Modular housing might not set property pulses racing, but the latest generation of pod-like homes is hoping to inspire anyone concerned with sustainability and affordability and is now being touted as the newest solution to Britain's housing shortage.
This isn't the first time that off-the-shelf homes have been hailed as the solution however. Anyone of a certain age remembers "prefabs", "temporary" replacements for bomb-damaged homes, still in evidence across the country thanks to their enduring popularity. And, while modular housing for the masses is common in Australia, the United States and Germany, British examples have mainly been limited to one-off, self-build projects.
More recently though, organisations such as the Peabody Trust have commissioned several large modular developments such as London's Murray Grove and Baron's Place. And now, Cube Housing Solutions is offering fully fitted and ready to move into Cub Homes – delivered straight from the factory floor within 12 weeks of placing an order. Designed by Charlie Greig, they launch at the Ideal Home Show on 20 March. She hopes that one day her design will appeal to a mass market and sit neatly among traditional Victorian and Edwardian terraces: "I'd like to create Cubs which provide as many people as possible with the chance to own their own beautiful home that works with the environment rather than against it."
Originally, prefabs were functional rather than stylish, so the Cub's smart interior comes as a pleasant surprise. With high ceilings and glazed frontages, even the smallest Cub at 51 square metres feels roomy. Modular housing may be formulaic but buyers can choose from Bright and White or Midnight colour schemes and a range of interiors depending on budget.
With a background in fashion, Greig turned to property and was soon designing and building homes for a celebrity clientele including former Spice Girl Emma Bunton. Eight months ago, she started her design company after becoming a fan of modular homes which she loves for their minimal carbon footprint. "You can save on 90 per cent of waste if you build off site," she says.
Greig spent three months researching her product, selling her own home to fund the business, and now intends converting the nation: "Even if you don't care about saving the planet, these homes are low-cost to buy and run. In a recession who doesn't care about that?"
Starting at £88,500, running costs for heat, light and ventilation are extremely low and these "plug and play" style homes allow you to add another storey within 24 hours when your family expands. As well as preserving communities, flexible living negates moving costs and mortgages are available thanks to approval from National House-Building Council and the Department of Communities and Local Government's Code for Sustainable Homes scheme.
Whether planners are as benevolent remains to be seen but, while Greig accepts that the bright white, high-gloss exteriors of the "Polar" version may not be widely acceptable, Cubs can be clad in less obtrusive materials like timber. Local authorities have approached Greig about using her design for social housing but she is realistic about her customer base: "It won't happen overnight. I know that my market initially will be one-off landowners interested in self-build but without the time to research the market. But I do hope that one day Cub homes will be the buildings of the future."
Greig isn't alone. Catering for anyone wanting to stay put but who needs more room, modular housing can be an affordable option is Ecospace. Cheaper than extensions and loft conversions, an Ecospace gives you extra rooms in your garden starting from £10,000 for the "WorkPod" option, which comes complete with sockets, data and telephone points. Enquiry to completion generally takes around 12 weeks, typical installation time is a stress-free five days, and buyers so far have added office space, playrooms, gyms and guest space to their homes. Rather than buying a granny flat or property for grown children, a self-contained whole house with bathroom and kitchen starts from around £30,000, as long as there's room in your garden.
Most prefabricated products are keen to stress their green credentials and Welsh company Affresol has gone a step further by turning rubbish into homes. The company recently unveiled its eco show home and modular buildings made up of four tonnes of recycled plastic waste originally destined for landfill and hopes soon to roll out the design across the UK andthe globe.
All building is dependant on planning permission, not generally required for garden rooms, but permission has so far been problematic for Aidan Quinn whose sales of his modular product Eco Hab have been caught in the planning process. "Most customers are in rural areas so planning takes longer but we hadn't anticipated it would take this long."
Quinn has been working on his project for three years and admits that his round Teletubby-like structures buck the trend of most modular housing. "They're zany but I love them and most people find them uplifting. There are no seams between walls and roofs so they conserve heat." Conjuring images of Italian trulli and Mongolian yurts, enquires have come from as far afield as Spain and Sweden with people mainly wanting Eco Habs for extra guest accommodation. Prices start from under £10,000 up to £69,600 for a two-storey, two-bedroomed, furnished pod but nobody will buy until one is being lived in.
"You can't blame people for wanting to see them in situ," adds pioneering Quinn who lived in one for several months: "It offered a pleasant living and work space requiring the minimum of logs to maintain a comfortable temperature during the winter."
Modular homes: Useful contacts
* Eco Habs are at the National Homebuilding & Renovating Show at the NEC, Birmingham from 18 to 21 March. (0844 811 377; Homebuildingshow.co.uk)
* Cub ( Cubhousingsolutions.com)
* Eco Space ( Ecospacestudios.com)
* Affresol ( Affresol.com)
* Eco Hab ( Ecohab.co.uk)
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