Ask G

Ask us: Kit homes

Tanya Ha answers a reader’s question about if kit home companies can be environmentally-aware.

Do you know of any kit home companies that have designs with energy efficiency and sustainability in mind? Some of the features I would be interested in include passive solar design, good insulation, water and energy efficiency, north-facing roof suitable for solar energy, and double-glazed windows.
- Ian Burton, NSW

Kit-home-story

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Factory-built homes come in many forms. Kit homes come flat packed (like a huge IKEA product) for assembly on the block by a small team of tradies. Prefabricated and modular homes generally arrive on-site partially constructed. This off-site manufacturing approach could transform the way we build homes and is already popular in Europe and North America.

In the past, kit homes in Australia were typically cheap and cheerful holiday homes. Thankfully, high-quality prefab homes for the primary residential market are starting to take off, particularly at the greener end of the spectrum.

Because the components are mass produced in a factory, prefab homes use materials much more efficiently than traditional on-site construction. The components fit together precisely (important for making homes airtight), and the construction site impacts, such as noise, waste and polluting stormwater run-off, are dramatically reduced. They can be constructed in a few short weeks, with minimal weather delays.

Don’t assume that ‘kit home’ means sustainable. You still have to look for the same things as you would in any new home construction. Look for a high star rating (7-8 star prefab homes are available), which will incorporate factors such as insulation levels and the energy efficiency of windows.

Remember it’s not all about the house itself – you have to match the house to the block. Solar panels and solar thermal hot water systems need sufficient north-facing roof space without overshadowing by tall trees or neighbouring buildings. There are also frame kits that can provide the right alignment for solar on flat rooftops. For passive solar design, align living areas to the north to capture free heat and sunlight, but note the main eco-drawback of prefab homes is they don’t have a lot of thermal mass, which helps to even out temperature extremes. Still, a prefab home that has achieved a high star rating (based on thermal performance) will have been designed to compensate for the lack of thermal mass.

Eco kit homes range from the more affordable end of the market, such as Eco Pods from Eco Villages Worldwide (www.ecovill.com.au), to mid-range modular designs from Modscape (www.modscape.com.au), to the Baufritz fabulous prefab seen on Grand Designs. Baufritz homes are being adapted for Australia by MGW Homes (www.mgwhomes.com.au). The Green Directory (www.thegreendirectory.com.au), EcoDirectory (www.ecodirectory.com.au) and Renovate and Build Green (www.renovateandbuildgreen.com.au) all have kit/prefab home listings.

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Tanya Ha is an expert environmentalist and author. To ask a question for her next column, email us at askg@gmagazine.com.au