Modular and prefab homes around the world

While the modular and prefab dwelling has been relatively slow to take root in Australia, it has been used widely internationally for low-cost, highly-controlled sustainable design. From high-end, glossy affairs to inventive and economical buildings, here are a few fine examples of sustainable modular and prefab homes from around the world.

This is an online article to complement our modular + prefab special in Sanctuary 31.

Containers for Hope

Incorporating shipping containers or scrap metal to reduce carbon footprints and spending may never occur to most first home builders. But for Gabriela Calvo and Marco Peralta, two 40-foot shipping containers were the best chance for their affordable dream build on a picturesque property 20 minutes outside of San Jose, Costa Rica.

Contrasting with the unconventional and austere building materials used, architect Benjamin Garcia Saxe says he aimed to “create a feeling of comfort and home”.

The airy two-bedroom-home takes advantage of an architecturally-designed scrap metal roof. Multiple windows on each side of the raised skillion roof provide strong cross ventilation, which according to Benjamin is “surprisingly sufficient enough to never have to turn the air-conditioning on”.

“[The house] shows that there are viable, low cost, passive alternatives of temperature control to adapt to a very intense tropical climate.”

He says the ambitious project of only 100 square metres shows how scrap metals can be thoughtfully repurposed. He advocates for the wide use of shipping containers in the region to help alleviate homelessness and housing unaffordability.

“Already this proposal has begun to spark a great deal of interest and could become one alternative to solve the issue of disposing of disregarded shipping containers in developing countries, as well as beginning to solve the large gap which first time buyers encounter when purchasing a home.”

Sealed for comfort

Designed by Stuart Duncan for north Scotland’s cool oceanic climate, the single storey modular house has been built to Passivhaus u-values for year-round low-energy comfort.

Built under factory controlled conditions off-site, this modular house was transported to its resting place as three fully formed units, before the pitched roof was added and the walls finished in limestone render and timber cladding.

This all-electric home is powered by a 5.5Kw solar PV array, and with a bevy of energy-efficiency features makes for low-carbon living. Its super-insulated airtight structure, triple-glazed windows and doors, mechanical ventilation heat recovery system, and a centrally controlled biomass pellet stove keep internal spaces toasty.

The entrance has a living wall planter and folding doors which lead to a double-height atrium with remote-controlled skylight windows, and floor to ceiling windows for abundant natural light. Three sets of south-facing sliding doors and a west-facing patio door open out onto a paved patio area from the generous L-shaped open-plan living space. The kitchen is fitted with recycled glass worktops, and integrated low-energy appliances.

A range of smart home technologies allow remote control access to power sockets, external lighting, the thermostat and energy monitor, pellet stove and the solar system for finely tuned efficiency.

noem eco-house 3.0

Fusing a space age look with bio-climatic technology, the Eco-house 3.0 provides a striking modern foil to its natural surroundings of the Serra Espadà National Park in Spain.

From conception to completion in less than ten weeks, the project has been digitised to increase the economic and environmental sustainability, currently gauging an energy consumption of 15 kWh/m2per year.

Structurally, the Eco-house 3.0 is comprised of two prefab larch timber-clad modules. Each piece was laser cut to reduce errors and curtail resource wastage.

The modern drawcard of the 96 square metre house is the comprehensive use of digital smarts to reduce energy consumption while increasing comfort and liveability.

Nearby meteorological databases have been harnessed to reduce energy wastage. Heating and air conditioning adapts to suit the external weather, while irrigation systems work autonomously to water plants based on soil moisture and rain forecasts. The owners can also follow the energy production of solar panels, household energy consumption and find out how much water is in solar hot water tanks on their smart phones.

Even mobile GPS technology is integrated to estimate time of arrival to heat the home accordingly. The Eco-house 3.0 a modern dwelling to suit the green and technologically-versed occupant.

Image: Meritxell Arjalaguer

High-end modular

A collaborative venture between French designer Philippe Starck and Riko Group has engineered a new path towards technologically sustainable high-end living.

The Prefabricated Accessible Technological Homes project (P.A.T.H.) aims to merge timeless aesthetics with low-carbon modular technology for fast and highly-controlled construction.

Philippe’s own P.A.T.H. home features triple glazed windows, 36 DuelSun panels and a Pramac wind turbine which functions regardless of wind direction. All wood structures and fibres used are FSC accredited.

With the importance of durability and longevity in mind, Philippe notes that “above all, P.A.T.H. houses provide owners with the freedom to choose”.

“In 34 floor plans, I wanted to provide all families with the possibility of building their dream house, while remaining loyal to their initial expectations,” he said.

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