Santa Monica, California
Industry: Built Environment
Products: Architectural panels
Co-founders Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir and Tryggvi Thorsteinsson are manufacturing zero-waste construction materials that allow for smoother build-outs.
When Ingjaldsdóttir and Thorsteinsson moved from their native Iceland to the United States, they were surprised to discover how much waste the construction industry generates here, so they set out to fix it.
The result is mnmMOD, a certified-green manufacturer that produces fully customizable and affordable panels that are an alternative to traditional building materials and techniques. "Coming from Iceland, we were always interested in the sustainability of things and were a little shocked to see how much waste there was in construction," says Thorsteinsson, who started Minarc, a Santa Monica-based architectural design studio, with Ingjaldsdóttir in 1999. "We've got to clean up our earth and build better."
Manufactured in Los Angeles using a blend of recycled steel and EPS insulation, buildings constructed of the 100 percent wood-free panels are 40 percent more energy-efficient that traditionally built structures. The panels also prevent mold and termites from destroying a building and do not support fire -- a particularly attractive feature in this season's fire-ravaged California where the majority of the company's customers are located -- and they don't contain dyes or formaldehyde.
"I'm just worried about what poison we spray in houses," Ingjaldsdóttir says. "Waste is our passion. In our building technique, there's no waste. There's no waste in the factory and there's no waste on site."
Thorsteinsson said building a structure from mnmMOD panels is more efficient than traditional construction methods because inaccuracies in the shop drawings are caught before they become problems on a job site.
Thorsteinsson recalls building a house for Habitat for Humanity. The volunteers arrived at the site with hammers and other tools used for framing when all they really needed was a bucket of screws and a screw gun to assemble the structure.
"It's the same type of construction and the same type of permitting," Thorsteinsson says. "It's just lighter and more in the way of assembly rather than custom cutting the walls. Wood construction is fine, but 95 percent of all the residential market [is built of wood] and the amount of trees we cut down to create that is unbelievable."
Using mnmMOD panels, Ingjaldsdóttir and Thorsteinsson have developed Plús Hús, a $37,000 to $49,000 flat-packed, prefabricated accessory dwelling unit (ADU), or carriage house. The backyard structures are 320 square feet and typically involve $30,000 to $50,000 of site preparation and construction costs.
Icelandic for "plus house," Plús Hús can be an office or studio, guest house, or Airbnb unit. The first units are debuting fall 2018 in Southern California in the wake of ADU restrictions being lifted statewide.
Challenges: The biggest challenge for Ingjaldsdóttir and Thorsteinsson has been educating the construction industry about the product. Builders get set in their ways when it comes to the process and it's difficult to get them to try new products, Thorsteinsson says.
"When you do something again and again and some of the things you do wrong you don't want to fix because it's just normal, and you still make money," he says. "We just need people to get involved in it and try it."
Opportunities: Thorsteinsson says the opportunities for mnmMOD are endless if the company can educate builders about its product. "Everything that is built out of wood today can be built with this system," he says. "It's lighter and stronger."
Needs: To propel its growth, mnmMOD needs to create buzz around its product line. "We need more people to talk about it," Ingjaldsdóttir says. "We just need more people to get involved and try it. The government and cities need to get more involved to support the building system, especially in areas with fire and water damage."