A Santa Monica company is working to make homes less prone to fire damage. Courtesy photos.

So far 2020 has been California’s worst fire season in history, with thousands of homes perishing in flames.  Erla Dögg Ingjaldsdóttir and Tryggvi Thorsteinsson, owners of architecture firm Minarc, want to change that. Instead of rebuilding houses with new flammable structures, they have designed the mnmMOD Panel System — an alternative to wood framing that uses EPS foam and steel to build eco-friendly fire-resistant homes.

Fires can spread from a single ember floating from one house to another. As neither the EPS foam nor the steel in mnmMOD’s panels will support flame, mnmMOD structures will not spread wildfires, offering protection to the homeowners and their surrounding community.

“It’s the future of building. Now we are constantly building and burning homes and rebuilding them the same way. Instead we have a solution that we really want to get out there and have more people know about,” said Erla.

In addition to their fire resistant properties, these panels have many cost saving and environmental benefits. They are made from 30 percent recycled content and are 40 percent more energy efficient than a traditionally-built home. mnmMOD panels are also 98 percent recyclable, provide state-of-the field insulation, and do not support mold, termites, or warping.

“Around 30 percent of wood in construction ends up in landfill. We wanted to make something that would be prefabricated, because in a factory you can recycle things that are not usable, but on a job site it all gets mixed in a big container,” said Tryggvi. “You can’t manufacture something and put the responsibility on the consumer. As a manufacturer you have to be responsible for the entire project of the recyclability.”

Erla and Tryggvi founded Minarc in Santa Monica in 1999, and were at the vanguard of non-flammable building designs. The first mnmMOD panels were built at a small factory at the Santa Monica airport and the first house was constructed on Superba Ave in Venice.

“We both come from Iceland and I think our love of Santa Monica has something to do with the ocean breeze, us being islanders,” said Erla.

“Is there anything on the other side of the 405? I don’t know yet,” said Tryggvi. “We love the City. We have three daughters, they all use the school system here — it’s a fantastic town.”

mnmMOD panels are fully customizable, so customers can design any home layout they would like. The panels form the frame of the house, while the plumbing, wiring, and furnishing can be completed by any company the customer chooses.

The panels are very similar in cost to traditional wood framing, but extra savings come down the line as the panels do not have termites, warp, rot, mold or mildew, according to Chris Gardner, Project Manager at mnmMOD.

“The insulation quality of the EPS foam we use is very high so the electricity you use in the home is minimized and your savings continue on,” said Gardner. “The money saving is also in construction. Due to our panels being prefabricated at the factory, when they arrive at the site you just put them up and screw in place, there is no carpenter or framer necessary.”

When mnmMOD was launched in 1999, it was one of the only companies looking into these alternative building methods. Today the flame-proof building market is growing, but according to Erla and Tryggvi it’s not growing quick enough.

“We hope this building technique will become more mainstream in the future. My hope is that we don’t see houses that were just rebuilt burn down again, and again, and again, and that we can be part of a change,” said Erla.

“We want to do something good for this world,” said Tryggvi. “Leave it better than when we came.”