Stephen Pallrand’s background in construction, architecture, architectural history, painting, and set design has aided him in pulling together the diverse group of artists, craftsmen, architects and designers who work on the CarbonShack projects. His father was a scientist/educator and his mother an educator and patron of the arts. This exposure to art, science and education led him to realize that building in an environmentally conscious manner is unimportant if you do not communicate the need and educate the consumer, for there are no green buildings, only green users. Our understanding of the environment is changing radically and so is the fate of the earth based on our actions as a civilization. Art and architecture have always played a critical role in representing the knowledge and culture of a period and Pallrand’s use of the CarbonShack projects is to transform our shelters, our homes, into vehicles of change.
John Shegerian: Listen to the impact podcasts on all your favorite podcast platforms including Apple podcast Google podcast, Amazon Music, I Heart Radio Audible Spotify, Stitcher, and of course, at impactpodcast.com. This episode of the impact podcast is brought to you by closed-loop partners. Closed-loop partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of Fortune 500 corporate investors family offices, institutional investors, industry experts and impact partners. Closed-loops platform spans the Arc of capital from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps, and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. The fine closed-loop partners please go to www.closedlooppartners.com. This edition of the impact podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet and your privacy and is the largest fully integrated IT and electronics asset disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States,and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose off outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com.
John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact podcast. I’m John Shegerian and I’m so excited to have with us today Steven Pallrand. He’s the Eco-preneur and founder of CarbonShack and whole front build. Welcome to the Impact podcast, Stephen.
Stephen Pallrand: Thank you, just honored to be a guest on your show. I’ve listened to many episodes in fact. I’m a fan because the algorithm on my phone is constantly bringing up the impact [inaudible] Why did you have to be interviewed along with such luminaries as Graham Hill. I listened to your podcast all the talk.
John: Thank you. Those are those. I’m lucky I just get to be the facilitator, but we’ve had some wonderful guests over the years and you’re just another wonderful guest that we get to have on today. Stephen I really want to go into what you’re doing with the CarbonShack and Homefront bill. But before we do that talk a little bit about your background, where did you grow up? How do you even get interested in the environment? Who were your inspirations? Share a little bit of that pleased with our audience.
Stephen: I’m a great outdoors in the night. My family is from Upstate New York, the real Upstate the Adirondacks. If I have to say one thing quickly, I guess that made to find me as my name is Steven. I was named after my great uncle Stephen and my father grew up in an industrial town, Glens Falls Upper New York, which was the Lexus of the lumber industry. There was paper mills, pulp mills and all that an Upstate New York. Our families lived up there for since the 1700 or so. One of member of the family, Uncle Stephen moved up into the interior of the Adirondack yard. He was a subsistence farmer basically. He lived completely off the grid and my father who lived in this fancy Town, Glens Falls industry. People from New York would come up during the prohibition, and drinking in Lake George all that. He was in this very fancy urbanite town and he loved to go to his uncle’s place because his uncle had an outhouse. They made all the vegetables and canned everything. The pond had trout in and it is just this circular economy and subsistence living.
It was hard living, but he just was in love with that ability to be in touch at a part of the natural world. I think that’s one thing, it’s that legacy that my father brought to me. On the other part of who I am, when I was in high school and college I worked with an architect and a contractor. I did both. I was really into design-build which is our business model from a very early point. I did study architectural history in college and when I moved to Los Angeles it led me to just enjoy the wonderful Architectural History Museum that we have in Los Angeles. I moved out to California because of my architecture and construction background. I worked in the Film Business Building designing and building sets. That’s how I started here. Here, what happened, I bought an old craftsman house and took my mother to it and she burst into tears. She was like, “Oh, how could it be so horrible in his life that he biting this boarded-up old house?” I was like, “No Mommy, it’s really a diamond in the rough.” I restored it and it really was a diamond in the rough. Architecture is near and dear to my heart here in LA.
I got to be baptized when I was much younger, when I was a real estate developer with Brenda Levin, and I also did become friends with Julius Shulman, the very famous [inaudible] photographer. Those are really wonderful people to see the world through their eyes and to understand their vision of architecture and restoration and everything else. It was a real great experience when I was a much younger guy. We undervalue Los Angeles in many ways, but Los Angeles drivers and Los Angeles is like driving around a museum of domestic American architecture. You see everything here from Victorian to Craftsman to storybook. We’re known for evolving the California bungalow style as well as Mid-century nitrogen Schindler. When you’re driving around Los Angeles, you really are seeing this amazing diversity of history of domestic American architecture. I just love driving around here and just see the architectural community we have here. Historically is just wonderful.
John: What was the impetus and when did you start CarbonShack? For our listeners and viewers, to find what you’re doing at Carbon Shack and Homefront building, you can go to carbonshack.com or homefrontbill.com. What was the imputation? When did you found these companies? And what’s the mission behind them?
Stephen: I began with that purchase of the craftsman home. I was working in the film business and doing sets and everything. The film business goes through this cyclical chaos with writers’ strike and stuff like that. It was after 9/11. What happens is that the business just constricts. I was doing mostly work on commercials. When the business constriction goes through those kinds of constrictions, all those little production companies go out of business and you have to make all new contacts and stuff like that. I getting so sick of it. I purchased this Craftsman house and was restoring it. Because of my background in architectural history I just really wanted to take that house apart and restore it and find another route. What the original stents, I found the original stencils. Actually, in that house, I restored the gas lighting because it came for this really interesting period of architectural history in Los Angeles when we were introducing electrification to homes and we were transitioning away from gas and gas lighting. There’s this fascinating period in the early 1900 of about 10 years when homes were plumbed for gas and electric lighting. It would be in one fixture.
The gas would be up and the electric light bulb would be hanging down. This home had all its gas still plumbed for the lighting. I have this friend who has historic light fixtures and we actually restored all the gas lighting. That was amazing. The plumbing inspectors loved coming to the house because you can’t plumb a house for gaslighting anymore. But if you have it, the code allows you to keep it. I restore the gaslighting, I restored the stencils, I just see this wonderful job and it was just this creative, delving into the architectural history of the city of this period, of design and the house itself. People in the neighborhood stopped by, “Hey, what are you doing this? This is what I was doing? Can you do that to my house?” That’s how I grew the business. It’s just so enjoyable to work with homeowners and deal with three-dimensional space versus dealing with two-dimensional space producers and directors, a lot of nice producer-directed out there in business so don’t get me wrong. The Hollywood business was just not something that I…it was a joy to transition away from that. That began Homefront build. Homefront build is a company that deals with remodels additions to a new construction that are about the historic vernacular styles in Los Angeles. Like I said, we have such a wide range of historic vernacular styles in Los Angeles, Spanish Colonial, Craftsman Mission. It’s people who have a historic or a period house and they want to remodel or add to it…a common project for us in that company is to take a smaller home, single-story Spanish and create a two-storeyed house out of it. In doing that business, what we would do is that, when USC or something was demolishing a house to make way for multifamily or student housing, we would go in and deconstruct that house in order to have pieces for our old home projects, because we want to have 2 by 4 that were really 2 by 4. We wanted to have old redwood siding that was milled back. When the mills were moved the machines move slower.
So, there were mill marks on the siding or we wanted to have flooring. All those elements of a house if we’re adding to a craftsman or something, we wanted to have those components so that the addition would not only look synonymous and be compatible, but also the building materials and all those details would be compatible. One day I was walking on my yard and I was like, “Wow, we got three craftsman home stacked over there, two Victorians and a Spanish and a mission.” It’s like, we’re the greenest people around because we’re taking we’re encouraging people to adaptive reuse to reuse existing structures and insulate them. Our Homefront built businesses helps people adapt these homes, insulate them, and, they’re really the greenest people wrap. But when we’re adding to them or doing additions, new construction, we’re doing it with material from within the inner city. That began us thinking about embodied carbon footprint. Operational carbon footprint is the low hanging fruit conceptually because there’s been so much work in it. Taking an old structure or new structure, insulating it putting solar on the roof. We know how to reduce our operational carbon footprint, the day to day carbon cost of living in a house. But where there’s been less work is in the embodied carbon footprint, the one-time cost of building something or making something. Having all these stacks of material and doing this naturally began us thinking about how to address embodied carbon footprint in new construction.
That first the Carbonshack journey which is really about pulling embodied carbon into the conversation and not just operational carbon. What we did is that we built this new house and we call it Casa zero, zero carbon footprint. A developer came along to me because people knew that I was always trying to deconstruct old homes and they said, “Hey, I got this craftsman, we’re taking it down, do you want it?” I said, “Yes.” In this case what we did is we videoed, we did time-lapse photography and you can go to our website and we have a series of videos on this. What we did is we videotaped the deconstruction of this house and we also track the cost of it to prove that taking a house apart, a structure apart was actually not more expensive and was in fact cheaper once you consider that you got all this new material out of it, then if you demoed it and bought new materials. Like a Phoenix rising again from the ashes, what we did is we documented the taking a part of this, then we, instead of milling new material and transporting it to market, we just transported within 5 miles to this new site and built a brand new house out of it. That’s the carbon check journey.
John: It’s really the shift from that we’re seeing all across all different types of sectors from a linear to circular economy. You took a home and put that into the circular economy transport as well. What’s facet?
Stephen: Exactly. Because it’s the reuse recycle thing. Reuse first. What we proved is that we can take a house apart, build a new house, because we’re always going to have new construction. We’re always going to have development, and my kids could take this house apart that I built and build another house. When you look into construction in Los Angeles, what you’re looking at with these older homes is you’re looking at old growth Douglas fir. That old growth Douglas fir you can’t get any more. The cladding is old growth redwood. This is material that is highly valuable. What all developers do is they just lot clearer, send it off to the dub. But when that would decomposes in the dump, as you know, from your other guests is that that just causes all sorts of methane and all sorts of pollution. But if you reuse it, think of how much you’ve rolled your carbon footprint.
That reuse cycle to lower the embodied carbon footprint was what we’re looking at. The other thing that came out of this carbon check project which I think is critical is that all the work we were doing, the house is completely framed in wood that we salvaged from the house that was framed in 1910. In California we have seismic issues so for some of the new beams we had to use new LVLs and stuff like that. But we kept it to a minimum. But 80% of the houses framed with reused lumber. We put an immense of solar array on the roof. I put in you know solar hot water, I put in a heat pump hot water heater. It’s an all-electric house, induction cooktop, everything, heat pump for heating cooling. That’s what’s always the hard thing with this. The storey is trapped behind the walls. The heat pump is in the basement crawlspace. The heat pump water heater is outside. The story of sustainability is not seeing and it’s not a part of your daily life. My wife, Rachel Berry, is an artist who works at the intersection of Art and Science. She’s well known for being…she makes some content for non-human primates, think about that. She’s great at it. She’s great in cocktail party. But she works at the intersection of Art and Science.
What she always wanted to do, is she always wanted to uncover the natural world that we cohabit in our houses. When you think about it, we think about nature, we think about the natural world, we think about the wild as being in a national park, far away from us, somewhere else. But the natural world is really within our communities, within our houses, and of course, within our bodies. When you think about it, there’s 50% of the DNA in our bodies is alien DNA bacteria primarily that we co-evolved with. When you think about our houses, we think about the negative things of mold and all that, but you can’t get rid of it. There are spiders, there is mold, there’s all this natural element within our house. What you want to do is uncover that history, that coexistence of the natural environment in our houses. In order to tell the story of our coexistence with the environment, how every choice we make in our house, every choice we make in our life has impact on our natural environment, the wild inside of us, as well as the wild outside of us. What we did was we designed and made all our own products, our furniture, we made tile designs and we fired them with a local tile manufacturer, we made our light fixtures, we really wanted to bring the story of sustainability from behind the walls into the finishes, into plaster, into the furniture, so that you are coexisting with that story and not just someone designed to for it and that it’s behind [inaudible].
John: What year did you start Carbonshack?
Stephen: That’s why I should have that one out on the tip of my tongue but…it’s 2023, 2015 or 2016, maybe.
John: Seven or eight years ago?
John: It’s always fascinating to understand the intersection of sustainability and commercial success. What’s the response been since you started this venture and the uptake of people wanting to live in a more sustainable way, both from their whole perspective and otherwise because historically sustainability had the negative connotation when it came to home living, as maybe more expensive, maybe less comfortable, and the creature comforts that we’ve all become, very accustomed to disavow of those, Stephen. Also explain the commercial success of carbon check.
Stephen: Sustainability has a bad rap and I think deservedly so in some ways. People think of living green as only being able to travel as far as you can walk in a day, living in a year and having an out house. We got that bad rap for good reasons. When I first moved to California, 25, years ago or something, taking a shower with those first early shower heads was like taking a shower and being cut by lasers. It was painful. But the industry has evolved such that you have rain heads in our low-water use California and they’re wonderful. We have low-flush toilets. People make fun of the low-flush toilets, and they deserve to make fun of them but now with cyclonic action and one-gallon flushing, they’re amazing. I still have EV and that was a transition vehicle. That was suffering because you turn on your heater and use up use up the battery.
But now EV’s are amazing. But the industry has evolved so rapidly. It’s constantly reminding people that going green does not mean losing comfort or spending more money and you can of course spend money. I think the best example of how the industry has changed is Tesla and Elon Musk. When you think about his fleet, you have the S, the 3, the X and the Y, and that spells sexy. You turn the 3 backwards, and that’s…I don’t know why he couldn’t do E and he had to use 3. I’m sure there’s a story there. What he proved is it he proved driving an EV was not like driving a Prius. It’s high performance. Its cutting-edge technology. It’s comfortable. Its fashionable. It’s cool, and it’s also green. Think of how far the industry has come. Think about something more particular to my business, which is induction cooktops. When I grew up with electric cooktops if you have an all-electric house, you have to have electric you can’t have gas, electric cooktops were miserable. They take forever to heat the element, heat up.
They’re just horrible to control. Induction cooktops are amazing not because you can have an all-electric house but they’re amazing to cook with. They boil water instantly. It’s a piece of glass, so the cleanup is amazing. It’s also good for the environment because you can have an all-electric house. When you think about how far the technology is coming 10 years, even in 5 years, it’s no longer about losing comfort, it’s about living green, it’s about being on the cutting edge of design. It’s about being on the cutting edge of technology. It’s also affordable.
John: What are the certifications? I know and I’ve had many interviews with great leaders who are chief sustainability officers of very large corporations and they’re managing lots of real estate. We talk a lot about leave platinum certified in the home building business. What are the certifications when it comes to lead or well or fit well or, does that matter anymore? Where does Carbonshack fall within that certification process?
Stephen: There’s all sorts of certifications for lead and passive house. As far as residential construction goes I love all those organizations for setting standards and setting goals. The problem with those is that they’re orthodox. You either do it my way or the highway. That just is ineffective for residential because you’re turning too many people away. Orthodoxy and politics cultures sustainability just doesn’t work. What we try to do is, [inaudible] abd there’s other standards those are wonderful. Those groups have provided so much help in education. But when you look at those and there’s even one that will mention, you then have to recertify every year will lead Platinum En Mi Casa. [inaudible] that will cost 20,000 or 30,000 for the consultant. Who’s going to do that when they can have another bathroom for that.
They’re just not accessible for the residential community and residential construction community and they’re too orthodox. What we do is that we’re trying to meet people where they are. If you can be 5% more sustainable or 90% more sustainable, that’s fine. I have a client who we got their house. This is more of home from Bill project, where it’s an old Spanish colonial revival but we insulated it. We put solar panels on the roof, heat pumps to heat the air, heat pump out water heater, everything. But the client insisted that they have a gas range. That might not have gotten the certification of some of these organizations but I got them 95% of the way, that’s great. I think that for orthodox, we’re going to turn off too many people and we have to meet people where they are because we have too much work to do. If you can get people part of the way, that’s valid. If I can 5% of the people being 100% perfect this is not going to work. And perfect is such a false goal, anyway, it really is. It’s foolishness.
Like you said, now they’re happy, they got the stove that they want, and you built them a beautiful home. That’s 95% there. The other thing is that in residential often people look to…I had to spend a bunch of time in a [inaudible] this fall and my wife was on sabbatical. But, you look there and you realize that people have a different risk assessment in Europe, where they’re more trusting in government and that’s wonderful. But the problem is that they’re also trusting government to solve the problem. In the United States we trust government a little bit less, we throw things back on individual decisions. But individual decisions in the face of climate change, can seem to monumental. If I get an EV it’s really going to matter. What we do is we tell people, “Yes.” Every individual decision you make, no matter how small does matter. If you’re getting just a new range, that decision to choose a gas range commits you to using fossil fuel for 3,4 more decades. If you’re just getting a washer dryer, that choice really does matter. Those individual choices, I would argue lead to greater political change because when you inform people, and there’s a lot of people out there who can’t, say, afford a new house, they’re making small micro-choices. Those micro-choices bring awareness and lead to political change.
We try to meet people at the individual decision, the micro decision where they are. We did set up, I don’t know if I mentioned this previously before the show, but we have set up this website called sustainablebuild.org. In that website, it’s basically an open-source website with these wonderful advanced calculators that you can go and you can plug in your zip code and it can show you how compared to the average house in your neighborhood. If you make a choice to use your drier laundry. on a line versus do larger decisions. What the impact of those decisions will make so that you can make the best decision for your budget. So, in sustainablebuild.org. We did it as a separate site because if it was a dot com site, people would think that it was linked to muddy, but what we do is we’re taking the knowledge that we’ve learned and we’re putting it on an open-source site.
John: Given that we’re in the middle of the first quarter of 2023 and the inflation reduction act is really helping many industries right now, is it going to affect what you do, the residential construction industry especially when it comes to sustainability and what you’re doing [inaudible]?
Stephen: Yes and no. There’s some aspects of it which are wonderful mostly related to the PV and solar storage. They restored the 30% tax credit for panels and now you get 30% for solar storage. That’s great because that will add a kick to the industry and more production will lower costs et cetera. Stimulating that part of the market is really great and very impactful. Also, there’s now a $2,000 credit for heat pumps which is great. Other stuff like $600 for windows, which used to be lifetime and now diurnal, who buys one window a year, nobody buys one window a year. Some of these things are you scratching your head is, like, “how is that going to impact direct? The IRA is wonderful and the employees should accept it’s really wonderful. But the problem with it from a policy the point of view, and the problem with it for our clients is that the policy is instituted through credits and rebates. Rebates tend to be small, you get back from your utility. But credits, for the low incomes, if you’re not paying enough income tax, tax credit does you nothing. The irony of this policy is that it really almost makes it impossible for people in lower incomes to use this tax credit because they’re not paying enough taxes to get a credit. It is an important piece of legislation, but it has its problems. We’re trying to evolve ways to address some of those things through different leasing scenarios for solar.
John: Stephen, when I’ve read about you, I’ve read your line about making the invisible visible. Can you explain making the invisible visible when it comes what you do at Carbonshack and with regards to sustainable home building?
Stephen: That goes back to my wife and this thing where we wanted to make the invisible process, the things that were behind the wall visible. But also some of that is also talking about the beauty and the fragility of nature. We’re reacting against the mid-century concept of the machine-made and the mass produced. For us when we’re producing homes, it’s not only important to have the touch of nature but also the touch of human. Our plaster is hand applied, our furniture is made by local craftsmen because, why do we love farmers markets? We love farmers markets because we want to get to know our producer. Living in a house that you know and feel that someone made and crafted for you is really a wonderful experience. I puts you in touch with nature and put you in touch with the craftsman. That’s what we’re trying to get through with making the invisible visible.
John: Speaking of that, you also have a showroom Los Angeles, under the heading of things we make in cell, explain the showroom, where does it exist? What can people expect to find there and on your website things we make and sell?
Stephen: As I mentioned we started to produce our own designs and our own lighting, furniture, tile and fabric and so it was just a natural extension press to open a showroom. When you come to the showroom you can touch and feel our stuff and see some of our stuff.
John: Where is it? Where is the showroom actually?
Stephen: It’s part of our office. It’s in Cypress Park, near Dodger Stadium just before South Pasadena.
John: Oh, beautiful I got it. Then what’s the future, I mean this sounds like this sounds like the big idea. This sounds like where people really want to be living more sustainability as a whole new generation of people that no longer want to be degrading the Earth, they want to be doing the right thing with regards to their home and their living circumstances. What’s your vision for carbon-shacking Homefront Build in the future?
Stephen: It’s just about information. Right now if you go to buy a car it’s easy to make that choice. In Carbonshack what we’re doing we’re providing people with information because it’s hard to find information on how to live sustainability and residential construction. Commercial and government is well-regulated. But in residential, the government’s hands off. People want to live sustainably but they don’t know how. That’s where we came up with sustainable build to help guide people through this process so that they live matches their values.
John: Is most of your work with Carbonshack in the greater Los Angeles area or do you actually work in other states as well with some of your clients?
Stephen: Yes, we design obviously nationally and we just tend to build locally because our construction team is local. But designing and selling our products, that’s National. The product could be international but designing, we design outside of Los Angeles. But we keep construction to the Los Angeles County area.
John: That’s wonderful. For any of our listeners and viewers who want to find Steven and the great work he’s doing it carbon-shacking, go to www.carbonshack.com, or of course, Homefront Bill www.homefrontbill.com, Steven it’s been an absolute delight to have you on today. What you’re doing is passing, it’s really important stuff. I appreciate you making the world a better and green and more sustainable place and you’re always, welcome back on the Impact podcast to keep sharing the journey that you’re on.
Stephen: Thank you so much and I really enjoyed your podcast. I now know more about sustainable rendering of animals and it’s just wonderful to hear all be informed about all the different aspects of this sustainable community. Thank you for your podcast.
John: Continued success.
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