer in California that created surprisingly innovative and affordable homes, his name was Joseph Eichler. Eichler’s brilliant thinking and innovations paved way for methods of construction that revolutionized home building. He was one of the first developers to hire actual architects and advocate for modern architecture and minimal costs. This was brilliant because at that time homes were uninspired, dark with small windows, and not yet benefiting from true design intent, in a word: boring. Eichler developed homes and entire neighborhoods from the 1950’s into the 70’s throughout the Bay Area and Los Angeles basin. However, his legacy continues to impact home construction today.
Eichler introduced the following concepts that we appreciate and have developed further in our current designs, especially in California:
- Opening the house to the outside: This was accomplished by creating courtyards and atriums with large sliding glass doors.
- Utilizing natural light inside: This was achieved with many windows and even some skylights which were unusual for the time period.
- In-floor hydronic heat in the slab: Again, very innovative for the time, creating a comfortable floor and more even vertical temperature comfort in the rooms.
- And most importantly: affordability. This was accomplished by keeping the homes simple in construction.
- Flat roofs on most if not all the rooms, maybe a raised entry or one living room
- Simple Post and beam construction with exposed ceiling beams and thick tongue and groove roof boards spanning from beam to beam.
- Kitchens with a simple layout which often open to the main living areas. This was the beginning of what we now refer to as “great rooms” concepts.
These innovations propelled home construction forward, however, they weren’t without fault. What these modern homes suffered from in today’s priorities is energy efficiency. The walls, slab, and most importantly their ceilings lacked insulation. Just as well, in those days all glazing was single glazed with aluminum frames.
Keeping in mind the importance of energy efficiency, comfort, and cost, here are the most effective ways to approach and modify an Eichler home:
- Glazing: Replace all sliding doors and windows with double glazing quality windows. Use double Low E glazing and on the sunny sides use a medium Heat Gain Coefficient glass.
- Exterior siding and insulation: Most of these homes had plywood with grooves called T-111 on the exterior walls. This is fairly inexpensive material even today. If you are replacing the glazing, you will find that this may be a good opportunity to also replace the exterior siding which allows for two improvements:
- Assure that there are adequately sized anchor bolts holding the bottom wall plate down to the slab, 4 feet apart is the minimum.
- Add or replace the insulation with R-13 batts or blown in cellulose. If there was any existing insulation it is probably old and compressed rendering R-7 at best.
- Roofing and insulation: Before re-roofing, use this opportunity to insulate the roofs. There are two common methods: The goal is to achieve as close to the modern code requirement of R 30 insulation as possible.
- Spray foam with a waterproof coating
- Ridgid foam sheets with a plywood top layer and then a single ply roofing such as Duro Last.
- Lighting: Like most homes of that era they relied on table lamps and hardly any ceiling lighting. Use the roofing opportunity to install conduits on the roof to make track lighting possible. (Recessed can lighting is not possible in these T&G thin flat roof structures.)
- Hot water for both domestic use and especially the in-floor heating system: Replace the old gas sucking boilers and water heaters with modern 95% energy efficient models. For smaller homes, VersaHydro offers a single unit that can perform both these functions.
- Fireplace/Chimney: Eliminate this funnel for warm air to leave the house by closing the chimney either with a built-in damper or insert an inflatable balloon called, oddly enough, a “Chimney Balloon.” This is easily removable when you want to use the fireplace.
Sadly, in the later years, Eichler overextended his companies’ resources by taking on high-rises and the company had to close in the 70’s. Nonetheless, he left behind a legacy of nearly 11,000 homes and planned communities that are prized today as reasonably priced homes appealing to current taste. The concepts that Eichler established have had a great impact on home construction. By renovating these homes with our current knowledge of energy efficient building, we can maintain his legacy and maintain green homes that leave a positive lasting impact of our own.
As a Certified Sustainable Building Advisor, I’d love to offer you or your team a consultation and discuss how we could implement energy efficient practices into your current or future projects. Contact me here to connect today.