Architect Matthew Dynon describes how his company, Mode Homes, is developing an innovative product designed to capture the market as demand for prefabricated housing is tipped to boom in Australia.
The prefabricated housing sector accounts for only 3 per cent ($4.6 billion) of the local construction industry. However, this is set to change thanks not only to increasing demand for homes but importantly to a major image change for factory built homes. Estimates suggest that the sector is set to grow at more than five per cent per annum to 2023 – compared to the overall industry target of 2.3 per cent - as the image of prefabricated housing as a budget, low quality housing solution continues to transform into one of innovation, sustainability and quality.
To capture the growing local market the challenge facing Australian architects and builders is to develop more appropriate, cost competitive solutions that are both innovative and versatile.
Building versatility and choice into a prefabricated system has always been a hurdle, but local consumers are now demanding it. Solutions must consider different climatic zones, individual site restrictions and regulations and the varied preferences, tastes and budgets of individual customers.
The industry consistently develops new concepts in an effort to improve the feasibility and versatility of prefabrication methods. One such concept, which many experts believe has the potential to revolutionise the industry, is the innovative ‘Fold-pack’ system developed by MODE Homes. The ‘Fold-pack’ system has been developed to benefit from the inherent advantages of both volumetric and panelised prefabrication systems without the associated drawbacks – an evolved, new generation prefab.
According to Bill Thompson, Research and Development at CSR Building Products , "The folding concept will make site erection far easier, safer and will require less manpower than assembling free hanging panels from a crane." He adds, “this concept has a great deal of merit."
Under this system, homes are completely constructed in the factory, folded down for cost-effective delivery and then folded out on site. The fold out process can be completed by two men in just a few hours. Homes arrive complete, fully clad, lined and with all services in place ready for site connection. They then expand on fold out to almost three times their transportation size.
Less time on site means a substantial reduction in building costs. It also means less disruption and inconvenience to the customer, and an altogether smaller, tighter and more controlled project. Factory-based quality control provides for a level of accuracy and confidence impossible to achieve on site, and completion is less susceptible to weather delays and other blowouts.
MODE has recently constructed a prototype in suburban Sydney to test and display the system. The resulting home meets all relevant planning requirements and the Building Code of Australia.
After a long time on the drawing board it was a magic moment when all the panels opened out for the first time without a hitch.
The prototype has been a great success.
In terms of the significance of the prototype, the construction process has been invaluable in highlighting areas for further development and refinement. Introducing factory production line technologies will significantly increase efficiencies and reduce cost to the consumer.
MODE is currently working with the University of New South Wales to ensure the innovative houses reach optimum energy efficiency and are appropriate for a range of climatic conditions across Australia. Professor Dr Deo Prasad, Director of the University’s Centre for a Sustainable Built Environment (SOLARCH) and CEO of the ‘CRC for Low Carbon Living Ltd’, has witnessed the system’s evolution.
”We are confident”, states Professor Prasad, “that Mode’s new ‘Fold-pack’ homes will achieve a high degree of sustainability with the expectation of an 8 star energy efficiency rating.”
The “Fold-pack” system is distinctly innovative in that all its complete elements (floors, walls and roofs) fold out on site without requiring a crane. The clever roof design incorporates a Klip Lok clad central roof portion that falls at three degrees to an open eave gutter at the rear which avoids box gutters and associated leakage problems.
MODE has developed a “modular system” rather than a “single product solution”. The roof design and parapet walls allow modules to connect, slide, rotate, step, extend and stack. The system allows multiple modules to be added in a multitude of ways to form a vast variety of house plans responding more successfully to the practical requirements of the site and the functional requirements of the consumer. Homes can therefore achieve more appropriate solutions for a wider range of situations.
The customer is invited into the design process and is able to spec up or spec down depending on budget. Different tastes are accommodated by a selection of cladding materials and ‘add-ons’. Options for cladding, as well as deck and sun/weather protection allow almost limitless outcomes from the modular system while maintaining a factory production line approach to keep prices down. Economies of scale are achieved by maintaining consistent module size and framework, while providing for design outcomes that are unique to each customer.
MODE are currently refining the technology and focusing on a second prototype suitable for remote communities. MODE are also exploring the demountable schools area, where there is a growing market at home and abroad for innovative solutions and an aging stock of demountables. The Fold-pack invention has potential applications worldwide.
As it continues to revolutionise the prefab sector, MODE aims to raise further capital and to partner with established industry players to roll out large scale production of this new concept.
For more information on the system, visit the MODE website.