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From pre-fab to Grand Design, the modular home comes of age

Can the pre-fab be a leader in beautiful home design? We think it’s the way to go.

Mention pre-fab housing to anyone over 50 and they’re likely to have stories of their experiences with post war quick build dwellings that were intended to get Britain through its housing crisis. When they were built there was little love for them, but as replacement programmes diminished their numbers so a groundswell of affection led to a number being protected by listed building status.

Pre-fabs. That’s what we called them back then. The modern concept of the modular home follows the same principle, but delivers very different results.

The modular home offers Britain the potential to build faster, and with greater efficiency, saving on waste, energy, running costs and build times, and yet so far it’s only a few forward thinking people who have caught on to the possibilities.

To most the concept of modular housing conjures up visions of identikit housing, rows upon rows of properties with nothing to tell one from another.

But throw into the mix brands such as Germany’s Baufritz, or Huf Haus and suddenly we have people’s attention.

Germany, along with the US and Australia is among the many nations embracing the concept of building off site and assembling a superb quality home with minimal neighbourly disruption, minimal waste, and maximum impact.

What’s so good about the modular home?

Efficiency: By building all the key components off site in a controlled environment the builder can bring all the benefits of the production line to a trade that previously relied on so many uncontrollable elements – predominantly the weather.

Waste is reduced by as much as 90% - that alone is enough to sell the idea to me. Sawdust is gathered, compressed and resold as wood pellets rather than just blowing around the site. Structural Insulated Panels (SIPs) are made in bulk reducing off cuts, keeping harmful chemicals in the controlled environment, and without ever coming into contact with moisture until they leave the factory.

Look on any building site and you’ll see skips full of damaged materials, wasted cement and concrete and odd bits of wood that aren’t worth the effort of recycling. A modular home factory will contain all that waste, and offer the potential of reuse because there are sufficient quantities to make it practicable.

Some manufacturers even offer fully finished panels, with the plastering and top coats applied offsite – imagine the quality of finish possible with spray painted walls rather than using brushes or rollers.

Insulation is the key to an efficient home, with all gaps sealed so that the only air flowing through your home is that which you choose when you open the window. The very best achieve the Passive House standard for super efficient homes that require little or no heating at all.

But I want a home that’s individual to me!

And so you should. Liverpool based Urban Splash was one of the early adopters of modular building in the UK. Its Moho development in Manchester’s Castlefield saw a new apartment complex of seriously desirable, space efficient (for that read small, but still good to live in) homes that went up on site in just a few weeks.

The company has recently launched its latest concept called House, conceived working in conjunction with shedkm, House enable its buyers to determine the configuration of their house rather than having to put up with a fixed design. So if you fancy your living space on the top floor of a three storey house, with just one huge bedroom in the middle, then that’s what you’ll get. Your neighbour on the other hand may have several smaller bedrooms on the top floor and the living space accessing the garden, it’s all down to the buyer’s lifestyle desires and imagination. The first House development will be part of the innovative new community called New Islington being built on a brownfield site close to the town centre that is transforming an eyesore and no go are into a whole new place to live, work and relax with canal side amenity space and parkland.

While Urban Splash achieves massive efficiencies through creating very similar properties that have completely individualised interior configurations, the modular principle applies equally well to unique designs, built to a pre-conceived formula. Think of one of the wonders of Kevin McCloud’s Grand Designs series – the Huff Haus. For over 100 years Huff Haus have been creating immediately recognisable, yet individually designed housing across Europe. They are not cheap, but from £400,000 you can specify a large luxury house that will draw admiring crowds and reward you with a light, comfortable, toxin free environment that will be extremely cheap to run too. Did you notice the time frame there? Huff Haus has been around for over 100 years, it’s modern, yet hardly new.

What is the ultimate Modular Home?

Until today I’d suggest the Huff Haus as the pinnacle of modular home construction – superb engineering combined with great design, efficiency and comfort. But then this morning I listened to a programme about a Dutch project that aims to put a small human colony on Mars in 2024. They’ll live in a building that’s completely constructed on site from modular panels, that’s the Mars One Foundation’s dream.

Well, I guess that’s the ultimate – but you won’t see me in the queue to sign up!

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