Casa Miranda: An Eco-Tourism Approach To Short-Term Rentals
Lauren and Ronn Grewber turned their sustainability passion project into a thriving short-term rental business in North Park, San Diego.
Lauren Grewber has always liked to name things.
Her old Prius was Donnie, and her 2015 all-electric Leaf is Lizzie. And as you might surmise from her vehicle choices, Lauren is also really into environmentally friendly living, as is her husband Ronn.
This is also evidenced in the various environmental DIY projects going on at the Grewbers’ at any given time, which include (but are by no means limited to) a rainwater collection system to irrigate the many edible and drought-tolerant plants that adorn the property, and series of composting bins.
“When you look at people’s energy usage, a lot of it is just transportation, going from one place to another, so cars are big,” says Lauren. “But a big part of that too is just the way and where buildings are constructed and people’s living environments. For example, the amount of AC and heat you use takes a huge environmental toll.”
Being as mindful of the environment as the importance of a good name, Lauren and Ronn knew they wanted their new short-term rental (STR) duplex they started building in 2020 to have some sustainable, yet affordable, eco-design technologies.
They also, of course, wanted their new business to have a fitting name. The husband-and-wife business owners finally settled on “Miranda,” to match the other “M” names of buildings on their property lot: Magpie Oak, the front house where Lauren and Ronn reside, and Maggie, the eco-friendly tiny home they previously constructed on the lot (and currently rent out to long-term tenants).
But Casa Miranda is much more than just a pandemic passion project or an amalgamation of all the things the Grewbers love—it’s also a thriving business, located in North Park, San Diego, a historic and highly walkable neighborhood with a diverse mix of century-old homes, luxury condos, eclectic boutiques, and some of the top-rated craft breweries in California.
Since Casa Miranda’s grand opening a few months ago, the gorgeous and smartly designed units have rarely had a vacant night—and they have been consistently booked every single weekend. This impressively designed duplex was also featured in San Diego’s 11th annual Green Homes Tour in October 2021.
I recently sat down to talk with Lauren about Casa Miranda, and also got a primer on sustainable construction methods, eco-tourism, and the pros and cons of short-term rentals.
Casa Miranda has a dazzling number of eco-features, in terms of its structure and design, as well as its heating and cooling systems. These features not only minimize the environmental impact of the units, but also save costs over time, and can even provide certain health benefits to guests during their stay. Lauren and Ronn worked with the San Diego architect WORKSHOP B to construct Miranda with these and other green construction methods:
Advanced framing: This construction method, which spaces the studs farther apart, includes more space for insulation and has less thermal bridging because there are fewer pieces of wood. (The Grewbers had to hire a special engineer who was familiar with this technique.)
ZIP System® R-sheathing: An alternative type of structural sheathing that includes wood, a layer of insulation, and a mechanically sealed air and water barrier, giving the structure a very high level of insulation.
Heat recovery ventilation (HRV): This passive fresh air ventilation system preserves indoor warmth or cool air. HRV provides a constant stream of filtered outside air while also removing stale indoor air.
Heat pump technology: This technology, used for Miranda’s drier, water heater, and mini-splits, uses far less energy than standard heating and cooling methods. The technology takes the heat from the air, condenses it, and brings that heat into the clothes in the case of the drier, or into the water of the water heater.
The two units are also powered entirely by solar energy (no gas) and use so little energy that the Grewbers only have to pay a grand total of $11/month for Casa Miranda’s electric bill—the minimum monthly payment required by the utility company.
I asked Lauren whether they advertise these eco-design qualities to guests, and she said that while it can be difficult to know which features guests will care about, of all Casa Miranda’s eco-design features, a lot of guests really like the HRV system:
“So the HRV system is basically a constant stream of air being filtered through a MERV-13 filter and brought into the house. At the same time, stale air is being sucked out of the house. So the air in there is super fresh, super filtered, so people who might have allergies or things like that experience a much higher quality of air.”
The Great AirBnb Debate
STR regulations are currently a hot topic in San Diego (among other cities). Many homeowners want the city to crack down on the number of AirBnb, VRBOs, and other short-term vacation rentals, claiming these residentially zoned structures do more harm to the community than good, particularly when they eat up the already-tight rental housing supply, or when irresponsible owners let their property become party central in an otherwise quiet residential neighborhood.
Currently, STRs in the city of San Diego are largely unregulated, but Mayor Todd Gloria recently signed into law a new city-wide short-term rental ordinance that will eventually cap the number of STRs to 1% of the housing supply. The new legislation also will also require STR hosts to apply for and pay for a license with the city.
Despite being an AirBnb host, Lauren says she’s generally in favor of these regulations.
“I think the new regulations are actually a good thing. When things are unregulated, bad things happen. There are a lot of really good AirBnb hosts who try really hard to make sure their rentals are not party houses, and they’re respectful of the neighborhood. And then there are places that don’t give a crap, and they don’t mind that they’re a party house—those places are bad for the community. So regulation may help get rid of those bad actors.”
Lauren likes the dynamic of living on the same property as her business since she and Ronn are able to stop any bad guest behavior in its tracks. “We had one night where someone had a little party with two or three other guests, but we shut it down right away. People are less likely to be up to no good when they know that the owner is nearby.”
When it comes to the net impact of STRs on the community, Lauren pointed out the benefits of bringing foot traffic to small businesses in her neighborhood, which is located in an area with no nearby hotels. “My opinion is that STR can add a value. The people who stay at these AirBnbs go out to breakfast, lunch, and dinner and shop in this neighborhood. So we’re bringing people to all these small businesses in this neighborhood.”
“I understand it does change the feel of the neighborhood if the whole neighborhood is all AirBnbs; then that would be a completely different feel. So there is a balance and I think there is an importance to capping it and an importance to regulating it.”
Lauren also said it was important to her and Ronn that they build brand-new STR units (on their own residential lot), so that they would not remove any long-term housing from the super-tight San Diego housing market.
What’s Next For Casa Miranda?
In the immediate future, the Grewbers plan to continue making minor design improvements to Casa Miranda, including interior design upgrades from interior peace , a company run by a friend who creates art from recycled materials. For their software needs, the Grewbers will continue to use AirBnb with Wheelhouse pricing software, though eventually, they would like to create their own booking website for Casa Miranda. (I made a mental note to recommend some website builders to help her with that endeavor.)
Further down the road, the Grewbers hope to expand their eco-tourism vision to a larger property, perhaps in a commercially zoned setting or maybe somewhere more rural.
“I do like the idea of eco-tourism and it’s a dream of ours to own a larger property, have a main house on there, and then have little structures that are built in a very eco-friendly way, maybe with little casitas on this property that exhibit different eco features. For example, some using different types of siding or straw bale houses. And I think that would be a really cool experience for eco-tourism.”
The Grewbers will always have plenty of smaller projects to keep them busy on the homefront—as I interviewed Lauren on Miranda’s top-unit balcony, Ronn was preparing to install some floating shelves inside and while also gearing up to repaint Maggie during a short vacancy between long-term tenants.
“We’re very DIY so we enjoy doing things ourselves,” explained Lauren. “I mean, we hire builders and people to do certain fixes, but we do a lot of things and we’re very hands-on. We’re always doing something. So I think it’s like an outlet for certain kinds of creativity.”
The Grewbers will take a rare vacation in January, perhaps to a cabin in the woods, to regroup and turn inward, with the sole goal of contemplating and deciding on their next project. Where will they travel to? “Somewhere where there’s no work to do,” says Lauren.
To book your stay at this modern STR in the heart of one of the hippest neighborhoods of San Diego, you can find Casa Miranda on AirBnb.