eHome: Modular Low Cost Housing


  1. Introduction
  2. Canberra prefabricated buildings
  3. Modular Apartments
  4. Containerized Apartments
  5. New Housing on Old Canberra School Sites

    See Also

  6. More on low cost housing


City Edge Apartments

In 2005 the Australian Capital Territory Government asked for ideas on how to celebrate Canberra's centenary in 2013. This is one suggestion. It proposed to investigate the construction of low cost, high quality, environmentally efficient modular housing in Canberra. Pilots for this would be set up in Canberra, in a similar way to the energy efficient home display in Canberra (February 2006 to May 2007) and the results discussed at a global conference in Canberra in 2013. By 2013 students, researchers and companies would be attracted to Canberra as a world center for responsible urban design.

Some Books on Modular and Prefabricated Buildings

Canberra prefabricated buildings

Canberra has a history of relocated and prefabricated buildings, with some of the earliest located near City Edge in O'Connnor:

In 1947 disused sleeping huts from Tocumwal air base were transported to Canberra and refitted as family homes. The huts had been built originally to resemble houses rather than barracks to avoid aerial detection and bombing. They are of weatherboard and fibro construction and have wide verandahs. 100 of the "Tocumwals" were erected in O'Connor around a central park. Some Tocumwals were also located in Ainslie. Many are still standing to this day. Unusually, the houses were erected without concrete foundations in order to save time and money; the brick footings sat on a double row of bricks laid directly onto the ground in a shallow trench.

In 1946 the government began experimenting with concrete construction, with a test concrete wall being added to a house in Turner. An initial contract of 100 monocrete prefabricated houses was tendered in 1946 for construction in Turner and O'Connor. A further group of 45 houses was scheduled for Yarralumla in 1948. Monocrete houses were also constructed in many other Canberra suburbs.

Other forms of prefabricated housing were tested during this time. The Beaufort aircraft factory built a prefabricated steel house in Ainslie. In 1948, a timber prefabicated house was imported from Finland and erected in Canberra. Riley-Newsum prefabricated houses were constructed at Duntroon, Ainslie, O'Connor and Deakin in the early 1950s. ...

from: "Public housing in the Australian Capital Territory", Wikipedia, 26 February 2006 (modified on 21 February 2008, at 10:10.).

Australia has an industry manufacturing modular buildings. These are usually seen as being for single "granny flats" and for temporary accommodation. However, with suitable fit-out they could be indistinguishable from traditionally constructed buildings.

Hi-Tech Homes is a family operated company offering affordable granny flats, dual-occupancy and manufactured homes, as well as quality cabins, site offices and function rooms. Prices of our range in the brochures start at $35,240.00 (installed) for a small one bedroom granny flat with ensuite. ...

All Hi-Tech Homes are constructed on a Galvanised Steel Chasis with Galvanised Steel Joists @ 450mm centres, comprising of 200mm x 75mm Galvanised Lipped Channel. Each home is erected on a tongue and groove termite treated particle board flooring. The frames and roof trusses are also termite treated timber. All Hi-Tech Homes have a stringent insulation criteria. Walls have a rating of R3.50, Celings rate R2.50 and Roof insulation comes with sisalation foil, rating R1.50. ...

Hi-Tech Homes does a complete start-to-finish project, including free site inspection, council approval and our Plumbing and Electrical contractors can quote you for on-site connection of services. As the homes are manufactured inside a 2000-square-metre factory, you don't ever have to worry about weather delays. All homes come with a 50-year guarantee for exterior cladding, seven-year structural guarantee and 12-month appliance guarantee....

from: "Hi-Tech Park Homes, 2002

Modular Apartments

However, the Australian transportable and modular systems have been mostly used for detached housing. Australia has a need for cluster housing (town houses and apartments) in urban areas.

PREFAB HOUSE by Andrew Maynard being constructed

PREFAB HOUSE by Andrew Maynard being constructed

An Australian example of innovative methods of construction is the PREFAB HOUSE by Andrew Maynard. This reduces construction time from months to weeks and could be adapted to include broadband cabling and solar panels.

housing at Gewild Wonen Gewild Wonen (Sought-after housing or spontaneous housing in English) is a residential area in the "new town" of Almere. Gewild Wonen is an "experimental" neighbourhood that presents a large number of different housing solutions, where house buyers have the possibility to participate and to influence the design of their house.

From: "planum - Culture of cities data bank - Fourth Biennial of Towns and Town Planners in Europe", 2001

Professor Eric van Heck of RSM Erasmus University, Rotterdam discusses details in his book "Smart Business Networks":

"... A recent trend in this industry is the mass-customization of newly built houses. Due to increased demand for customized houses and changed governmental regulations, the Dutch housing industry tries to shift to more customer participation. This brings ... project was called "Gewild Wonen', which may be translated as Sought-After Housing. The Gewild Wonen project was analyzed to see which of the participating networks were "the smartest'. That is, which of the networks outperformed the other ones, in terms of degree of customization, financial measures and customer satisfaction. The starting hypothesis for this investigation was that networks that were designed "in-sync' would outsmart networks that..."

From: "Smart Business Networks ", Peter H. M. Vervest, 2004

Containerized Apartments

A common unit size for transportable and modular homes is the standard ISO shipping container:

Containerization is a system of intermodal cargo transport using standard ISO containers (also known as isotainers) that can be loaded sealed and intact onto container ships, railroad cars and trucks.

... Container capacity (of ships, ports, etc) is measured in twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU, or sometimes teu). A twenty-foot equivalent unit is a measure of containerized cargo capacity equal to one standard 20 ft (length) X 8 ft (width) X 8 ft 6 in (height) container. In metric units this is 6.10 m (length) X 2.44 m (width) X 2.59 m (height), or approximately 39 m3. These sell at about $2500 in China, the biggest manufacturer. [1]. Most containers today are of the 40-ft variety and thus are 2 TEU. ...

From "Containerization", Wikipedia, 2006

It should be noted that housing modules may be made in ISO container sized units for ease of transport, while still being made of traditional building materials. There is a specialised area of "shipping container architecture", which designs buildings from surplus containers.

15 Person Bunkhouse with Restrooms

15 Person Bunkhouse with Restrooms

M.T. Housing, Inc. of Yakima, Washington has a "patented" design to convert insulated shipping cargo containers into structures for housing and commercial uses. From a basic container, construction of the MTH unit includes the installation of doors and windows, interior framing, plumbing, wiring, insulation, and interior and exterior final finish.

From "Modular Transportable Housing", M.T. Housing, Inc. , 2006

Keetwonen project

Keetwonen project

FabPrefab have an index of projects utilizing shipping containers. AN extreme example is the Keetwonen project in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, which is stacking 12.2m containers six stories high to build blocks of 150 apartments. The individual modules are manufactured in China and shipped by sea, rail and road.

TempoHousing two bedroom two container home

TempoHousing two bedroom four TEU home

Tempohousing has come up with an original and simple solution: modify shipping containers into quality homes that are easy to set up and to move when needed. Everything you need is built in: wiring, heating, ventilation, bathroom, kitchen and so forth. A suitable and very affordable solution for any housing problem that needs a quick fix. Built as one level or stacked up to 6 levels, one home of 30 m2 or a combination of various units to set up a home of 120 m2: you name it and we can deliver it to you.

From "Tempohousing ", Tempohousing, 2006

A lower building density would be needed for Canberra, than is common in Europe. Canberra apartment buildings without lifts typically have no more than three floors. Assuming one person can be accommodated per 1.2 TEU (including common stairs), a modular apartment block for 200 people could be built from 240 TEU.

A simple configuration would be an apartment block of 12.2m (five containers) wide, 7.77m (three containers) high and 12.2m (two TEU) deep, or 30 TEU in total. The center containers would have stairs and the doors to all apartments in their front half. This would accommodate 25 people. Eight such blocks would house 200 people. The blocks could be placed end on end to make one building 97.6m wide, or placed in groups of two or four.

Apartments could be fitted with reverse cycle air conditioning and energy efficient electric water heating (gas would be difficult to install in a modular building). To save space, smaller units could be fitted with under-bench fridges and front loading water saving washing machines. Balconies could be added with more container modules.

Expandable Containers

Expandable Steel ISO Container

Expandable Container

Transporting prefabricated building modules is relatively inefficient, as they are mostly empty space. Shipping containers are designed to carry much heavier loads than building modules. One way to reduce the shipping cost is to make the modules expandable. Expandable Steel ISO Containers are used for some military shelters.

Aquentium's Disaster Relief Housing

Aquentium's Housing

Some civilian temporary housing designs use fold out walls from ISO container sized units. However, these are not designed to be stacked into apartment blocks.

Our housing structures will be unique in the way that once they are deployed, the container unfolds and creates an expanded living and operating space. Once the structure has fulfilled its need in once location, it can be folded back in and transported to another location.

From: "Disaster/Emergency & Low Income Housing, Aquentium, Inc.

For a permanent building a simpler expandable design could be used. A container could be designed to expand by one half width wise, saving one third on shipping. This would make a structure expanding from 2.44 m by 1.22 m to 3.66 m. Assuming the walls are 100 mm thick, one expanded 2 TEU container would provide approximately 3.46 x 12 m, or about 41.5 m2. More importantly than the shipping cost savings, might be the increased practicality of a room one third wider. One such container should be suitable for a one bedroom apartment, removing the complexity and cost of joining two containers to make one apartment. The design could be arranged so that window and door openings in the ends of the container would be covered in transit, being uncovered when the container is expanded on arrival.

New Housing on Old Canberra School Sites

In the 2007 budget, the ACT Government announced that almost 40 schools would be closed. The school sites would made good locations for new modular apartment buildings. Each site should be able to accommodate five blocks of apartments on average, or 40,000 people in total.

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