The interesting world of prefab architecture

The lack of housing in many parts of the world is leading to a growing interest in the world of prefab architecture. Add in the emergence of new building materials and assembly techniques and you have all that you need for a factory-built home revolution. With this in mind, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at this innovative way of providing homes and work spaces for people.

What do we mean by a prefab home?

Before we start, it is worth defining the kind of buildings we are talking about here. There is a tendency for people to think of temporary homes as being prefabs. For example, static caravans or other forms of accommodation that sit on a hard base, but do not require foundations. Homes that have the potential to be moved from place to place.

For the most part, those kinds of structures are not covered by this article. This is because, generally speaking, they are not constructed to the same standards as permanent buildings are.

Here we are talking about the kind of building that is delivered in parts and assembled on site. These are homes and workplaces that are built to comply with building regulations. Typically, they also need permanent foundations.

Some of the most innovative prefab home builders

For this article, we decided to take a look at some of the most innovative firms in this field. We feel that taking this approach is a good way to uncover and show you some of the latest building techniques and materials that are being used in this innovative construction sector.

Ecocor’s passive prefab homes

Understandably, airtight, passive homes are becoming increasingly popular. They are extremely cheap to run and are built in a way that is good for the environment.

Ecocor provides a range of 11 homes, which have solar panels built in. It is possible to buy everything from a small cabin to a four-bedroom house from them.

It uses a thermal bridge free design and insulate all areas of the home, which reduces the loss of heat. Included in the package are triple-glazed windows. These are filled with argon or krypton, which makes them even more efficient.

Building the homes in a factory is what makes it possible to make them airtight. It is practical for a selection of components to be checked in detail to make sure that they comply with the standards set. Leakage levels are tested using a pressure test, which looks at how much air leaks out of the structure during pressurisation and depressurisation.

Prefabricated Accessible Technological Homes (P.A.T.H)

Over the past few years, the P.A.T.H movement has gained momentum. This way of building and designing homes is the brainchild of Philippe Starck and the Scandinavian firm Riko. The houses they have come up with combine Starck’s timeless designs with Riko’s high-performance insulation and energy production technology.

Their designs are still evolving, but certain elements are a feature of most of their prefabricated homes. For example, all of their designs offer a combination of solar, thermal, wind turbines and solar photo-voltaic cells. A wood frame is at the heart of these prefabs, but the exterior walls are mainly composed of glass. Customers are able to mix and match elements to produce a building that is tailored to their specific tastes and needs.

Alchemy prefab homes

Alchemy is an American company and it takes a bit of a different approach from the majority of firms involved in the sector. It targets those people who want small homes or buildings that are designed for occasional use, for example as work spaces or guest homes.

The company creates a distinct look and keeps the cost down by installing IKEA kitchens and bathrooms. Alchemy has a reputation for building fantastic off-grid homes.

Typically, its weeHouse footprint is just 435 sq. ft. Recently, it started offering an even smaller prefab. Its lighthouse range is only 350 sq. ft. It also sells much bigger homes under its barnHouse concept.

Prefabricated plastic hobbit houses

This is an interesting one. The Green Magic Homes system is a truly ground-breaking initiative (pun intended). They are designed to be built underground.

These homes are made from fibre-reinforced plastic panels. It is a material that is waterproof and can easily withstand being buried underground. Once built, these properties are well-insulated, so they use around 70% less energy than a standard home would.

A prefabricated house made from recycled plastic

The hobbit house idea is an interesting one, but it is hard to imagine this design becoming mainstream. However, there are some plastic homes that look set to be built in their hundreds of thousands.

Perhaps the best example is the ones produced by NevHouse. This innovative and award-winning Singapore-based firm is already building homes in several countries. The company uses recycled materials, including plastic, to create high-quality prefab homes, clinics and classrooms.

These buildings are designed to withstand cyclones up to force 5. They are also earthquake and fire resistant.

These timber-framed prefabs can be put up within five days and do not need to be connected to the mains to become fully functioning homes, clinics and classrooms. The company’s first houses have already gone up in Vanuatu. This Pacific island is badly affected by cyclones. Once enough funds have been raised, there are plans for some of its homes to be constructed in Jilkminggan in Northern Australia.

The future of prefabricated housing

As you can see, there are plenty of different kinds of prefabricated buildings available. Yet, they are still very much a niche option.

Prefab buildings have been around for many decades now and they have many potential advantages over conventional structures. Usually, they are cheaper, they can be built to a consistently high standard and are fast and easy to construct. Yet, prefabs have not really taken off, so far. Why this is the case is quite hard to pin down.

However, it does seem likely that we will reach a tipping point where the advantages of prefabs become too great for us to ignore. The more eco-friendly and cheaper to run they are, the faster demand for them is likely to grow.

Posted by Mark
February 14, 2019
Features

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