Sustainable design

Prefab and modular homes reduce building costs

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Prefab and modular homes are coming into their own as technology, new materials and design allow for faster and cheaper construction. And one advantage is that there are newer building materials available that have much better insulation properties than traditional building materials, meaning that the cost of running the new build will be lower.

Most people are familiar with the high cost of building. It’s traditionally been more expensive to build, than to buy a lived in home. Additionally, the cost of accommodation that is necessary as you wait for the new home to be built must also be taken into consideration. If that was not a factor, the costs of building vs. buying an older home align more closely. Then again, the type and size of the home you build or buy also has to be taken into account.

Going modular

The latest trend in money-saving new builds is going modular. A modular home is built at the factory in ‘modules’ of contained space. For example, the bedrooms may be contained in one module, while the living areas are in another.

These modules are transported to the building site, where they are easily joined together or connected by walkways, also known as breezeways. Many are constructed so owner-builders can do the do the work themselves, thus saving costs again. Because the modules are smaller than the home as a whole, they are easier to transport and put into place. Each module is finished; that is, it contains all the fixtures and fittings that the room or rooms need. Cupboards, built-in wardrobes and often appliances are all included where appropriate for the module.

Prefab homes were once considered the poor relation of the traditional homes erected by building industry tradesmen. They were accepted as being fine for a temporary home or a holiday home where the lifestyle is ultra casual, but not for a ‘real’ home. This idea has now changed, especially overseas, which over previous decades has continued to refine and improve the quality of low cost modular homes. In fact, million-dollar homes are designed and built on the factory floor in Germany, then taken to the building site where they are put together, sometimes in as few as three days.

The benefits of modular homes

  • Today’s modular homes can be custom designed by architects to suit specific locations. This means any block of land, even those with challenging geographical features, can be utilised for a modular home. Steep blocks can be built upon with little worry about getting the building into place. And because they require very little actual site construction, sensitive areas can have a home without disturbing the environment.
  • Better still, some of these homes can actually be dismantled within a few hours and taken to another location. So if you move, it’s possible to take your home with you! Such homes can be very affordable, or they can be a little more expensive, depending on your budget, location and required lifestyle.
  • Most modular homes make extensive use of green technology with passive heating and cooling – large windows and sliding doors oriented to the prevailing breeze. The frames are strong but light. The wall panels are of composite materials that have a higher thermal mass than timber and many other traditional building materials. This means that the insulation qualities are much higher, so your home is both warm in the winter and cool in the summer, requiring only minimal use of heating and cooling appliances.
  • Another benefit of modular homes (something you can appreciate if you’ve ever waited for a standard build!) is the speed at which they can be built in the factory and erected onsite.
  • Since nearly everything is done at the factory, quality controls can more easily be put into place, making the modular home one that fits together properly, as well as being top quality when finished.
  • The sizes of these homes are made to industry standards. This ensures there’s no wastage or off-cuts in materials – saving on materials, as well as pricing!

What are modular homes built from?

Most modular and prefab homes use aluminium frames, which are both light and strong.

One company builds the module walls from expanded polystyrene enclosed between manufactured wood cladding. Made from Australian plantation timber, the cladding is made of compressed 50% recycled timber and sawdust treated with magnesium oxide. The latter not only provides extra strength and durability, it also offers resistance to UV radiation, mildew, fire and water – making it an ideal medium to build a home. Once the home is up you would not know it from any other much more expensive home.

Other companies use polymers reinforced with glass fibres. Commonly used in the marine and aeronautical industries, this material has high durability and strength even in extreme conditions. It also has low maintenance needs and is very light. This makes sense when you consider planes and boats must be capable of withstanding the worst nature throws at them. A home built of the same materials is therefore sure to be strong and durable.

Ideal for remote locations

Modular homes are ideal for remote locations where it is difficult to get builders and other tradesmen to work, who may be required to camp onsite because of the distance. That may not be feasible and even if it is, can add a great deal to the cost of the home. Because the primary part of the modular home is already built, the main requirement is to transport and erect it at your location. A short time – compared to building it onsite – and ready to connect plumbing and electricity.

They are also eminently suitable for smaller suburban or even space-constrained city centre blocks. But while modular homes are popular for all these reasons, they don’t have to be small. This is the beauty of them. They can be enlarged at the beginning of the build, or later on, by adding more modules – always assuming it is proportional to the size of the block

Building a modular home is not only quick and convenient, it makes use of environmental benefits such as energy efficiency and sustainable living. This type of housing is now popular in many overseas countries and is becoming more so in Australia, as people begin to realise the many advantages.

Sustainable design

Ecocapsules off the grid

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Ecocapsules allow off the grid living in comfort and convenience, with in-built solar power and wind power generation facilities.

Not everyone likes camping out due to the discomfort, hassle and plain inconvenience that is inherent in living in a tent, cooking over an open fire and having to pack and unpack every time you move. Ecocapsules may change their minds. These tiny homes away from home have everything you could need for comfort and convenience; a kitchenette, dining facilities, a shower, a toilet and a double bed. They even have room for storage.

Living off the grid

Better still, you can live off the grid due to built-in solar panels with a 2.6m2 power rating and a wind turbine that generates 750 watts and feeds a 4200 Wh battery bank.

The capsules have also been designed to catch and store rainwater which is then filtered so it’s suitable for human consumption. The grey water – from the shower and washing up – is recycled to flush the toilet in those models that don’t have a composting toilet.

Uses for the ecocapsule

These amazing capsules of technology allow people to live off the grid for up to a year. They weren’t originally made just for campers. In fact, they may be too expensive for that, seeing many people go camping as a way to take a cheap holiday. However, the capsule is so handy and even (dare we say it) cute, that many people may just want one for leisure and pleasure. They have many other uses though.

  • They can be used in remote locations for research facility accommodation to save building housing. Instant good accommodation means that essential research can go ahead without delay in waiting for accommodation.
  • They can be used for emergency housing, whether the emergency springs from a tornado, flood or other causes.
  • They can be used for a humanitarian action unit, offering clean and comfortable accommodation to those who need it.
  • Tourist lodge accommodation in eco-sensitive areas. Using this type of accommodation means there is no need to disturb wildlife or flora by taking electricity into the area. And no need for plumbing or other buildings to go up.

Where the ecocapsule can be used

The ecocapsule has been well-designed with insulated walls, making it suitable for use in very hot or very cold climates. It can be used in remote locations where there is no access to power, as it generates its own with the wind turbine and solar panels.

However, rainfall is needed to keep up the water supply, so perhaps in the middle of the desert would not be the best place to live in it. With that being said, the latest water-saving and recycling techniques have been put into place. The units now use a composting toilet instead of the flushing one. Nice architects based in Bratislava are still looking for another solution since composting toilets do have a few disadvantages.

This miniature caravan look-alike that is full of modern technology can sit on top of a high-rise building just as comfortably as on the top of a mountain, or on the beach. It can be installed in the jungle, by a river or on the side of a road, in a park or on private property. This ecocapsule can be used just about anywhere accommodation is required. Speaking of eco-technology, passive cooling is also used by having a window that opens in each side so the breezes can waft through, right across the double bed.

Just how big is an ecocapsule?

It looks tiny, but that is partly due to the design.  In fact, it offers 8 square metres of living space, with half of the double bed folding to create a walkway, or a place to sit at the table. There is storage at each end, with one being accessible from outside. Even more storage space is utilised by the netting shelf above the bed, ideal for clothing and bedding. Windows and the door lift up, also saving room, just in case space at its destination is at a premium.

So how does it get to its destination?

The ecocapsules will fit into a container for shipping, should they need to be deployed overseas, or they can be towed in a trailer to their destination. As yet, there are none with wheels that can be towed like a caravan, but these are in the planning stages. The addition of wheels is sure to increase their applications as they can then be towed behind the family car. It may be just the thing to fit into a tiny, suburban backyard when Nan and Pop visit the kids for the holidays if they don’t have a spare room available. With everything you could possibly need for a nice, long stay, why waste money booking into holiday accommodation? All you will need is sun, wind and water to manage very nicely in this tiny home for two.

Sustainable design

The Slip House – an inspiring water efficient green home

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Water is one resource not lacking in the United Kingdom. So it’s perhaps a little surprising UK designers have effectively incorporated water efficiency into a pre-fabricated design.

The Slip House was built in London. To support its green and water efficient design, it features a tank collecting rainwater, mechanically-ensured ventilation, solar panels, flawless insulation and triple glazing. Described as a prototype for sustainable family living in the UK, not only does it function in a sustainable way, but it is also fits in a tight space, between two other houses – hence, the name ‘Slip’ house.

Read more about the Slip House.