Green Building  

Are prefabs the answer to green building?

Often wrongly associated with its eyesore post-war ancestors, the new prefab has cleaned up, and is at the cutting edge of eco-friendly design.
 Prefab housing
 
 

 

By Ella Copeland...

Despite enjoying radical makeovers from modern day architects, prefabs still tend to be looked upon in a bad light, provoking memories of post-war ugliness and unreliability.

The modern reality, however, couldn’t be further from this. Despite being a relatively outdated technique, prefabs are actually much more environmentally friendly than traditionally constructed buildings, and are enjoying a huge uptake in forward thinking countries such as China.

One of the modern day prefab’s most attractive features is its low impact on surroundings, both during the construction process and afterwards. Prefabs arrive in large, ready assembled parts, and therefore they take a very short time and very few resources to put up. This reduces both the time it takes for a house to be constructed and the level of pollution output from machinery.

Huf Haus is the most famous provider of prefabricated housing worldwide, operating in the UK, USA, Germany, France and Canada amongst others. A German company, they are the industry leader for prefabricated housing, providing not only the building materials but also all of the labour and internal decoration. Building around 200 houses per year, worldwide, Huf Houses are in high demand, due to their ease of design for the customer.

Huf make sure to use 100 percent natural and non-toxic materials, yet claim that making their product environmentally friendly is more of a secondary product of using high quality produce, as opposed to directly sourcing sustainable materials. All Huf houses come as a standard with a ground or air source heat pump and any other energy sources can be incorporated (photovoltaic panels, wind turbines, hydro electric etc.).

“Prefabs are so environmentally friendly because it is far easier to control the amount of material needed. You know what you need and it can be securely stored in optimum conditions. The quality of the construction is much higher than in situ as you don’t have to overcome the elements meaning you can guarantee things like air tightness,” explained Afra Bindewald, Marketing Executive from leading prefabricated house provider Huf Haus.

Whilst they don’t focus directly on making their products environmentally friendly, Huf prefabs perform extremely well: “The average Huf Haus costs only £2 per m² a year to heat. This will never change due to the quality of the materials and construction due to the house being prefabricated. All Huf houses have a standard fabric energy efficiency <46 kWh/m²/year, which is achieved by having not only impressive u-values for all construction elements but also by having an airtight construction. Both the u-values and air tightness exceed the predicted building regulations for 2016.”

Despite these eco-friendly features, staff at Huf insist that it is the construction method, not the materials used to construct the building or the energy it will use in the future. A major part of the appeal of Huf Houses is their extremely small carbon output when they are constructed.

The average carbon footprint of a prefabricated home is 0.52 metric tonnes of Co², compared to nearly 56 tonnes of CO² for the construction of a normal house. According to Bindewald, Huf is confident it could build a carbon neutral house now, and that the popularity of the Huf Haus will rise: “With the UK government’s aim for all houses to be zero carbon by 2016 I believe the prefabricated house will grow in popularity as this the only way to guarantee to meet requirements. This is due to building on site being unreliable not only due to weather conditions but also quality of work.”

Countries such as China have already recognised the benefit of prefabricated structures, and are currently using the technique to build a number of commercial buildings. One of the most famous is a 15 storey hotel, which was constructed in just 6 days:

Appearance

People often assume prefabs will be ugly, as previously, limits in materials and structure resulted in the traditional single story damp box. However, leaps and bounds in material design along with architectural interest have resulted in some stunning statement houses, which often seem sleeker and more modern than the traditionally-constructed counterparts.

The rise in popularity of the prefab as a residential home is growing at a phenomenal rate, with more and more companies beginning to provide bespoke prefabricated designs. Often, they also provide a cheaper method of production than traditionally constructed houses, as it is not necessary to transport materials onsite. Sheri Koones, author of the book ‘Prefabulous + Sustainable’, believes that people investing in prefabs can save 15 percent, compared to a modular over-site building. 

Whether you love them or hate them it looks like prefabs are here to stay, and industry experts are betting on them becoming the staple ‘home of the future’.

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