Would you spend $150,000 for an 874-square-foot home that’s nearly off-grid, made of sustainable materials and can be built in a matter of hours?

A team of Cal State Long Beach students is hoping the answer is yes. They created a demonstration model as part of a competition taking place at the Orange County fairgrounds through this weekend, but their broader goal is to market and sell the design.

“When people say ‘sustainable,’ the first thing that comes to mind is ‘more expensive,’” said John Beltran, a spring graduate of CSULB’s construction management program.

“This is a realistic home that could go on the market.”

Beltran oversaw the multi-disciplined group of students who worked for the past two years on planning, designing, and ultimately constructing the home, which is on display at the Orange County Sustainability Decathlon through Sunday.

John Beltran, project manager, walks through the Cal State University Long Beach ADU house in Costa Mesa, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

The CSULB team was one of 15 to take part in the first-of-its-kind event. Winners in 10 individual categories—including architecture and engineering, water and energy efficiency and market potential—as well as the overall competition are being announced Friday and Saturday.

“We see this as kind of the World’s Fair of sustainability,” said Michael Moodian, a lecturer at Chapman University who co-founded the sustainability decathlon with Chapman political science professor Fred Smoller.

When the U.S. Department of Energy scaled back its long-running “solar decathlon” competition under President Donald Trump, Moodian said, he and Smoller decided to ask California legislators to sponsor a contest that would take a holistic look at environmentally friendly home design and construction.

After receiving $5 million in state funding in 2021, they accepted applications from 15 teams (mostly from Southern California colleges) and gave each of them $100,000 in seed money. Nine teams ultimately created model homes with features including net-zero energy use, recycled materials such as steel and plastic, rainwater capture, native plant landscaping and edible gardens.

Students work on every step of the process, from the idea to the finished home, and even plan how to market and sell their concepts. “I think somebody from Long Beach State once described this as a student project on steroids,” Moodian said.

John Beltran, project manager, stands in front of the Cal State University Long Beach ADU house in Costa Mesa, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

The CSULB home, marketed as an ADU, is built with prefabricated modular panels that can be moved by truck and assembled quickly. It powers itself with solar panels, recycles its own greywater, and has a “green wall” on the front that could be covered with ivy or other plants to help keep the building cool.

High ceilings give it an airy, open feel, and a wrap-around deck provides plenty of outdoor space. The home comes in several designs—one or two bedrooms in 874 square feet, and a smaller roughly 500-square-foot model—and other aspects also can be customized.

“I heard so many people walk in and say, ‘I would want to live here,’” Beltran said.

They’re working on starting a business to sell the homes to the public, he said. Perhaps even more importantly, everyone who worked on the decathlon entry picked up skills that will help them professionally—for Beltran, it was learning to manage a project while also seeing how different trades and specialties fit in.

“A lot of times when us students, we’re exposed to something in the classroom, it’s just a classroom setting. You don’t really get to see the nuts and bolts and how everything gets put together,” Beltran said.

“This project allowed the students and myself to really see the whole big picture all in one project.”

The Orange County Sustainability Decathlon continues at the OC Fair and Event Center through Sunday and includes presentations, exhibits and guided tours of the model home entries. More information is at ocsd23.com.