Sierra East Hybrid House

Gallery: Sierra East Hybrid House

Today reader Scott Palamar shares with us his modern house built against the dramatic backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains. He took a novel approach, starting with a standard manufactured module and then incrementally adding on and upgrading the finishes. (If you’d like to share your own small house, please contact us.)

Sierra East Hybrid House

Decades ago I discovered the Case Study Houses, and became enamored of the minimalist kit-of-parts conceptual approach to residential domiciles. I researched and considered how I might go about creating such a house. Later, after many years of camping in California’s Eastern Sierra region, I decided I wanted a little dwelling for myself there, and could perhaps apply my accrued ideas.

Around Y2K, prefab was undergoing a revival, with many young architects touting cost-effective solutions. But by 2005, the tune had changed, and prefab was now pitched as a streamlined way to get a custom home, with no word of affordability.

My research showed that traditional manufactured housing was far and away the best per square foot cost and of good quality, but rather uninspired with generally pedestrian finishes. So I began dialogues with home manufacturers to find out how much customization could be ordered from the factory. The essence of what I learned was that 2×6 framing, heavy insulation, high ceilings, low-e windows and many built-in upgrades were perfectly feasible (and reasonably priced), but that custom finishes such as smooth white walls were not.

Gallery: Sierra East Hybrid House

One of the key advantages of manufactured homes is that they are pre-approved by HUD and therefore require a minimum of local permits and inspections. However, it also means they must come fully equipped for living, with kitchen and bath facilities…not necessarily of the desired style/quality. Nonetheless, using manufactured as the core structure makes perfect sense financially and practically. It shows up on-site, complete. And once permanently installed and connected to utilities (somewhat involved), it can be legally occupied. So, I decided to pursue a hybrid approach, with a manufactured core and a pre-designed plan for replacements, upgrades and add-ons to be implemented as time and funds allowed.

Gallery: Sierra East Hybrid House

A Cavco 48’x13’ ‘module’ showed up on my property, and I employed an incredibly simple but affordable and sturdy foundation system called Anchorpanel, then connected to the grid, my well and septic system. Thereafter, I proceeded to finish and furnish the interior (including one supersized trip to Ikea) and moved in while things were still quite raw (e.g. bare subfloor and drywall). After that came a custom garage to match, concrete patios and walls, and fiber-cement siding. The house came weather-tight with fiber-cement siding (intended to be stuccoed over), but I had always planned to re-skin it to integrate with the new attached garage.

Since the opportunity presented itself, I acquired most of the undeveloped lots around my site, with the notion that I could potentially build more or share with other like minds. So the house concept evolved from a simple shelter to a ‘laboratory’ and prototype for potential future development. I remain interested in building again with the knowledge I have gained, and/or sharing with others who are yearning to explore their prefab fantasies…on a budget! To learn more, visit

by Scott Palamar

Photographs by Scott Palamar.

Text copyright 2013 SmallHouseBliss. All Rights Reserved.