Self-build ‘modulhus’ kit wins £5K prize in Starter Home on a Shoestring competition

A self-build system using timber-frame modules that can be assembled to make a two-bedroom home for less than £50,000 has won the 2016 ‘Starter Home on a Shoestring’ ideas competition.

The winning ‘modulhus’ system is the brainchild of a team consisting of Ecomotive, a Bristol-based self-build cooperative, and Barton Willmore, a design and planning consultancy based in Reading.

Modulhus consist of prefabricated modules that can be flexibly assembled in a variety of ways to create a standalone home, a terrace, or even a low-rise block of flats. The design is said to offer a menu of options; the home could be provided as a bare shell, or it could be fully finished ready to occupy. And the team’s standard 66 sq m two bedroom ‘self finish’ home would cost just £49,644.

The design scooped the modulhus team £5,000 at the Grand Designs Live exhibition at the NEC in Birmingham last week, with the cheque presented by TV presenter Charlie Luxton (main picture).

The idea competition is organised by the National Custom & Self Build Association (NaCSBA). This year is challenged architects, designers and others to come up with innovative ways to build a low-cost ‘Starter Home’.

The Government has announced plans to build 200,000 Starter Homes between now and 2020 – and it defines a new Starter Home as any property costing less than £250,000 (or £450,000 in London).

“We have always believed it was possible to build a modest new home for much less than this, and the winning design demonstrates that a comfortable two bedroom Starter Home can be constructed on a self or custom build basis for less than £50,000,” said Michael Holmes, NaCSBA’s chair.

The competition attracted entries from across the UK, and international submissions from Australia, Mexico, Vietnam and Ireland.

The winning entry set out to deliver its cost-effective Starter Homes in an innovative way. Key features of the modulhus approach include:

• Using a proven pre-fabricated structural timber module to form the core of each home. These modules are 4.5m wide by 2.7m high, and a series of them can be connected alongside each other to form rooms or to create a whole floor. The timber I-beam walls of each module are 300mm thick and are highly insulated. And because there is no need for any internal structural support just about any interior layout can be accommodated

• Encouraging people to work together to build their homes. The team propose setting up community based temporary production facilities, where self builders can learn the construction skills required and then build their homes in a safe and weather protected environment

• Easy deliver to site and quick assembly. Once the modules have been built they are transported on a lorry to the site and quickly assembled. The design is very flexible, so the modules can be built as detached properties, or arranged as terraces or even ‘stacked’ to create a block of apartments or maisonettes

• The external appearance of the homes also offers lots of options – they can be clad in timber, brick or rendered. And they can be built with a flat roof or pitched

• To keep costs down the homes can be provided as a basic shell – or they can be part finished or fully finished and ready to occupy

The judges included most of the UK’s TV self build celebrities - Kevin McCloud, Charlie Luxton, George Clarke and Gerardine and Wayne Hemingway. RIBA self build champion Luke Tozer was also one of the judges along with Lord Gary Porter, the former leader of the Local Government Association.

Holmes added: “This was a very well thought through solution that is capable of generating almost endless possibilities for self builders. The use of a practical and proven construction system, and the range of layout and specification options this offers means you can really give people a big say in the design and finish of their home. If a basic two bedroom Starter Home like this can be built for under £50,000, is it any wonder that there are millions of people in the UK that are currently looking to organise their own self and custom build property?”

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