Is flat pack housing the future?

Its not the latest idea but I do wonder if flat pack housing is the way to go for the future especially if labour costs are critical factors.

Because mass producing stackable wall units and other sections of a home can not only be cost affective but also extremely quick in comparison to traditional housing methods. The same can be said for “unique” homes as you take a standard design and construction method using original flat pack building methods and introduce with it the odd shape or alteration in the design. Which in reality leads to mass produced panels coming off a factory floor while the unique parts go to a bespoke part of the factory.

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But it doesn’t stop there because when you work with things like a slot wall system where your literally dropping walls in then sealing them up. Your talking a huge saving in labour construction time compared to a traditional home design.

Its things to way up when looking at if you should go down the flat pack route or go with a traditional home. Because on the surface going down the usual routes may seem cost affective but factoring in labour costs and some of the maintenance issues. You may find that the change into flat pack which if they are adapted from industrial and commercial design could have some unique benefits. E.g. easy to clean and maintain, easy access for cable runs etc.

Personally I like both although not a fan of “modern” mass produced housing that you find on estates but do like flatpack and traditional older type houses. Mainly on the older traditional houses as they do have better construction methods but also extremely expensive ones (I am talking houses over 100 years old). With things like traditional oak beams and lath and plaster methods used. But with a carpentry background I do like the unique and original wood.

At the same time understand the world is changing and things are beginning to get expensive. Moving away from what we would “like” and to what we need is going to become more of an issue as time goes on. The same as the materials and resources used in construction. I can see more and more foam injected panels becoming the norm because they are both cheap and efficient. In the same way the outer and inner skins becoming more acceptable as “finished” and quick to install.

Container Buildings Oman

As I was up in our transport office (some of you are probably not aware I am currently working in Dubai and Oman) but noticed some container units had turned up and were busy having electrical wiring done.

They are from another site where we have worker camps and currently these are being moved off site as the construction project is finished. Nearly 500 of these units.

Portacabin - Oman

Container building Oman

Sturdy and clean due to the design but also gave the opportunity to show what you can do with sandwich panels you find in things like cold room stores at restaurants. As changing the type of panelling on the units that are foam centred in a slot wall system does give quite a nice finish.Container building inside,Oman

Internally looking just as clean and fresh as well as functional. As you can see the wiring is on going and the electrician was wondering why I was poking my head round the corner taking photos.

Sandwich panels used in container buildings

Would have to look at changing the roof design if building these though. But the photo also lets you see what the end of the foam panels look like.

Gets back to the argument often used where people say that they are too hot to live in. Well after several month out in the desert and also spending time in portacabins for accommodation on sites we were surveying I can honestly say the containers work! We have had temperatures above 50 degrees and sandstorms and the containers stand strong and offer comfortable living.

Cozy Connect offers amazing prefab in California.

This Cozy connect prefab in California is it the future of container living?

Connect Homes West Elm Dwell on Design

Connect:Homes came up with this fantastic home design and look to reinvent the modular prefabricated home market. This is their prototype which was shown at Dwell on Design in Los Angeles. Seems so far so good with the idea and the interior design was carried out by Kishani Perera to give it some home touches.

Connect Homes West Elm Perera - kitchen

The Connect:2.1 plan is designed with one bedroom, one bathroom, and a galley kitchen. I can see this having many uses from a stop over retreat, budget first home to retirement housing.

The concept has also gone down the green route with non toxic materials, energy efficient appliances as well as recycled materials such as the surfaces and tiling.

The price isn’t exactly cheap but I am sure it will have many takers at $105,000 although delivery and installation will be extra.

Connect Homes West Elm Perera - interior

Connect Homes West Elm Perera - styling

Connect Homes West Elm Perera - bedroom

Connect Homes West Elm Perera - deck

Modular home on concrete posts.

Klaas Modular House

After recent email exchanges with Brandon regarding the Klaas modular building I have started to look at the idea for a current project we have here in Minglanilla,Cebu,Philippines.

Because we have an area that has a roof on it already but it was originally supposed to be dismantled and a new concrete base added as a second floor. Then looked at the idea of a shipping container being added instead to save dismantling the roof as we could just extend the pillars then dismantle the roof later. This would save disrupting the store that exists underneath where the new building would be going.

But now looking at the construction methods of the Klaas I get the feeling not only would it be cheaper to create a steel deck and build up from it in a similar manner but it could easily be done in stages across the pillars. The design of the Klaas home/office is well suited for this type of work as well as other locations. I will advertise here Brandon’s website once its up and running for those in Malaysia.

The project isn’t going to happen overnight as I do have to head to the UK shortly but it will certainly be happening once work is setup in the UK. I prefer doing things while I am out of country simply because I can balance the books easier as the cash flow reduces rapidly when I am in the Philippines. With my wife as site supervisor and working with modular construction something I have worked a lot with this should be a project that is easy for others to follow. But more importantly one that can also be kept within its budget.

Klaas Cabin–Malaysia

Klaas Cabin by Kinwai marketing in Malaysia offered this modular home design which I think will stir up a lot of interest in the design not just in Malaysia but most of Asia for those interested in modular design.

I have been talking to Brandon from the company and looking at the design of the home can see why this would be something that could be picked up by many markets in Asia. The first thing being that exterior wise the Klaas cabin has a rather unique and modern feel to it. Which if your used to the concrete jungle like the Philippines where hollow block concrete blocks are king then it brings a nice contrast to everything around us. The exterior cladding no doubt sits on an internal frame work which is then sees ply overlaid on the interior. Ok ply may not suit everyone but in reality its a “choice” and that’s part of modular building the ability to change parts to suit peoples choices and needs.

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The exterior layout with its roof light openings allow a lot of natural light to enter the building throughout the day. Obviously another section that can be altered to suit someone’s needs be it glazed, glass blades or even just vented depending on the persons needs. The wood framing around the windows add a finishing touch will adding a bit of security grilling for the home or office. Finished off with exterior lighting along the length of the building.

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The interior ply walls seem at home in the design which is a little bit strange for me as its not normally a “finished” use product for me. I do use ply like this but generally its flooring or sheeted over and then cladded. but with the wood flooring it looks very at home.

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All in all can see a lot of uses for this here in the Philippines as well as other countries and I am interested to find out more about the structural building and how it fits together. Is it built on a wooden frame, aluminium or steel? Because to be honest I can see my next office being built in the same way as this building with a similar design. I would like to thank Brandon for sharing their company design of their modular home product which by the way hasn’t got the limitations of shipping container dimensions due to being custom built! You can alter the dimensions to suit your needs and land space. You can contact Brandon regarding building enquiries at

Prefabricated Steel Homes In The Philippines

The last article got me thinking about the issues we have getting our hands on good containers here in the Philippines. In reality it looks like fabricating a container is cheaper than buying a second hand one.

So why not start to think about the external dimensions and look to fabricate instead of buying a shipping container in the first place. Because believe it or not getting fabricated steel sheeting is extremely easy in the Philippines as its primarily used for roofing. The wall cladding is just as easy to get hold of which just leaves the issue of the framing. Can it be done cheaper than buying second hand containers? I am thinking its pretty close the only real difference being with a bit of luck the shipping container is guaranteed on its steel quality. Seeing how quickly things can deteriate here if not maintained properly as well as the fact many things are sub standard does make me worry about the steel. Can it be guaranteed to last?

I think the only people who can answer that is taking a visit to a fabrication plant and discussing it directly. Ignore sales people! you need to talk to the owners and see what guarantees they can offer. So why go with steel cladding instead of concrete?

  • Rapid installation.
  • Frame can be pre-fabricated offsite.
  • Internal walls can be thinner.
  • Exterior is easier to maintain and nicer finish than concrete.
  • Lightweight.
  • Wiring and pipework can be installed internally behind partition walling.

They are but a few things I can think of right now but there many more such as they don’t crack the way concrete does and do the insulation right you’ve got a better property for all weathers.

I am very keen on pre-fabricated houses that are dropped into place but also bearing in mind what if like many homes you drop the concrete slab on for a second floor to build later? This could actually be an easy solution as you can build the place on site if needed with basic hand tools. If there is no concrete floor for the 2nd level you could even remove the roof and drop a premade second floor straight on the support walls from below and having steel joists to support the floor.

A whole new angle here in the Philippines away from the original idea of shipping container housing. But it doesn’t mean we have given up but simply looking at what is most cost affective for our next project.

Shipping Container Homes For The Poor, A Good Idea?

There have been problems with not only shipping container homes for the poor but other housing developments and its mainly down to one thing.

People make decisions for others based on assumptions, they haven’t integrated with the communities they are trying to help to assess not only the daily needs but also if the project is viable.

Bamboo homes on stilts offer natural ambient temperature to the home due to the airflow as well as the ground beneath the home heats up during the day and at night that heat rises to keep the home warm. The space beneath the home sees air travel and for tropical climates its been a naturally good home for centuries. How do you adapt a shipping container home to supply the needs of people who will not be able to afford air conditioning or electric?

Also remembering people are used to the outdoors and opening the home to the elements is also essential in maintaining that natural environment that people come from. Doesn’t need to all be “in house” but communal areas that allow people to congregate and meet up are essential in maintaining the normal community.

But what else about cooling? You need to take on ideas from existing architects as the information is already there. It may not be developed for shipping container homes but a lot of it can be. Researching Indian, Thai and African home designs with “natural cooling” will give you plenty of ideas. E.g. mud huts due to the natural properties offer a great cheap home construction method yet is it out of place or too old to be used? I would look at modern mud home design as I believe you will be pleasantly surprised.

Water can offer a natural cooling affect in homes as well and has been utilised in India for a long time in areas such as central pool areas in courtyards. Learning how air and water can work together and developing courtyard communal areas there are ways to get cooler air to move round housing developments. Some of these ideas will be a bit hit and miss initially but long term learning how to use them saves not only money but also needs. E.g. naturally cooling means no need for fans or air conditioning, which also means a reduced need for electricity.

There are solutions to every problem but I have seen many a project messed up and not because shipping container homes or in fact large scale brick and mortar homes are wrong. But simply the planning and designs haven’t been thought through properly on immediate and long-term needs of the community. Yes we all want to help but if it makes peoples lives harder it defeats the object of what we are doing.

Why I Love Modular Home Construction.

Modular construction isn’t a new method of home construction but does seem to be catching on in a much bigger way in recent years.

For me originally looking at modular and prefabricated it reminded me of the 50s and 60s videos I watched with the rise of British industry and council estates after WW2. The homes were bland and all similar in design which is something people these days are trying to move away from. Even developers working on the same concepts of designs try to make houses look slightly different but at the same time in keeping with an area.

But even this isn’t enough for those that really do like to be different and modular construction seems to be a cost affective solution for many peoples homes due to not only saving on production costs to a traditional house due to generally being factory constructed but also the fact you can decide how many modules you want or more importantly can afford for a specific budget. Over the years the market has moved from a bit of a rough and ready business with a lot of finishing work being done on site to today where many homes are near enough complete and come with the bathroom,pipes and electrics pretty much all ready for hooking straight up to the mains. I believe this may be the way things are going for the future especially for mass production of homes due to the way modular construction is easy to adapt to its market demand.

As the businesses have progressed due to also being “factory based” also means sourcing recyclable, locally sourced and sustainable materials are all a realistic goal that companies are looking to achieve. Small developers or even medium size may not have the luxury of choice and time to be doing the same which are other good reasons for modular home construction.

Sustainable Green Housing For New Orleans

Global Green Design Competition, New Orleans, Brad Pitt, Sustainable Design for New Orleans, Green Building, Green Design

When I seen these home designs it instantly appealed to me as the use of natural foliage for shade is something that can also be utilised for shipping container housing as we all know sitting under trees in the shade makes things a lot more bearable so why not put an entire house or apartments under greenery?

Brad Pitt, Global Green, New Orleans, Hurrican Katrina, Architecture competition, Housing in New Orleans, Green Building, GreeNOLA, Andrew Kotchen and Matthew Berman of Workshop/APD

GreeNOLA (NOLA being short for New Orleans, Louisiana) took the win in a Global Green Competition. It was submitted by New York-based architects Andrew Kotchen and Matthew Berman of Workshop/APD.

The GreeNOLA plan takes six houses and two multifamily units which employ energy-efficient appliances, solar power and recycled building materials. Also integrating child care and a community garden in the hope this will help cut down on pollution and reduce energy consumption by at least 50%.

Runner-up design: NOLA shotgunLOFT, Schwartz Architecture/Frederic Schwartz – NYC, NY

Although runner up with ShotgunLOFT by Frederic Schwartz of Schwartz Architecture didn’t win his design works well with modular construction and trellis’s to give natural shade stepped away from the buildings. On top of looking at the design and home elements the cost of building the units was also looked at by the designer who came up with a self-help/sweat equity financial model. Which I agree with as it brings in the human element of pride and being part of the project.

House from a box – Roese Sunshower SSIP house

In one of the worst hit areas from Hurricane Katrina which left heavy flooding in its aftermath developers have come up with a new prototype home that is designed for rapid deployment for areas blown away by hurricanes and tornadoes or knocked down by earthquakes.

The Roese Sunshower SSIP house in New Orleans  

The Roese Sunshower SSIP house in New Orleans is designed to be shipped in a single shipping container as well as for rapid deployment as a quick housing solution that is also permanent as well as strong enough to withstand other calamaties. Adding to this a solar panel array to help with recovery as it can operate off grid.

 The Roese Sunshower SSIP house in New Orleans

As you can see the wall sections are formed from SIP eps foam core encased in a Galvalume steel skin. I have used similar in the construction of large freezer/chiller buildings and factory units in the UK as the method is not only light but very easy to work with. Adding to that its also moisture resistant and works as a hydroscopic thermal mass which helps to remove heat from the building.

The Roese Sunshower SSIP house in New Orleans

Models were submitted as part of a design competition and the winning entry was the Roese Sunshower SSIP house. Lots of good ideas and rapid deployment is always key to disasters due to the camera switching off generally public interest does to. So getting it done quickly while  there is still public support and funds is always critical.

The Roese Sunshower SSIP house in New Orleans  The Roese Sunshower SSIP house in New Orleans  

  The Roese Sunshower SSIP house in New Orleans